Hokane is the first in a series of musical and visual short story books that Thrill Jockey is planning to release. Japanese artist Aki Tsuyuko created the images in the nicely-printed 48-page 6x8 inch hardbound book while listening to the tracks on Hokane, and the result is a tactile object that seems like it was meant to go together.
The artwork in the book ranges from what looks like treated photos to vivid, filled-shape pieces of everything from simple shapes like circles and squares to actual stylized objects (like the bright green birds exploring the red piano on the cover). There are also several pages of sheet music for the album, many of which are stylized either in artwork objects themselves or with colored shapes floating around them. In places, the result is something that looks like an average photo with a filter applied to it, yet in other places the whimsical shapes and almost childlike designs and color palette's fit perfectly alongside the music.
Tsuyuko has collaborated with Nobukazu Takemura on several different releases (mainly providing vocal samples for his deconstructed electronic creations), and her music has some things in common with his more simple, playful work. Mainly comprised of electronic synth sounds of woodwind-type instruments and lots of quiet hammered percussion like vibraphone and glockenspiel, it feels almost austere at times, yet completely loose and fun at others. The album opener of "Como Suite" is an epic track that has a little of each, as it moves with a formalism that seems to suck a lot of the life out of the warm tones that comprise the song.
Tracks where Tsuyuko sings are for the most part much more successful. "Owlet Hymn" layers several curling melodies of organ and chimes with overlapping vocals for an end result that comes across like an alternate-world version of Steve Reich while the super-fun "Zou And Chou" is easily one of the better tracks on the entire disc as cascading chimes and looping electronic horn melodies splash off one another while Tsuyuko adds surprisingly emotive vocals. In other places, though, the album gets stuck in pleasant, but overlong sections (like the ten-minute "Aquilo") that don't really pan out as well. As a total package, Hokane is a nice little art object where the music seems custom made to fit alongside the art and vice-versa. At times, neither are as compelling as they could be, but you can always flip the page (and skip to the next track).