Following a handful of releases over the past couple of years, Japanese experimental musician/producer Sapphire Slows (a.k.a. Kinuko Hiramatsu) has finally issued her debut full-length via Not Not Fun. Following on from her last release—the housey "Just Wanna Feel" 12" done in collaboration with 100% Silk affiliate Magic Touch—Allegoria is a textured, psychedelic, and meandering turn for the artist. Even compared to Sapphire Slows' relatively introspective Not Not Fun debut, the True Breath EP, Allegoria is a drifting, murky album, albeit one that manages to strike a balance between an overt dance influence on the one hand and more hypnogogic tendencies on the other. The LP largely leaves Sapphire Slows' sonic formula intact—slow house beats underpin Hiramatsu's languid, narcotic haze—but there's a restlessness to the record that can make it surprisingly difficult to pin down sonically. Alongside the plethora of other Not Not Fun and 100% Silk artists it's possible to draw constellations between when listening to Allegoria, dream-pop and shoegaze influences are also readily apparent, as is the push of house and techno. What ties it all together are Hiramatsu's reverb-laden vocals and her deft ear for rhythm.
The album's opening track, "Dry Fruits," smothers Hiramatsu's vocals in atmosphere and utilizes a muted house beat that holds down a woozy, dub-inflected guitar part. "Third Party" takes things further into the realm of dub, particularly with its sparse, echoey production and slinky guitar lines. Both tracks recall vintage Not Not Fun artists such as Sun Araw and Pocahaunted, and if they perhaps mark the most derivative tunes on Allegoria, they're also some of the most listenable. Still, the album's most fully realized moments come when Hiramatsu embraces her house and disco influences. "Fade Out" encapsulates a blissed-out state of dancefloor rapture with its insistent rhythm, elegant arpeggios, and hints of a Cocteau Twins-esque fragility in her disembodied, manipulated vocals. Similarly, "Core Kill" adopts an almost techno framework with its low-key, itchy rhythms and tension-building bassline.
The record's second half is notably less immediate than the first, allowing Hiramatsu's more experimental side to come to the fore. "Break Control," for example, is decidedly obscuritanist in its approach. The tune opens with drifting arpeggios before introducing Hiramatsu's reverb-soaked vocals, while deconstructed claps and pitter-pattering bursts of bass keep things pleasantly lopsided. Many of the tracks on Allegoria's flipside also have a heavy shoegaze influence, such as on the melancholy "Can I Get Out," whose clattering rhythm helps break through otherwise indistinct production, and the oblique grandeur of "Meteor." Comparisons to Maria Minerva have always been inevitable with Sapphire Slows, given the similar influences and label share between the two, but the record's final track, "Allegoria"—an album highlight—recalls another notable recent female producer, Laurel Halo. Built around a disjointed piano line, the six-minute track's murky techno gradients suggest that Hiramatsu is at her best when at her most difficult. There's no denying that Sapphire Slows has a sonic formula, but if Allegoria is anything to go by, it's one with enough flexibility to make for compelling listening.