with Three Rivers String quintet
Japanese singer and songwriter Ichiko Aoba has steadily attracted listeners in her homeland since she released her first album back in 2010, but it took more than a decade for her gorgeous sounds to start making serious international inroads. It all changed when she dropped the stunning Windswept Adan in 2020, which was reissued in the U.S. by Ba Da Bing a year later. Suddenly, Ichiko has achieved global fame—all it took was giving listeners access to her work—as she’s been touring across Europe and the U.S. during the fall of 2022, making even more converts.
She designed Windswept Adan as the soundtrack to an imaginary film that existed only in her own mind, set on a pair of fictional islands. For the most part Ichiko complements her beautifully soft singing with deceptively simple patterns plucked on an acoustic guitar, although at times those elements are complemented by soothing harmonium, field recordings of water lapping at a shoreline, and ultra-spare percussion (when beats are present at all). But within those basic parameters she delivers something transcendent, a levitating sound world embroidered with wispy melodies masterfully intoned in a voice that evokes emotions and atmospheres far more elastic and powerful than her hushed delivery initially suggests. The same can be said for the guitar playing, where every arpeggio and translucent fingerpicked phrase not only casts a meditative spell, but produces a sparkling lattice of cycling tones that expertly glides along with her exquisite vocal lines.
As Pitchfork has written about her, “Ichiko Aoba’s greatest strength is her ability to create pockets of intimacy. The Japanese singer-songwriter’s breathy vocals and placid guitar playing, often the only sounds you’d hear on her records, create a hypnotizing shroud that makes you feel like she’s performing for you alone.” Her performances might initially seem unassuming, but once she pulls listeners in her subtle power takes control, with bird-like whistling and charming hand gestures occasionally reinforcing the stories she’s singing.