I always admire an artist that releases something new right at the beginning of the year. Everyone else is talking about the “best of” the previous year, but some artists are ready for something new. Sithua Aye released his new album “Senpai III” on January 8th, and it is probably his best yet.
Sithu comes to us from Glasgow, UK. He is an ambitious guy, announcing recently that he quit his job to pursue music full time. Because of this, you can support him on Patreon and he is completely independent of any record labels. In fact, this new start for him seems to be a major theme in this new album, even though it is completely instrumental, as you can tell from the tracklist. On top of that, he also wrote a novella to go along with this release. He’s a busy artist, and he handles pretty much all of the instruments here, too.
“Senpai III” might not be as immediately attractive for some longtime progressive rock fans. Yes, there are anime characters on the cover, and Sithu is highly influenced by that art form. He plays an emotive, post-rock influenced version of progressive rock and metal, and his sound is definitely reminiscent of bands like Animals as Leaders or Plini. But he has his own thing going, to my ears, and much of his music is highly melodic, meaningfully composed, and magical in tone.
Sithu has that knack for purposeful guitar licks that I hear in Plini’s music, and in many up and coming bands. This means that he thinks a lot about his riffs and licks, and nothing feels sloppy or like filler. Overall, his music, to me, sounds “gracious”, though I’m not exactly sure what I mean by that. I can detect that smooth and inspired tone, and he’s had it in spades from the very first album. In fact, I first came across his work when he opened for Haken in the US a few years ago, and I was immediately impressed not only by his skill, but also by his humility.
This record, despite Sithu being primarily a guitarist, is diverse and even exquisite in tone. You will hear loads of gorgeous, careful piano, which he played himself and seems a bit nervous about, for some reason. The melodies are intimate, though, and he plays them very well. You will hear delightfully personal moments that explode into a wall of robust energy and hope. A good example of this is “Choices on a Piece of Paper”, obviously referring to his recent big decision. This song starts out beautifully with keys and strings, stirring emotions immediately. But soon, that bass kicks in and Sithu’s outstanding guitar work reveals itself, and so the song plays with our feelings.
The rest of the album has many moments like that. “Differing Paths” is beautifully wrought and thoughtfully composed, taking us into Sithu’s mind to visit his dreams and cares. “Hanako’s Shoujo Manga Spinoff!” combines those elements with electronica, but the energy and clean writing are here, as well. Another song, “Time to Decide!” is like one giant climactic segment, exhibiting both anxiety and release. It’s clear, as we visit various parts of Sithu’s life, that life itself inspires his music.
My two favorite tracks are “A Future With No Colour” and “Mari’s New Day”. The former is brilliant, giving us gorgeous piano and strings that feel like the score to Sithu’s introspection. The song has towering sections, introspective interludes, and the ending is pure layered bliss. It’s simply fantastic. “Mari’s New Day” is more reserved. In fact, for an instrumental album, it feels like a ballad, and a sad one, for some reason. I don’t know the story behind it, but it feels downcast to some extent, or possibly just conflicted. It is heavy on the violin, and the apex near the end is such a satisfying moment.
“Senpai III” has all the heart and soul I could ever ask for in an instrumental album. Sithu writes what he knows, and what he knows is life. He composes to express emotions that might not surface in other ways, and so I am grateful for his ambition and talent. I hope that you will support him.
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