For anyone even vaguely connected to the ambient scene the name of Inoue will almost certainly stir deep memories of some of lush and complex soundscapes. Ever since the FAX label started filling the shelves of hard-to-find record shops with what became even harder-to-find limited edition CDs in the early nineties Tetsu Inoue has been a mainstay of both the label and genre. In those good old days ambient was a little-known deepening of a form pioneered by the likes of Eno but today, in an era of online communication, the very concept of this scene as some kind of underground seems inconceivable. Yet FAX really felt like something new, offering an intelligent antidote to the rave space of the late eighties, many found their way to an ambient state via the avant-gardes of rock, folk, new age and even (speaking for myself at least) the hardest edges of industrial, which had picked up on many of the more interesting sound palettes generated by new software. We need to remember that what seemed so very 'now' about FAX was, well, even the label suggested a kind of non-place, an escape into the aether of new modes of communication and hey, we could even FAX the creator; how very modern and knowing we had become.
I need to confess that my FAX addiction has waned over recent years, though at some stage I have owned almost all of the releases up to 1999, bar the Namlook's, and many more since. This isn't because the artwork has lost its abstract allure (which, of course, it has), or because I can get even the rarest disc on itunes (which, of course, I don't), no, I think my problem is that the music is often simply not good enough, but then some opportunities just cannot be missed. When I accidentally flicked open an ambient digest to find mention of a new Inoue on FAX I frantically started searching through online record shops to grab a copy. Even being so quick it wasn't easy to find a copy which perhaps made its arrival all the more sweet. So there I was, a copy of only 500 in my hands and the first thing that met me with this release was the lacklustre cover, a white background with a kind of wire-frame flower or some other kind of flora. But I treated the first playing of this disc with some degree of ritual and respect, no listening 'peek' while at work on 'phones, no ripping and ipodding, wait til I get home and play it uninterrupted on the stereo – how very old fashioned.
My first impressions of Inland were of a step forward and melding of styles, somewhere between Psychedelic Masters of Ambiance and the 2350 series. This, of course, is no bad thing, the associations this generated were of the peak of the FAX output, washes of sound, an organic lapping of electronic waves, a gentle approach that builds, shifts and subsides to say nothing of a sense of grandeur. Perhaps the biggest revelation is the lack of a dramatic punch in a new direction, we have perhaps all been here before, but surely this is a place that we have wanted to be back in for quite some time?
A new generation may discover ambient but will they do so through discs like this? What I am most struck by is the way that ambience has become embedded in a kind of daily sound lexicon that operates through the commercial and artistic world around us. Far from being a nerdish group of bedroom-located fans networked by word-of-mouth, email and now the net, electronica and its softer forms are the background to crime dramas, the bulk of advertising, to say nothing of the films we watch today. How (un)remarkable is Inland in this context, and as a result of these shifts? I worry that the unlocking of what has played a central role in some of our lives has pushed a highly valued art-form and core label into the role of a present-day muzak.
If we could somehow undo all the listening many of us have done over the past decade there is little doubt that Inland would be deemed an instant classic. An evolving and mutating softness just draws us in, the sounds are blurred, repetition is almost absent, as are truly environmental sounds. The titles are low key, familiar and suggestive often implying viewpoints or geographical reference points (Mini Moon, Peak and Overlook). The timbre is emotional and 'warm' yet unintrusive, truly wallpaper music or aural architecture, depending on how involved we might like to be. Inland may be the analogue to Laswell and Namlook's Outland series, certainly there is little anxiety or darkness here to contend with. Whether we will see a new FAX series in the offing or a one-off gem in today's ocean of sound is another question. For my money I advise buying this either because you want to go back to the good old days or, for those of you were who weren't there, to lie back, listen and fill your mind with imagined memories of what it was like to see this scene emerge all those years ago. For the statisticians this is a 9 out of 10, or for those who prefer words, close to perfect.
(review by Rowland Atkinson)
It's been a while, and since leaving FAX, Inoue's output has fallen more often into the "admire" than "enjoy" arena. Well, he's back, and on first listen everything that makes a good FAX Inoue session is right here; the noise has gone, and we're back in the lush.
Okay. But is it great? And is there anything new? In short, yes. Inland's composition and production boasts higher resolution; vibrant, dynamic and yet relaxed. The whispy carousel-like aspect of World Receiver is here, but the sound palette is at times not far away from Ambient Okatu, 2350 Broadway 2,3 and Shades of Orion 2. In addition there are many new and decidedly electronic sounds; lush pads, smooth bleeps and other lovelies as only Tetsu can handle them.
The music is tantalisingly familiar at many points, but it's also fresh and mature, and in line with his best stuff there are new discoveries with every listen. On the first spin you may think - bah, more Okatu. But you're not listening. Listen again. Inland has more ideas in one track than Okatu had altogether, only this time the ideas tease past very quickly; never stopping; never boring. The result is as smooth as it's complex, and the production is amazing.
Each track provides a vista to savour, and each has stand out moments. Zen, Peak (aptly named) and Wabi are particularly strong. Inland is not necessarily a journey. It's more like we're already there - enjoy the views! It's quite evocative and the vibe is always positive. If you're looking for dark and edgy look elsewhere.
In comparison with other albums Inland bears a notable resemblance to 2350 Broadway 4 (though Namlook grounds that one with great restraint to provide a more soundtrack-ish affair). And as I mentioned there are occasional superficial similarities with Okatu, 2350 2, 3 and Shades 2 but where Okatu was clever, Inland is wise. Soon to be another classic...
(review by Eddie O'Hanlon)