It’s hard to explain the intrinsic exhilaration I feel when I see “with Michio Kurihara” in the subject line of an email announcing Damon and Naomi’s new album. Don’t get me wrong, I love Damon and Naomi’s work and a new record from them is great news, but Kurihara is one of my favorite guitarists ever and there are never enough opportunities to hear him conjure magic. A Sky Record is the best of all these worlds distilled into a stretched-out contemplative moment.
When Damon and Naomi recorded with Kurihara in 2019, most of the songs had no lyrics and they would give him descriptions like, “This song’s about early morning, but there’s a little fog, but plants on the ground shining with some cold dew….” This speaks to the essence of Kurihara’s approach to his instrument. He plays so evocatively, painting images with steel-string resonance, running an emotional thread through them like a master tailor. Each note is another line in an imagined tragedy or poignant drama; a gleaming sun that washes over everything it touches. Together, this trio creates a field of soothing magic.
From the opening moments of “Oceans in Between” – Damon’s languidly strummed acoustic guitar, Naomi’s soft keyboard touches, and Kurihara’s tremolo-infused explorations – the trio create a gossamer aural cocoon shielding against the growing tidal wave of outside horror. Naomi’s voice is a warm summer rain, prismatic and glistening, the quiet lullabies a reminder that no matter the distance or the circumstances, there are people in our lives that will never be forgotten. As Kurihara slides into a short affect-laden solo, the days become shorter and the night looms, but Damon and Naomi’s voices are a beacon as they sing, “Every day I think of you, I send all my strength to you.” There’s no choice but to push ahead. The promise of light beckons, even if it’s light-years away, imbued with solace and hope for the sun to rise once again.
It almost doesn’t matter what happens over the next nine songs on A Sky Record after opening with an all-timer like “Oceans in Between,” but the sonic comfort keeps building. “Sailing By” finds Damon on lead vocals, offering sweet missives shuffling across the open seas while “Season Without Time” echoes the duality of the past year where time simultaneously stopped and bombarded forward with abandon. “Let’s live for a while in the season without time,” Naomi calls wistfully, acknowledging the permanent impermanence of the past year that, even though we often try to avoid it, colors in the details of our interactions, our intentions, and even our smallest movements.
We often build monuments to things we don’t completely understand, trying to acknowledge that they are important even if we’re not sure exactly why. A Sky Record isn’t so much a monument as it is a testament and a memorial. “Has the storm truly passed? Is it morning at last? Naomi sings with a quiet reservation over gentle strums knowing that some of these scars are forever even if, right at this moment, we aren’t quite aware of which ones. A Sky Record stretches outward, leaving a flickering trail in its wake, Kurihara’s guitar blossoms into simple, forlorn loops echoing with the promise of tomorrow forever held back by the unresolved grief of yesterday.
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