Fuubutsushi is All About Time on New Album, “Meridians”

In the thick of the early Covid era (mid-2020), Matthew Sage had an idea for a record. Taking advantage of the imposed isolation, the multifaceted Colorado-based musician and artist used the opportunity to reach out to folks he’d long admired to collaborate on a project from afar. Violinist Chris Jusell, guitarist Chaz Prymek, and saxophonist Patrick Shiroishi joined Sage on keys/various instruments to establish a band – Fuubutsushi (風物詩) – and they immediately recorded a tetralogy of albums titled Shiki (2020-2021). The quartet seamlessly braids together elements of ambient sensibility, jazz fusion, experimental music and improvisation, and American folk; unshy of accruing seemingly disparate elements to their musical vocabulary, and magically capable of remaining in sync despite physical separation.

Fuubutsushi is finally back with the long-awaited Meridians (June 27, Cached.Media), their first full-length project since 2021. Slowly unfurling its petals, the intro track, “Blue Rose,” begins with simple but pristine ascending triads on glockenspiel. There’s a soft rustling: an unintelligible field recording murmurs while Jusell stacks violin drones and Prymek delicately places his guitar strums. Shiroishi’s saxophone playing brings out the real yearning, growling into a bluesy feature while the other three twinkle in accompaniment.

Shiroishi continues to shine on “Hamilton,” lending airy indie vocals in Japanese atop Sage’s tender piano musings. Subtle distortion and swells gently prod the ballad’s serene orchestration – the patience of the music and the versatility of each band member allow them to coast into different spheres of genre with coherent ease.

While inspired by the physical distance between members of the group, Meridians avoids feeling like a patchwork of zip folder stems and group chat antics. On “Distance Learner,” the chipper grooving, coordinated outbursts of noodly winds, and well-timed cymbal splashes – all interplaying with jazzy solos – sound so “in the room” it’s hard to believe the record was made entirely remotely. The self-containment of the project also extends well beyond the actual recording of the music – the band’s alignment with DIY and punk ethos shows up in the community (and online fandom) they’ve cultivated, along with a material commitment to political action via Cached’s mutual aid fundraising.

Their name “Fuubutsushi (風物詩)” refers to imagery, scents, tastes, and other markers or rituals that conjure memories of specific seasons. The quartet’s music is all about time – the way it both elongates and snaps to, and this record accentuates the fact that it was made across four different time zones; the 2xLP vinyl is aesthetically split into Pacific, Mountain, Central, and Eastern sides. On the Mountain side, “New Flora” is a fresh and sprawling work, traversing a wide terrain from a breezy rock intro to a taste of emotive Americana; and the faultless “Light in the Annex” shimmers with a thoughtful curation of solos, the intimacy of field recordings, and perfect whistling.

The Eastern side is the most adventurous of the four: “Spent for Light” explodes at the midpoint with heavily distorted electronics and boomy bass, like wind whipping your hair through an open car window. It’s a welcomed expansion of the quartet’s sound into heavier territories before veering back into sweetness. Meanwhile, the Central songs are the most introspective on the record. On “Barrell Duet,” harmonica mingles tastefully with slide guitar and ceramic tinkering to create a tapestry of textures, like a landscape bristling with tall grasses. “Nora Nora” is a love song, but a mature one – it takes its time, lingering on certain thoughts and leaving breathing room for phrases to develop.

On the other hand, there is the lead single, “Tenel Ka (First Crush),” which concludes the Pacific section. Named after a badass female Star Wars character, the track conveys an endearing innocence. It opens timidly with sparse chords and fragile violin until the bass leads the improvisatory glistening into a sunny unison melody, and a warm, transparently overdriven guitar solo. It all comes together to evoke a halcyon youthfulness reminiscent of being a kid and having big feelings for the first time.

This central theme of seeking comfort in recollection has been a defining characteristic of the 2020s. Film and television are a playground for remakes and spin-offs, and popular musical genres have seen an uptick in direct sampling and interpolation – a phenomena born out of the commodification of nostalgia in a time where many are looking to escape the ills of late-stage capitalist society. Fuubutsushi’s Meridians is commendable for managing to execute the sentiment of poignant longing without relying on exact quotations to cash in on emotional connections to source materials. Instead, the assured project is successful in crafting soundscapes that, through their essence, bring us back to various points in time – making the nostalgia highly personal to every listener.



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