The word “cinematic” entered the book of music journalism cliches quite a while ago, but it’s hard not to use the word to describe Takako Minekawa and Dustin Wong’s Toropical Circle. That said, it’s typically associated with post-rock guitars and thumping percussion suggesting epic space-flight scenes or something of the like. In this case, though, we’re talking more Howl’s Moving Castle than 2001:a space odyssey. Minekawa’s silken delivery of childlike melodies bounce over the former Ponytail guitarist’s intricate, beautiful, cartoonish backgrounds.
Minekawa made waves in the Shibuya-kei scene of the ’90s by combining synth, lounge, jazz, and bossa nova influences in one hyperdrive pop style. However, she hadn’t released an album since 2000. Wong’s unfortunately short-lived band hid a similar polyglot musical technicality in giddy noise pop trappings. His combination of technical precision and expressionistic ornamentation provides the perfect return for Minekawa, their strengths complementing each other.
Like Wong’s solo work, Toropical Circle relies on labyrinthine layers of live looping, though it still winds up organic and flowing. “Party on a Floating Cake” opens the album with delay-laden guitar picking, the various twitchy layers building to the sky. Over that technicolor drone, Minekawa’s sweeping moans are at first barely perceptible, though they tie the instrumental layers into a calming whole.
Like the opener, the song titles throughout show the album’s precise understanding of its own evocative cuteness. There are “Two Acorns’ Dreams Growing As One” and “Bell Tree Dancers”, the former a sunny sway of bloops and plinks. “Mirror Underwater in a Magic Lantern” revels in fingersnaps, infectious fuzz, and bubbled guitar effects, Minekawa layering serene vocal moans through the reverberating depth.
The album is a return to carefree, childlike wonderment, the darkest days softened by Minekawa’s soothing vocals and Wong’s technicolor arrangements. Two tracks feature interpolations of “Mary Had A Little Lamb”, though neither comes off as cloying or forced. On Toropical Circle, Minekawa and Wong manage to unlock the pure happiness and beauty of innocence, creating what could easily (and should definitely) be the soundtrack to an incredibly detailed, epic animated world.
Essential Tracks: “Party on a Floating Cake”, “Two Acorns’ Dreams Growing As One”, and “Mirror Underwater in a Magic Lantern”