Kanon AIR Piano Arrange Album Re-feel – Review

re-feel cover

Album Title: Kanon AIR Piano Arrange Album Re-feel
Anime Title: Kanon (2006), Air
Artist: Jun Maeda, OdiakeS, Shinji Orito, Magome Togoshi
Catalog Number: KSLA-0010
Release Type: Arrangement
Release Date: December 28, 2003
Purchase at: CDJapan


Tracklist:

Track Title Artist Time
01. Promise ~ from Kanon Shinji Orito 4:02
02. A Girl’s Prison ~ from Kanon OdiakeS 4:18
03. pure snows ~ from Kanon Shinji Orito 3:39
04. Remnants of a Dream ~ from Kanon Jun Maeda 3:24
05. Afterglow ~ from Kanon Jun Maeda 4:14
06. Summer Lights ~ from AIR Jun Maeda 3:17
07. Legends ~ from AIR Magome Togoshi 4:19
08. Blue Skies ~ from AIR Jun Maeda 5:33
09. Account of a Dream ~ from AIR Shinji Orito 4:39
10. Bird’s Poem ~ from AIR Shinji Orito 4:11

Review: Visual Art’s Key’s three main works, viz. Kanon (2006), Air, and Clannad, are some of the best examples of series which proactively use their soundtracks to draw the viewer into their stories, thereby resulting in music inextricable from the story itself. Instead of a large orchestral score though, these series employ “music box” melodies – simple themes repeated indefinitely. The simplicity of the music soaks up the viewer’s raw emotions like a sponge, which Key notoriously, yet deftly, wrings repeatedly. As powerful as these unadorned melodies are, the Kanon AIR Piano Arrange Album Re-feel develops them further. All of the breadth, power, and poignancy of the solo piano becomes arresting as the notes wrestle with the grief and loneliness and hope and joy found in these contemporary fairy tales.

The soundtracks for both Kanon and Air take their motif from the season their stories are set in: winter and summer, respectively. In “Promise,” the wistful winter’s air wrought by the sharp, crisp notes establishes the setting but then expands to envelop Ayu’s fixation upon the fulfillment of a childhood promise. The initially light musical snowfall in her world becomes heavier as the theme cycles, and the almost inaudible soft crunch of snow underfoot in the background becomes more laborious as it moves into prominence, until at last, the music staggers through the drifts and collapses in exhaustion.

Promise

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“A Girl’s Prison” is also a deceptively straightforward piece. The original’s swift cello-driven instrumentation emboldens Mai in her fight against supernatural demons which close in about her. This piano arrangement, however, elucidates the nuanced second interpretation of this piece: Mai’s struggle against her own internal demons and self-fashioned prison. The tempered progression draws out the fourfold repetition of the main theme, marking the plight of this lost soul trapped along the four flights of a musical Penrose stair. First alighting on a solitary high note, the theme steadily trips down one staircase and then up another, continuing in fits of desperation from which there’s no escape.

A Girl’s Prison

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“Remnants of a Dream” is itself an arrangement of Kanon‘s OP “Last Regrets,” but the familiar melody is lost in the slower tempo of this album’s version. Though “Remnants of a Dream” was ambitious to deviate so far from its source material, its execution was a missed opportunity to thoughtfully explore the original in greater depth. “Afterglow,” however, deftly wraps up the Kanon portion of the album. The heavy chords at the onset establish a solitary evening accompanied by a melancholic air that brings out the feeling of being alone just before Christmas, comforted only by memories. Here, Yuichi and Makoto are painfully contrasted by the same music as Yuichi tries to create memories together with Makoto, memories that she will ultimately forget. But in the afterglow of their shared experiences, the heavy chords become less despondent and more deliberate, encouraging him to press on towards spring.

Afterglow

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Winter ends, giving way to Air‘s “Summer Lights,” which teems with warmth and vitality as Misuzu’s theme skips along under the open blue sky. What I love about this arrangement is how the music encompasses a full summer’s day, from the trickles of sunlight through her bedroom window at the start, to the nervous contemplation before the melody rushes headlong down a grassy hill, to the way the theme hushes to a lullaby as the piece draws to a close at the end of the day.

Summer Lights

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Like the series itself, Air‘s themes have a curious knack for conveying both grief and comfort within the same melody. From its first two sombre notes, “Legends” carries the weight of a deep heartache. The notes fall like tears in the night, but then, with the delicacy of a loved one’s hand lifting up the tear-stained face, a lighter, more delicate rendition takes over, carrying a tenderness that, in spite of the sadness, strengthens and encourages the listener.

Legends

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Powerful soundtracks may provoke responses such as tears or “chills,” but “Blue Skies” elicits such a strong emotional response that it grabs my undivided attention. The basic theme is only used twice in Air: in Ep. 11 where the key familial bonds are finally established and in Ep. 12 where the same bonds are rent asunder in the same loving arms. These compelling yet contrasting emotions are dredged up afresh with this delicate arrangement that’s as unsteady as Misuzu’s gait, leaving one a complete emotional wreck as each iteration increases the harmonic layers and advances the track with a tragic rapidity. On the one hand, the listener entreats the music to continue its escalating grandeur; and yet in the same breath, one wishes for time to stop before the inevitable heart-breaking ending. At length, the theme slackens its pace like a music box winding down, coming to rest with the same few notes that started the whole piece. The melody does not end with Misuzu, and life will indeed go on.

Blue Skies

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“Bird’s Poem” closes out the album with a more reserved, contemplative tone compared to the driven techno styling of the original. The palpable hesitation between measures affords the melody time to consider all the sadness in the prior tracks which could give it occasion to falter. This human element to the delivery adds a well-earned sense of triumph to both the song and this emotional roller coaster of an album.

Bird’s Poem

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One’s enjoyment of Kanon AIR Re-feel is dependent upon one’s familiarity with the source material, Kanon and Air. Unlike other albums which sport a greater degree of musical variety and complexity, this album heavily relies upon the successful marriage of a compelling story with a memorable soundtrack to make it an endearing listen. To this end, the emotional grip of Kanon AIR Re-feel cements it as one of my most cherished anime music CDs.

Rating: Excellent

MercuryLampe

Jack of all trades, master of none. A research scientist by profession, I also enjoy classical literature, soundtracks, Star Wars, and animation. I play both piano and violin, and my favourite soundtracks closely align with those interests. My favourite anime composers are Jun Maeda, Yuki Kajiura, and Tenmon.

2 thoughts on “Kanon AIR Piano Arrange Album Re-feel – Review

  • September 1, 2014 at 10:17 am
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    I’ve been listening to this album for years. I would say at least once a month I put it on while I am going to sleep, especially if I am having insomnia or something. The simple and beautiful melodies are very soothing and calm me down and lull me to sleep.

    It’s been some times since I listened to many of these tracks on their own while really considering the source material. Reading this review really brought me back to the two series and I felt a surge of emotion. I almost felt like I was going to cry.

    Great review as always. It’s always good to know others can appreciate music for emotional reasons, and particularly music that I have an attachment to.

    Reply
    • September 3, 2014 at 6:33 pm
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      Thank you very much, Acid. Glad you’ve enjoyed this album as much as I do. I have no qualms listening to soundtracks from series I’ve never seen. In these cases, either the character of the music itself or my response to its temperament will determine if the score is worth relistening to. But if I have seen the series, I really do want the songs to call to mind scenes and emotions from the series. Needless to say, all my copies of Key Sounds Label’s four piano arrange albums are “well worn.”

      Reply

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