There are some albums that you are prepared for. As a teenager, hearing Atari Teenage Riot, Alanis Morrisette, Miles Davis and Merzbow felt like life-changing moments. Before I thought I had a handle on music, or what music should do, but after I was left questioning everything. When I went to college, and later university, I had similar experiences with Mogwai, Yoko Ono, seeing Herbie Hancock live and my first steps in my local experimental/noise scenes. Listening to ‘Aura’ by Japanese vocal artist Hatis Noit reminds me of these experiences. To quote Nathan Barley, it feels like the “day the world changed”.
The album opens with ‘Aura’. Hatis Noit’s vocals start slowly. Gentle noises, and hums, welcome us. As ‘Aura’ progresses the music gains more potency and vigour. Suddenly an operatic vocal emerges. All other vocals seem to drop back to allow this gorgeous, billowing, voice to grow. The song is about walking through a forest in Shiretoko, near where Hatis Noit grew up, and feeling a part of the nature around her. A sense of awe and peace entered her. This comes across in the music. It isn’t jarring, confusing yes, but never jarring. Everything has a lovely pace and vibe to it. Nothing is out of balance. Everything is centred.
Another standout track is ‘Inori’. ‘Inori’ means prayer and is probably the most serene song on the album. Wisps of vocals swirl from the speakers. The gently spin around you like an animated wind spite in a children’s film. As these wisps of sound dart about, longer, more mournful, vocals hit you square in the chest. Under this is a field recording of the sea. The song came about because Hatis Noit was invited to perform at a memorial, and re-opening, ceremony at Fukushima. It was the first time that the local people were able to go back to their hometown since the nuclear disaster. The ocean sounds were recorded a kilometre from the site. It reminds us that despite everything we do to the planet, good and bad, in the end the natural world will remain. Its, chilling, but also hopeful. The song is a prayer to the people of Fukushima, and the world.
‘Aura’ is one of the most singular albums I’ve heard for a long time. It is composed, entirely, of layered vocals. I don’t really know what they are saying, if anything at all, but the emotional resonance is incredible. You are hit, in the chest, which this intensity that doesn’t let off for a moment. Hatis Noit possess a clarity of voice that is seldom heard, especially on albums such as this, and a vision that has seen her play around the world. There are similarities to the Bulgarian State Television Female Vocal Choir, but this feels far more striking.
This album is not for everyone. It’s not an easy listen. At times you think “Why am I listening to this? Is it even any good?” and feel like turning it off and trying something more conventional. However, if you are game enough and persevere with it you will be rewarded, as ‘Aura’ is an absolute delight once you let it under your skin.
Words: Nick Roseblade
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