Considering that Ike Kawaguchi’s back story is one which includes him running away from home at fifteen to couch surf, skate, and perform in local metal bands, Fresh Till Death might come as a bit of a surprise. Rather than the pop-punk or emo-infused rock which such a start in life might suggest, it is a chilled and charming slice of Neo-soul.
And the art to getting the whole Neo-soul sound right is knowing how to lean more towards the latter to find the right inspiration. And this is a song which does rely heavily on the soul element; it revels in sultry grooves, gentle yet sassy rhythms and enticing and soothing vocal melodies. The Neo part of the genre’s title is really just the technical polish which makes it fit with modern sonic fashion and which flags up the song’s modernity and now-ness, all of which helps sell it to a new audience.
But whilst this is made very much for the current times, for modern tastes and with the new rather than the retro market in mind, it revels in all the tasteful hallmarks and glorious sonic fingerprints that established soul as a genre in the first place. And it is that blend of modern smarts and classic shapes, pop contagion and lingering sensual aura that Ike Kawaguchi gets so right here.
And that balancing act is the art of it. Acknowledge that there is a rich heritage to be worked with here, absorb and infuse the classic sounds but then inject them with your own ideas and more importantly your own personality. He deftly walks a line between old and new, then and now, classic and experimental, timeless and exploratory that gets right to the sweet spot of the Neo-soul sound. Understanding all of that is exactly why Ike Kawaguchi is able to forge a song so finely tuned, in all meanings of the phrase.