Thursday, December 8, 2011

Album Review: Nujabes - Spiritual State

Album Rating: A-
When Jun Seba was killed in a car accident last year, his absence left a gaping hole in not only the hip-hop scene, but the world of music as a whole.  Known for his gorgeous, cool-jazz instrumentals, paired with some of the most infectious beats out there, Jun Seba, better known as Nujabes, was a musical force to be reckoned with.  2003’s Metaphorical Music is still hailed as a land mark release, and we really have not been treated to anything quite like it since.  Sure, Modual Soul was yet another astonishing entry, but it didn’t really capture the magic of his debut.  Unfortunately, even well before his passing, the world was pretty much starved for more Nujabes’ music.  There was that brief stint with anime, which yielded an excellent soundtrack, but nothing in the way of a true LP ever surfaced past 2005.

Well it’s no surprise such a prolific artist had some material stashed away, but it’s pretty hard to believe it is of this caliber.  Spiritual State, Nujabes’ posthumous release, is a jaw-dropping, must experience album; a one of a kind piece of artistic excellence that must be heard to be believed.  Hyperbolic?  Well,  yes, but this is truly some of the best work the man ever created.   Full of the color and wonder one would expect from a Nujabes album, Spiritual State is less a mournful reflection, and more of a beautiful, glorious celebration of a musician who brought a lot of incredible sights and sounds to the world.

Spiritual State, despite being stunning, is pretty much standard Nujabes.  It’s a hip-hop album at its core, but with a bevy of jazz thrown in the mix.  There’s a great selection of emcees who bring a lot to the table, many of whom have appeared with Jun Seba before.  The variety found here, as always, is nothing less than amazing.  The album never loses its momentum, and often switches to relaxing beauty, to up-beat jazzy hip-hop.  It’s the type of record any self-respecting musician would kill to make, but not so much to emulate what he’s done, but rather, simply wish to be this scarily consistent. 

The album opens up with a collaboration with one of his peers, Uyama Hiroto (a fine musician in his own right), and is not so much a bold, attention grabbing opener, but instead, a gentle welcome into the world of Nujabes.  Largely piano driven, this obscenely smooth track never gets too far ahead of itself, simply relying and the light percussion and sultry saxophone to ebb and flow through the runtime.  The album then takes a pretty dramatic turn, with the second track being a decidedly hip-hop song featuring one of the record’s stronger emcees, Cise Star.  It’s a beat laden affair, but features a lot of the key and sax driven jazz found on the previous piece.  The record bounces between instrumentals and hip-hop, which begins to feel a bit formulaic.  Regardless, everything here is absolutely fantastic.  It peaks with “Yes,” which is easily one of Nujabes’ finest achievements.   A somewhat large track, it’s a perfect blend of Jun Seba’s two distinct styles.  Pas Rock is probably one of the weaker guest artists, but his mellow tone fits the song incredibly well.  Over all, it is just one amazing song among a sea of stunning selection.

It goes without saying that Nujabes will be missed greatly.  His contributions have, and will continue to be overlooked by many.  But for those whose lives his music has touched, they will never forget the captivating, spellbinding music that he created.  Although it may be a tad late in the year, it is in no way too late to check out one of 2011's top tier releases.  Get it.

Track List:
1. Spiritual state
2. Sky is Tumbling
3. Gone Are The Day
4. Spirale
5. City Light
6. Color of Autumn
7. Down on the Side
8. Yes
9. Rainy Way Back Home
10. Far fowls
11. Fellows
12. Waiting for the clouds
13. Prayer
14. Island

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