Sakamoto Maaya - Driving in the silence

review - 18.12.2011 01:00

A festive collection to warm the cockles of your heart.

Pop artist and voice actress Sakamoto Maaya has treated fans to a couple of popular concept albums in the past: Easy Listening all the way back in 2001 and 30minutes night flight in 2007. The latest addition to these is Driving in the silence, released 9th November, which revolves around the themes of Christmas and winter.

The first of the nine tracks, Driving in the silence, is a short, cheerful pop piece to set the mood. After a quiet piano verse it bursts into a full and warm chorus, like coming back home after a long drive through the cold. Maaya's harmonies in her repeated lyric "Driving in the silence" echo as if in a carol and are suitably festive.

There's a good deal of variety on this themed album, as was the case with her other concept albums. There are the upbeat and dancy tunes to get a party mood going, such as with Sayonara Santa and homemade christmas. The former is an extremely bubbly pop-rock track that doesn't smack of being a Christmas tune apart from the lyrics and odd bit of twinkly glockenspiel, but it is so exuberant and celebratory that it doesn't really matter. Whilst still in the party spirit, homemade christmas is a less excited groove pop song which is more of a Christmas lunch to Sayonara Santa's Christmas party. The tune is that of a traditional festive pop song, but it has been given a tropical twist which is quite refreshing.

There is a bit of a family sing-a-long feel in the acoustic Tatoeba ringo ga te ni ochiru youni. Simple percussion, guitars, vocal harmonies, violin and hand claps join Maaya gradually to build a hearty and inviting take on a folk style.

Then in contrast there are the quieter wintertime tunes. Kotoshi ichiban is a piece of classic easy listening lounge reflecting on the New Year, perfect for curling in front a fire to. The only English song on the album, Melt the snow in me, brings in a sense of fragility of the season with its beautiful Celtic folk melody. The lyrics — the only ones on the album not written by Maaya — have a fairy tale surrealism and together with the delicate arrangement create a trip across a winter wonderland over wild moorland. The writers of this song, Swedish musicians Rasmus Faber and Frida Sundemo, also wrote another stand out piece on the album: the less fantastical but equally mesmerising tune Kyokuya. Classical strings are fused with looping synth and reverberating rock guitar for a quietly moving experience, which culminates in a glorious finale full of string solos and choral harmonies. This has been arranged to pack in multitude layers of instruments whilst never overshadowing Maaya, and the composers clearly have a handle on how to write for her. Hopefully they will have another chance to collaborate in the future.

The last full track is Chikai, the only track to be composed by Maaya herself. It is the most conventional sounding song on the album, being typical pop-rock without any clear musical tie-in with the wintry theme. It does have a good, powerful chorus driving it forward which makes it stand out, and also the usual string backing that seems to accompany the majority of her pieces. Whilst not being the most interesting track it brings things to close on a high. Driving in the silence -reprise- is the 9th and final track, although at 45 seconds long and consisting just of Maaya singing the title repeatedly against sleigh bells, it isn't much of a song in itself but more of a rounding off.

Driving in the silence is a worthy addition to her concept album collection. Like her previous ones it is an imaginative collection of more experimental sounds than her usual album releases, and it is nice to see her writing more of her own material. Now that the chill is in the air, throw this on as the soundtrack to a winter drive or for the perfect way to get into the holiday spirit.

The limited edition of the album includes a bonus DVD of the original short movie "Driving in the silence," shot in Ireland.

Check out the clip of Sayonara Santa, which was also shot in Ireland, below.

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