Akai Heats Up with The Coldest Hour

by Adam Wiltgen

Originally published 3/4/10 at driftlessmusic.blogspot.com

Akai was kind enough to give me a copy of their debut album, The Coldest Hour, after their performance at the Driftless Music Showcase on February 19th. The eight-piece ensemble immediately commanded the room’s attention with an intense set of sweeping alt-pop. (Scroll down for a video I shot of their performance). Thankfully the nuance and warm energy of their live show is well represented in this recording.

The album’s opening tracks smoothly introduce the band’s key strengths: male-female dual vocals, expansive textures, and incredibly diverse instrumentation. Gradually building a thick wall of sound, the lush vocal harmonies and layered lead lines in When the Sun Goes Down showcase songwriters Hiromi and Robbie Matsumoto’s keen ability for arrangement. On the other hand, the epic gang vocals at the end of Breath evoke the best of the Arcade Fire, harnessing the spontaneous while also tastefully celebrating the unnecessary.

The stand out track in my opinion is the mid-tempo electro-drone rocker Not in My Head. Trading stanzas during the chorus like “the FBI has tapped my phone” and “the mail came a little light today“, the Matsumoto couple elegantly communicate the slightly subdued, eerie paranoia in the lyrics. The call and response vocal contrast has an almost playfully schizophrenic aspect to it that works well over the polished, yet positively postmodern soundscape underneath it. The Coldest Hour is not so cold after all…

This is band has magnetic chemistry and I wish them nothing but the best in the months ahead. Their CD release party will take place March 20th at the 400 Bar. Click here for more info and /or to purchase a bundled CD & ticket package for the show.

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