- One of early 2010's calendar-markers for many in the RA community, Raphaël Ripperton's debut full-length seems like it's, oh, about two years overdue by now. After all, the Swiss producer has spent four years forging his own brand of swooning, immersive techno and deep house, whether with Mirko Loco as Lazy Fat People or solo on kinship labels like Connaisseur, Rekids and liebe*detail as well as his own Perspectiv imprint. Whether crafting within more refined house templates like "Slipstream" for Dessous or slightly brawnier tropes like on Connaisseur's "Zugunruhe," Ripperton's tracks tend to center around the intricacy of their melodies and his sense of patient, rhythmic ascent.
Perhaps it will come as a bit of a surprise for long-time fans, then, that for his much-awaited debut album, Niwa—snapped up by Joris Voorn for his and Edwin Oosterwal's Green label—Ripperton settles into arguably his most soft-focus, moodpiece house to date. It's a lush, relatively organic work that induces a kind of chamomile vibe, both its greatest asset and its biggest weakness.
Japanese for "garden," Niwa fittingly exudes first and foremost patience and contemplation. Ripperton focuses on the record's breathing points, rounding out longer pieces with brief respites like the snipped vocal tonepiece of "I Know My Place" and the slow bell chimes of "A Simple Interlude." Aided by Christine Wheeler's jazz-cellar vocals, "At Peace" sets the record's mellow vibe early, a slow stroll atop warbling tones and synthetic strings. The cut reveals how enamored Ripperton sounds with space and live-sounding looseness; much of Niwa is more notable for what it lacks in sonic density than for the way it entwines its elements: there's sufficient room for both the listener and the producer to float in its gaps. To offset some of this drifting, "Des Promesses de Couleurs" is a welcome moment that's a bit more determined. Tumbling handclap rhythms sift into another of Niwa's resonant bell-chimes—a rare moment of growth and rising heartrate—while "Random Violence" almost surges as well, splices of guitar and a tone-pattern melody seeming to forward-press in a way that recalls past glories like "Big City."
But these moments are too sparse to sturdy Niwa against its often listless serenity. For all of their surface warmth, tracks like the child-vocal looped "The Sandbox," the dawnbreak-synth stretch "Echocity," and the vapid if expertly-titled "Train to Nowhere" sound almost affectless. Their thin attempts to envelope and cushion are undermined by a lack of sonic cohesion, almost as though they're unspooling before they've even been sewn into anything touchable. While such missteps certainly aren't sufficient to write Niwa off, they leave the listener feeling oddly restless after sixty-eight minutes of Ripperton's delicacy. A spaciousness that borders, too often, on emptiness.
A Simple Thing
02. At Peace feat. Christina Wheeler
04. The Sandbox
08. I Know My Place
09. A Simple Interlude
10. Des Promesses de Couleurs
11. Leonor's Lanugo
12. Random Violence
13. A Train to Nowhere
14. Solastalgia feat. Christina Wheeler