Before listening to Takahiro Kawaguchi and Utah Kawasaki's Amorphous Spores, one first experiences Hirozumi Takeda's beautiful design for the album. The photographs that adorn the packaging are alluring precisely for how they draw out specific qualities from various objects—the shape of the mushrooms, the contrast in color between them and the dirt, the general form and movement of the leaves—and bring them to the forefront via thoughtful framing. These individual photographs are chosen with the gatefold packaging in mind; the leaves that flank the side interior panels act to house the CD between them. When one lifts the disc from its tray, an upside down mushroom is revealed. It's unexpected and equal parts charming and hilarious. It all captures the essence of Amorphous Spores perfectly and acts to prepare one for engaging with the music.
When "12:32" begins, a low rumbling is heard. It's deep and has an inherent rhythmic quality to it that sets up the piece as both meditative and dramatic. However, any sense of tranquility is quickly shattered with the sound of a loud, resonating horn. These horns appear frequently but in different ways; sometimes we hear small squeaks, sometimes we hear a series of short notes. A buzzing drill arrives soon thereafter and it acts to contrast the clear, crisp tone of the horns. These three sounds make up the large majority of "12:32"—it may not seem like much but Kawaguchi and Kawasaki handle the material with such meticulous precision, in both pacing and arrangement, that the piece feels grandiose and nuanced.
Even more exciting is "10:59", a whirlwind of a tune that ranks among the best pieces either artist has ever created. It's huge and cacophonous and accomplishes such a feeling through the mixing of various contorted electronics. Considering this photo of Kawasaki sporting a SOPHIE shirt, it's easy to connect the elastic and humorous sounds present on "10:59" to those SOPHIE has created in the past couple years. However, it also recalls the playful attitude of U is for Utah and some of the stuff Kawasaki has created under the youpy moniker, both in its sound and sense of humor. The horn is present again on this track but it serves a different purpose in the midst of hyperactivity. There are, in fact, isolated moments where the horns resemble that of a clown's but what's more amusing is how a constant stream of staccato notes—something present on "12:32"—can sound so terrifically deadpan. The unexpected appearances of the whirring drill are also effective and they've managed to make me burst into laughter on multiple occasions.
The following two tracks are a bit more familiar-sounding but they manage to highlight how Kawaguchi and Kawasaki are so great at contextualizing specific sounds. On "4:17", the drill is heard yet again but it blends more seamlessly with the fidgeting noise. Here, the clamor is contained and the different components amass into a thick layer of sound. When the drill finally disappears, it becomes clear just how instrumental it was in making the piece feel so dense. "10:01" performs a similar trick except with the horn, allowing its droning tone to bind the rest of the instrumentation. As its high-pitched tone eventually clears, the abrasiveness of each scrape and yelp becomes palpable.
The album ends with a reprisal-of-sorts of album opener "12:32" and it acts as a repose from the raw buzzing noise of the previous tracks. It differs from the first track, however, due to how overwhelming the looming low end is; in the final thirty seconds of the song, we hear a note that's perceptibly altered by the track's deep pulses. That exact moment ends the album on a subtle but strong note. Amorphous Spores is filled with many of these small details and it's exactly why it feels like such an accomplishment; the level of craftsmanship that appears in every track allows each revisit to feel incredibly satisfying. It's a real testament to how astute both musicians are in utilizing and organizing their source material, and it's at the core of what makes Amorphous Spores one of the best albums of 2015.