Not a Leaf Remains As It Was germinated for 15 years before realisation in this form, spawned from the duo’s 1995 dabbling in background vocalisations with singer Anna Homler and a desire to do more with their voices. With neither wanting to write or sing lyrics, it took the discovery of poems written by Japanese monks on their deathbed to kick things off, Roden and Peters using the Japanese as the basis for their singing and as a vague conceptual anchor. The artists state that they wanted to avoid both electronics and ‘Japanese “Zen” stereotypes’, although clearly some digital processing is involved, and a sense of Orientalist calm and lack of dynamics pervades the recording.
Built from melodica and pump organ, the gossamer threads of sustained tones recalls aspects of labelmates Seaworthy, augmented by the pleasing jangle of shells, jostled twigs and scrunched leaves. This recalls aspects of the 1950s Exotica of Arthur Lyman and Martin Denny, but the bucolic spell is made ambivalent through Peters and Roden’s uncertain and unpolished vocal utterances. There’s something of the naked fragility of female Japanese performers like Tujiko Noriko to their delivery, but flat singing is flat singing, and initially it jars. Persistence however pays off, and soon the warbling voices win you over, locking in, or rather sliding around, the instrumental elements to create beautiful fields of slightly dissonant wispy drone. By the final ‘Two or Three Fireflies’ the effect is disarming, and you’re ready to go back to opener ‘Winds Through Bleak Timber’ and try it all over again.