Nujabes – Spiritual State

written by: January 9, 2012
Release Date: December 3rd, 2011


Some talents are quiet, not for lack of ability, but because those gifts don’t demand attention. Nujabes was just one such talent, and while he may not have lit up the blogosphere (many of his releases predated it) with each new release, pushed the boundaries of music or ripped headlines at awards shows, the loss of Jun Seba will be felt by music.

Spiritual State is the incontrovertible testament to Seba’s gift, and considering it was compiled posthumously by producers and those closest to him, it came out pretty cohesively and sounding pretty damn good. The album touts a flawless, variegated production that allows the heaviest lows to shine side by side with a flowery piano melody. “Yes” is the epitome of this, where a slashing Latin drum feel threatens to overwhelm everything before Pase Rock kicks back over a recessed soundscape.

The instrumentation and influence list gets pretty eclectic, There’s Medieval panpipe on “Far Fowls,” references to Coltrane, Eric B and Rakim and shades of the East in its pentatonic scales. It helps that there’s a guest list perfectly suited to vibes. Ohioan DJ Pase Rock hops on “City Lights,” spouting off ambient monologues, which don’t beg for focus but are sharply refined: “Spin a record with a two-week lifespan, can’t find a good girl so we hug the mic stand.” In a time when inflated rap egos are countered by “self-conscious is cool,” his false braggadocio and near-monotone delivery is welcome.

Substantial also checks in on this one, reuniting with his old collaborator, proving a more urgent and elemental foil to Pase. All rappers account for only a handful of the songs and all seem to be coming from a like-mindedness, portraying that melancholic sweetness that Nujabes has obsessed over in his work.

Like a rainy day, Spiritual State is reflective, contemplative and serene in a sad sort of way. There’s also the sense of not having to do anything but kick back and listen while the sounds swing, swirl and swill in listeners’ heads. There are many words for Seba’s style but suffice to say almost all of them involve hip-hop and jazz. It can be organic in sound, as in “Sky Is Tumbling” with its smooth drum head and piano, or almost entirely electronic and computer-made, but it never comes off as artificial.

Spiritual State is a rare, at times exotic, and, perhaps no thanks to its own, strangely tragic album. Dying before your time always begs the “if,” but let’s not dwell on what could be and just appreciate what is.

 Nujabes – Spiritual State tracklist:

  1. “Spiritual State” (featuring Uyama Hiroto)
  2. “Sky Is Tumbling” (lyrics by Cise Star)
  3. “Gone Are the Day (featuring Uyama Hiroto)
  4. “Spirale”
  5. “City Light” (lyrics by Pase Rock and Substantial)
  6. “Color of Autumn”
  7. “Dawn on the Side”
  8. “Yes” (lyrics by Pase Rock)
  9. “Rainy Way Back Home”
  10. “Far Fowls”
  11. “Fellows”
  12. “Waiting for the Clouds” (lyrics by Substantial)
  13. “Prayer”
  14. “Island” (featuring Haruka Nakamura and Uyama Hiroto)