Tomo Nakayama’s songs on his first solo record, Fog on the Lens, begin as simple seeds. His gracefully delicate coos carry introspective lyrics of love and wistful solidarity which grow as notes stream from his fingers through rapidly fingerpicked guitar strings or slowly depressed piano keys. Then, once they’ve germinated, Yuuki Matthews comes in with bursts of spontaneous chattering synthesized bustle, allowing the songs to fully blossom. It’s digital naturalism that pulsates with life and humanity.
Nakayama created Fog on the Lens during his Town Hall residency this past spring, and the album maximizes the space as an atypical recording studio. He employs the hall’s acoustics (both of the cavernous and intimate varieties) to give the tracks a mildly disorienting and delightfully incongruent sense of place: vast and open as a sprawling forest, dense and private as an enclosed thicket of trees; personal and lively, but isolated and alone. Nakayama’s guitar and piano playing create the album’s musical skeleton and Matthews’s synth fiddling energizes its spirit, but there’s also beauty to be found in the little details of Fog on the Lens: the enveloping percussive stereo mix of and jingling bells on “Green World” or Nakayama's the layered breaths on “Fog on the Lens.”
Love songs (of varying directness)—including “Open Room” and “Cold Clear Moon”—comprise the majority Fog on the Lens, but there’s also a spot for melancholy solidarity; namely “Magnolias (for Philip),” an ode for Philip Seymour Hoffman. With lines like “Called upon your only friend / Does no one answer their phones these days? / Now what to do, what to do…” and a chorus of “Someday we’ll find you there / Magnolias in your hair / And all along I knew / You would be leaving soon,” the song manages to capture a gentle, tragic sense of loneliness. Even in the most downer moments, there’s always a sense one’s in good hands with Nakayama. No matter how rocky the emotions get, he’s going to guide everyone to a soft landing.