If put on the spot and asked to pick a favorite musician, I’m probably be tempted to choose someone who feels suitably accomplished and respectable—Paul McCartney, say. Looking at the data, though, there’s an obvious correct answer: my favorite musician is Japanese singer-songwriter Ichiko Aoba. I’ve listened to her almost every day for several years now, nearly as often as every other artist combined.

Aoba’s stock-in-trade is stark, ethereal compositions that draw heavily from classical and folk traditions. With only a few exceptions, all of her songs consist of a single vocal track and a single guitar track. They tend towards the slow and meditative. This live version of my favorite song of hers, 「奇跡はいつでも」 (“Kiseki wa Itsudemo”), is fairly representative of her sound.

Today Aoba’s sixth solo album, qp, was released, and of course I’ve already listened through a bunch of times. I love it, as I expected. Here are some first impressions:

  • We’re back to a solid-color album cover, after her last album 「マホロボシヤ」 (Mahoroboshiya) was extravagant enough to have a photograph on it. (Seriously, it stands out when you look at all six of her album covers lined up.) This seems somehow appropriate; Mahoroboshiya was timbrally ambitious for Aoba, whose musical palette is usually so restrained that having two songs with vocal harmonies (and one with piano!) felt groundbreaking. qp is more in line with her earlier work, so it makes sense that it looks like more like her earlier work too.
  • That said, she does keep the all-vocal intro track idea from Mahoroboshiya. There, it was “the end”; here, it’s an excerpt from “La fontana di Valle Giulia all’Alba,” the first section of Ottorino Respighi’s tone poem “Fontane di Roma.” After that brief introduction, though, we’re back to single-track vocals and guitar for the rest of the album.
  • 「みなしごの雨」 (“Minashigo no Ame”) is an early candidate for my favorite song on the album. I especially love that ♭7 in the melody that she’s grabbing from (I believe) a ♭III chord.
  • 「月の丘」 (“Tsuki no Oka”) seems to be qp’s lead single; it was released early as a promotional track, and it has a music video. Interestingly, it calls back to 「ひかりのふるさと」 (“Hikari no Furusato”), the closing track from her third album 「うたびこ」 (Utabiko)—they both end with the same descending C–B♭–E♭–D vocal line over the lyric “kirakira.”
  • I’m less sure if this one is intentional, but 「卯月の朧唄」 (“Uzuki no Oboro Uta”) sounds very much like a callback to another Utabiko song, 「あなたのかざり」 (“Anata no Kazari”): they’re both F major waltzes with similar tempos and harmonic progressions.
  • There are two covers of songs by Anmi Yamada, a guitarist Aoba studied with. She had previously covered Yamada’s song 「機械仕掛乃宇宙」 (“Kikaijikake no Uchuu”) on the album 0, where it was a blockbuster centerpiece at twelve and a half minutes. Neither of the covers here feel quite so momentous; mostly I noticed that 「水辺の妖精」 (“Mizube no Yousei”) seems to be derived from Francisco Tárrega’s “Lágrima”—a song I actually knew how to play, once upon a time!

Aoba’s music is starting to creep onto international streaming platforms (qp is on Spotify and Apple Music, for instance), so if any of this sounds interesting you may be able to listen without having to import it.