(The cover art for the new Snail’s House album “Snö”, courtesy of bandcamp.)
Ujico, Snail’s House, Keitaro Ujiie; all three names point to one of the more prolific electronic artists out there and one of the more successful indie-electronic acts. Snail’s House’s new album “Snö” shows that Ujiie doesn’t necessarily trade quality for quantity. “Snö” takes on a refreshingly new sound and direction for Ujiie, much less poppy, fun, and upbeat but much more smooth, melodic, and visceral.
Snail’s House albums normally take on an aggressive, colorful style fueled by J-Pop and anime-flavored music that’s become a bit of a sub-genre in electronic music. The sub-genre can create some very solid moods and generally fun albums though it can also come as bland and can lack an identity of its own. Vaporwave and this anime-electronic sub-genre, in particular, can be a vector for that laziness. Artists will sometimes do as little as snatch a sample from an old song and an image from an old show and distort them slightly.
Whatever you say about Ujiie, you can’t say he takes those lazy routes. Even in the albums that feel underwhelming or unambitious, Ujiie has his own sound, his own characters, and his own artistic style. More impressively, when Ujiie hits a stride he’ll often take his core art style and expand it into intriguing new directions.
“Snö” keeps the color and the charm of a normal Snail House album and mellows it out to make you feel the cozy and bundled-up side of winter. In my case, “Snö” succeeded and matched up very well with the long Minnesota winter still unfolding around me.
“Snö” changes up in form of its tempo on a lot of songs. There aren’t as many bursts of sound in “Snö” as in a lot of Ujiie’s other albums. Ujiie sticks to the new vibe very well and lets “Snö” be different than his usual product. The music still has a very cheery and bright quality to it because it still has all the high-pitched sounds, the snaps, claps, synths, and generally fun beats common to Snail’s House. The main difference is a mood mellowed out by slower, more measured beats.
Despite being so mellow, “Snö” thrives on doing what Snail House does best: taking little, visceral sounds and using them to make engaging electronic music. “Snö” creates so much texture through small touches of sound and little samples here and there. Crackling fires, boots crunching through snow, snow shovels, and the gentle noise of rain all give the feeling of being in the middle of winter. Electronic albums benefit a lot from these visceral touches because they give the music a full-bodied, natural feeling that it can easily lack otherwise.
Ujiie keeps things interesting by changing up beats and using subtle but very interesting instrumental lines. It’s easy to tune out and passively absorb “Snö” but the album works well on an active listen too. “[Snowdrift]”, for instance, employs really dynamic keys, strings, synths, and distant popping or clicking noises.
“Snö” can feel less deep than it truly is because it’s so tonally consistent. It’s so much one specific style of slow but groovy song that it can feel like it isn’t doing as much as it is. It doesn’t help that a lot of tracks carry on the other’s motifs so it’s easy for them to feel a bit too similar at first glance. That said, Ujiie uses the recycled beats and the motifs as a way to deepen the mood of the album even further, so it feels intentional and not lazy. The album feels meant to overlap itself like winter builds on itself.
You can see how the album builds like winter in how “thaw (interlude)” sets up the main beat for “[whiteout]” and “[Waiting for you, waiting for you]” sets up the main beat for “雪の降る街で、あなたを待っている。”.
“雪の降る街で、あなたを待っている。” roughly translates to “I’m waiting for you in the city where snow falls,” and it’s the climax of the album. It has some fascinating bits of math rock inside it, particularly in form of a super active bass and drum line. The production on the bass and drums keep them way more toned down than in a normal math rock song so that they don’t feel overdone or out of place but they are easily the most energetic and quick instrumental segment on the album and a great example of the small but meaningful ways Ujiie experiments with new sounds.
“Snö” can feel a bit overly-similar at points and a bit unsurprising because of how it recycles its own rhythms, but make no mistake; it’s a strong album. Ujiie had a good sense of what he wanted “Snö” to be and he delivered on it. “Snö” may not rock your world if you aren’t in the mood for a mellower, moodier album but if you are looking for something that gets at the cozier side of winter, if you want something that gets at the hot chocolates, the bundles of scarfs and gloves, the gentle drift of snowflakes seen through a window, and the crunch of snow boots, then this a great album.