Now Playing… is a biweekly column that releases every other Friday at 5 p.m. EST. Every other week, I will spotlight a lesser-known song or artist from a variety of genres. It will be a bit of music analysis, arts education, blogging, and more. Love it or hate it, I won’t let you down at exposing you to the cool art that is being made today from songs, to music videos, to live performances. If you’re also a cool young person constantly on the search for new music, let me supplement your listening diet!

Who are they?

Ichiko Aoba is all I’ve been listening to recently as the days grow colder and darkness comes earlier. You might’ve already heard her sounds on TikTok, but did you know she’s been active since 2010 and has released six albums? She’s also worked with the legendary composer and producer the late Ryuichi Sakamoto

It’s hard to think of an artist to compare her to, but what is so lovely about her work is that her songs are very inspired by the sounds of nature. As she shares in a Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA), she is heavily inspired by whales, flowers, the sounds of waves, and more. As such, her album covers and music videos are often very dreamy. The human in her album covers and music videos makes up as much of the scenery as the nature does, and that symbiosis is beautiful. Let’s dive in. 

What’s playing this week? 

“Asleep Among Endives” — Ichiko Aoba

covers (Bootleg, 2022) — Ichiko Aoba

“Asleep Among Endives” may be her most popular song, but it’s for a good reason. Its melancholic peace washes over you. It’s a little sad, but overwhelmingly tender and very in touch with the natural world. It’s who she is as an artist. 

But what actually made me discover, and fall in love, with her sound was this playlist of her covers. Although you should definitely listen to all of her songs on shuffle, this playlist of her covers shows her versatility as an artist in the way she adapts other peoples’ songs — some that are much more cheery and pop-leaning than her usual releases — to become her own. I also like how raw it sounds, almost as if she’s just playing in a nearby cafe and you happened to walk in and sit for a while. She sounds like the sunlight on a sunny winter day. 

Why these songs? 

Asleep Among Endives

“Asleep Among Endives” speaks for itself, but the song immediately enchants the listener with her, for lack of a better word, wails. This is where the “whale inspiration” comes through; I realized that her prolonged, high-pitched tones are very reminiscent of how sea mammals communicate with one another through the ocean. Her emulation of that is beautiful and stable, and in a way, her frequencies do to us what they do for whales: send messages from thousands of miles away. 

Ichiko Aoba Covers

The way she incorporates “nature sounds” in her covers truly transports listeners to a place far away from life’s struggles. The first song you hear in the cover playlist, a cover of clammbon’s “Rain,” the airiness in her voice and the soft seaside sounds in the background evoke fresh linen sheets swaying in the wind of a beachside home. 

Even without knowing the language, the wish for refuge is what the song talks about. The speaker in the song finds an oasis in the middle of their busy urban environment thanks to the rain and other reminders of nature. The lyrics are poetic, saying “The raindrops, tiny dots, sound their accidental chords. / Their song is suddenly interrupted by the ritardando of the street / The city dances, and sings only of trivial things. / Without averting my eyes, I want to remain here / My absent-minded gaze staying fixed.” 

This really brings to light what Aoba as an artist is saying. As much as humans build towers to separate themselves from nature, it is always around us and is core to what we are. As Aoba shares in her AMA, “Us humans and also music is part of nature, and I feel happiness in the cir-culation [sic]. If you listen closely, you can hear the sounds like the flowers blooming or melodies of the waves hitting the sea surface. If you listen closely and react to those sounds, it becomes songs.”

Simply put, Ichiko Aoba shows us that there is much to learn from sitting down and taking in nature as it is. This message is especially resonant when considering that many are failing to do so contemporarily. Rather than being at odds with nature, she shows us the harmony of what standing with the people and standing with the land produces. It’s as easy as just listening. 


Missed the last rendition of Now Playing…? Read it here!