After Dinner’s Paradise of Replica is a concise nugget of tomfoolery that occupies a whimsical no man’s land between art pop, Japanese folk music and full-assed Art Zoydian avant proggery. Gentle, arcane and covertly sweeping, it typifies that friendly strain of experimentalism that Eastern music seems so predisposed towards and which curious minds find such great delight in. Assembled by the enigmatic chanteuse and composer known simply as Haco, After Dinner was less a band and more of a loose art collective that utilized a plurality of different musical disciplines stapled together through free improvisation sessions. And some of this does come through on Paradise of Replica—the record is a scrapbook of bells, strings and koto humming under Haco’s ethereal vocals, and the effect, while perfectly tuneful, does come off more as a musical project than a conventional album. But Paradise of Replica is far from an impenetrable scholastic endeavour—in fact, there’s something of an Elephant 6-like quality in its ability to warp conventions while still coming off more or less like pop music. Counter to the ramshackle hostility of much improvised music, After Dinner’s choices are melodious and feel deliberately sequenced. Even crescendos don’t tend to rise above a murmur, and there are even apparent hooks on tracks like “A Walnut” and “Ironclad Mermaid.” Ultimately, there’s not much to be said about Paradise of Replica that can elucidate more than actually hearing it will be able to. Proggy, playful and lush, it’s a brief glimpse into something in the vicinity of genius, and just outside the realm of commercial music. It’s a quietly bold project that shows a softer side of the avant-garde, and makes a perfect companion to Stereolab and Magma at once.
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