I am a sucker for bassoon music. Bassoon is one of the core components of Lila Bazooka, the duo of Sophie Bernado and Céline Grangey; the narrative spaces they create push well beyond what I imagine when I think of the instrument. Using the rich, organic timbre of Bernado’s bassoon playing as a jumping-off point, the electronics, sound design, and more cast intricate shapes against an ever-expanding timbral background. With an expansive, unfolding story, Arashiyama is beautiful and otherworldly.
To enter this enchanted world, Bernado opens Arashiyama with a whimsical five-minute solo bassoon piece, “Nouka.” Quick runs sidle up against somber, reflective moments with ease, as though we’re reliving countless past lives to find a way into the maze of Arashiyama. The title track begins similarly before blooming into a futuristic orchestra. Electronics come down in emotive, whirring sheets, like some kind of harmonic birdsong that gently expands into a lustrous sonic chrysalis. Bernado’s voice hovers, a calming lullaby amidst the spectral fray.
One of Lila Bazooka’s biggest strengths is not just how much ground they cover but also how well they do it. Songs like the title track mentioned above and “Todai-ji” have an abstract pop quality with surprising hooks and liminal melodies. “Perpetuum” glides with weightlessness, the bassoon and electronics lapping against a crystal beach where Bernado’s spoken word inhabits the waves. Noisier elements filter through at sharp angles on the expansive “Hyoshi Taisha,” veering between ethereal and horror in an enticing, shifting soundscape filled with metallic embellishments and discordant drones. The duo somehow manages to create a dense but effervescent universe.
When the duo is joined by Ko Ishikawa for “Aishite Imasu” and closer “Ducks and Boats,” a wistful feeling washes across the tonal sheen. The latter, written by Ishikawa, is one of the standout moments of Arashiyama. Voices flutter in a playful ballet, twisting through the aural clouds in choreographed balladry. The music moves forward with a slow, considered purpose. We are held close in its gossamer embrace, unencumbered by outside gravity, levitating within the pure sonic bliss. Arashiyama is a heady and restorative trip that sounds like nothing else.