Ryuichi Sakamoto is one of those artists who has released so much work that it's kind of hard to know where to start looking. Some of his work has been excellent and elegant and yet other pieces of his don't stand the test of time very well and sound a bit hamfisted and overbearing. Several years ago, I stumbled across remix releases of some of his work by different artists that were released on the Ninja Tune label. Anger/Grief and Prayer/Salvation were both hit-or-miss collections of remixes of tracks from a single release of Sakamoto's, but there was enough that stood out in the remixes that I resolved hunting down the original piece.
Originally released in a very limited quality (it has since been re-issued with a bonus remixed track that completely breaks the continuity of the release), Discord is for me the finest album that Sakamoto has ever done. Encased in a shiny blue foil wrapping and containing completely outdated multimedia material for computers (256 colors only please!), the release is 4 pieces of modern classical music that runs the gamut of the emotions and states of mind in the titles of the tracks. At times lovely and fragile and achingly beautiful and at other times almost completely dissonant, this is an album that has consistently found its way back into my stereo after first discovering it.
"Grief" opens the release and it's a seventeen-minute epic that seemingly encompases the particular variations of that emotion. The first section of the track finds a string quartet playing a repeated motif before some sparse piano enters and pieces of the quartet start breaking off from the original piece and playing something darker. The track in turn morphs into an almost desperate section, where playfully sinister flutes, strings, and piano all mingle in an off-kilter waltz before coalescing into a more simple melody. If the opening piece captured the different variations of "Grief," the second track of "Anger" is the opposite; single-minded and overpowering as throttling waves of percussion, strings, and piano attack relentlessly for almost seven minutes. It's cathartic and almost a shock to the system upon first listen, but it fits within the greater album wonderfully.
"Prayer" is much like the first track in that it starts out with a fragile and simple motif (this time played by woodwinds) that evolves slightly over the course of nearly seventeen minutes. The piece is subtle and doesn't always take the path most likely (ocassionally drifting into darker passages), but is highly rewarding as well. For all the lovely music on the release, nothing still can beat the last track of "Salvation," in which Sakamoto starts the track with found-sound of people talking about finding said salvation and redemption and mixes it into the piece as it slowly evolves with string phrases that veer between tragic and hopeful. It's a meditative and stirring close to a varied album of great music that deserves much more attention than it got when it was originally released.