The spooky ambient arrangements that populate Distant Sounds of Summer don’t really bring summer to mind. If the LP’s moniker is somewhat misleading, the track titles – “Falling Moon,” “Path Fades Into Forrest,” “Lit By Moonlight” – are more revealing. On this somber collaboration between Japanese electronic producer Susumu Yokota and London’s Rothko, a.k.a. Mark Beasley, reverb-heavy guitar lines, occasional beats and room noise more often underscore ominous dusk meetings with treasure-hoarding trolls than they do days at the beach. Fortunately, Caroline Ross’s soothing vocals are laid overtop, and all is not completely eerie.
Because Rothko is no longer the bass-centered three-piece it once was, Beasley alone offers lazy, strumming guitar for Yokota’s expansive atmospherics. The strongest qualities here are in the record’s surreal atmospherics, often built by some guitar delay, footsteps and wind chimes. “Sentiero,” for example, is grounded in chord swells that enter and exit behind Beasley fingering around two or three notes. Marketplace ambience takes hold in the first few minutes, with street chatter and bells that have been looped into some accidental pattern by one of Japan’s foremost electronic composers.
Yokota’s beats are either slow, Sunday-morning rhythms, such as those in the harmonica-tinged “Clear Space,” or entirely factory-like, such as the assembly-line rumblings in “Lit by Moonlight.” Occasionally, Ross’s beautiful vocals rescue some of these meandering compositions before they morph into the sort of world music that comes from the corner of the restaurant while you’re trying to digest. It’s not exactly digestible – nor is it music for digesting – and Distant Sounds of Summer suffers from the lack of real mood changes. But the album succeeds in becoming a part of the room it’s being played in, even if it’s sometimes unnoticeable.