Sven Wunder
Wabi Sabi
Piano Piano/Light in the Attic

Turkish-based, Swedish artist Sven Wunder burst onto the scene in North America last year with the release of his début album, Eastern Flowers, based in Anatolian folk music married to funk, groove, jazz, and countless other influences.  He is back now with Wabi Sabi, a delightful collection of funky Anatolian music, that recalls to mind Altin Gün insofar as taking this folk music and making it pop.  Wunder is purposefully obscure, even his PR kit concedes that nobody knows much of anything about him.  But it also notes that Eastern Flowers immediately became a prized catch, fetching prices of upwards of $200 on Discogs.  When Wabi Sabi was released, the physical copies were sold out in a matter of minutes.  

It’s really not hard to see why.  Wabi Sabi is like listening to the instrumentals of an obscure underground hip hop album, or maybe the Wu-Tang’s instrumentals c. 1999.  ‘Wabi sabi’ is one of the basics of Japanese aesthetics, centred around the acceptance of transience.  And so, using Japanese culture and philosophy as his basis, Wunder takes us on a journey unlike most everything I have heard of late.  Anatolian folk music is still his base, and he paints his canvas with this heavy funk, combined with the trappings of 1970s American soul, and 90s/00s hip hop.  There is EuroJazz in there, which is apparently his background, combined with occasional Japanese flourishes, as presented through Ukiyo-e (literally ‘pictures of a floating world) and Japonism, the study of the influence of Japanese art on the West.

For much of my 20s, I lived in Vancouver, a city dotted with cherry blossom trees, and the first real marking of the coming of the spring was their blossoming.  When I lived in the city’s West End, between downtown and Stanley Park and English Bay, the cherry blossom trees lined nearly every street, including the two that ran alongside my apartment building tower.  So perhaps it comes as no surprise that my favourite track on the album is ‘Hanami,’ which is the art of appreciating the cherry blossoms in full bloom.

‘Blanket Fog Descends’ does not necessarily that to me.  The track is grounded in the funky beat, with Wunder adding flourishes of EuroJazz piano and koto (a Japanese guitar) and strings, before we even get some sitar here.  But this doesn’t sound like the fog coming in, so much as it sounds like the rain that comes with the fog along the Pacific Coast, and the way it slowly filters back out to sea.

The title track begins with the plucking of a koto and a harp before the bass kicks in, which brings the drums.  And we’re off on a funky ride with sweeping strings which evoke exactly what wabi sabi does, the strings and other wind instruments are that impermanence, that transience of all things moving across the landscape of the world.  It is a glorious and beautiful track, and then the 1970s funk guitar hits, chicka-wowing over the beat, and under the sweeping strings.

‘Bamboo and Rocks’ begins with percussion and I can almost feel as if I am moving through a Japanese garden, breathing in the calm that comes from the gently raked pebbles and the bamboo tree in its midst.

Wabi Sabi is simply a gorgeous album, stunning even.  I first listened to it on a day full of incredible anxiety for a variety of reasons, both personal and societal, and it kind of forces you to stop, to listen, to breathe it all in, and to slowly let it go.