Gratin Carnival - Such December LP (Alien Transistor, 2023)
"Alien Transistor is proud to announce a reissue of Such December, the fourth album by Japanese indie folk-pop artist, Gratin Carnival. Listeners might already know Gratin Carnival from their appearance on the Alien Parade Japan compilation of indie pop groups working with brass and woodwind; compiled by Markus Acher of The Notwist and Saya of Tenniscoats, it introduced this beautiful genre to the wider world. Gratin Carnival’s “Just Watching” was one of the many highlights of that compilation, and its gentle bossa-folk glide reappears on Such December.
Originally released in 2020, Such December captures beautifully the happy-sad charm of Gratin Carnival. The project of Koreyuki Mitsunaga, Gratin Carnival started in 2011; Mitsunaga had been home recording for some time and decided on the name as an umbrella for his music-making. Mitsunaga’s main instruments are guitar, which he uses to great effect throughout, his gorgeous acoustic playing reminiscent of players like Ueno Takashi of Tenniscoats or João Gilberto, and alto saxophone and clarinet. Those three instruments make up the core of Gratin Carnival’s sound, along with Mitsunaga’s charmingly doleful singing.
Recording at his parents’ home, with a four-track cassette recorder and a MacBook, Mitsunaga created Such December during 2020, though the songs on it stretch back to 2016. The closing “On The Train” was the first song written for the album – “a song about a small trip,” Mitsunaga recalls – and from there, he built a beautiful collection of songs that sit together perfectly. There’s great clarity in Mitsunaga’s writing, with nothing extraneous getting in the way of the lucid arrangements and gorgeous melodies; there’s something of chamber jazz about it at times, so it’s no surprise that Mitsunaga shares his love of Benny Goodman’s small group playing.
He's also a fan of Japanese folk artists like Kenji Endo and Kyouzou Nishioka, and grew up listening to Japanese popular music, The Beatles, and The Carpenters. You can hear trace elements of all this in Such December, in the clear-headedness of the melodic decisions made by Mitsunaga, and the quiet charm of the song’s gentle arrangements. They take on different shapes live, too, where Mitsunaga often invites other musicians to join in – his live band currently includes Masafumi Ezaki (trumpet), Nahoko Kamei (bass clarinet, piano, keyboards) and Tadashi Yonago (trombone, self-made instruments).
As with plenty of musicians from the Japanese underground, Mitsunaga is involved in other music, too – he’s been working with The Otoasobi Project, which performs music in collaboration with individuals with learning disabilities, and their families; and he’s also involved in improvised music. With Such December, though, you get to hear Mitsunaga’s music at its most personal and individual, ten songs of still, gorgeously poised indie folk-pop, where the swooning clang of six strings meets the breathy bliss of woodwind and brass." - AT