Sumie Nagano’s debut album arrives like a vivid seasonal change. Released through Bella Union Records, the acoustic breeze allows listeners to mentally fill the space that Sumie so effortlessly removes herself from. Unlike her sister Yukimi (lead vocalist of audacious electronic outfit Little Dragon), Sumie’s strengths lie in her simple style and understated choices. While they stand at opposite ends of a spectrum, her minimalist nature isn’t compelled by a need to differentiate herself from her sister, but rather the result of the lack of noise she can make while raising two small children. Appropriately, her mellow voice layered upon rounded instrumentation makes the album blend into one long, sophisticated lullaby.
“Spells You” is the most upbeat song of the rather subdued album, the simple opener serving as a snapshot of the harmony-laced tracks that follow. Tellingly, the album’s two most notable tracks received ephemeral, enchanting video treatment. The clear-voiced, calming “Never Wanted To Be” conjures beautiful, natural scenes, dually presented in footage as if pulled from Planet Earth. The video for “Show Talked Windows”, on the other hand, displays the Japanese portion of her Japanese/Swedish roots, its expressive, stark black and white imagery matching her impressive vocal range. The strikingly melancholic song evens out the appeasing nature of the rest of the album.
It’s upsetting that a record like Sumie could easily get buried by more instrumentally ambitious albums, by artists more eager to clamber for attention. If she were ever to change her style or create pulsing music like her sister, she would most definitely excel, as her unique voice could lend itself to some exquisite collaborations across multiple genres. For now, though, Sumie belongs in a cozy little nook between The Civil Wars and Sufjan Stevens on your “Sleep” playlist, as her soothing vocals are guaranteed to have you dreaming sweetly.
Essential Tracks: “Spells You”, “Show Talked Shadows”