When I spoke to singer and producer Ace Hashimoto earlier this month about his upcoming album Play.Make.Believe, I spoke to a man who was making the album purely for personal enjoyment, having seen the inner workings of the machine and turned his back on it. This was a man who was preparing to release his first and last album, disillusioned with the process. Now the album in question has been released and it seems to share none of these concerns. It is a joyous celebration of music, unburdened with the pressures of the industry which Ace Hashimoto the artist has had to deal with. There is something of the vintage in Ace’s sound, but personalised enough to keep the listener hanging off every butterscotch melody.
When Ace told me that Play.Make.Believe was a culmination of the music he grew up with, he meant it. The album is a wild, vibrant collage of influences, and Ace’s love for all of them is palpable throughout. The intro, “ZOMBIE: The Entrail-duction”, does not bother with the formalities, jumping straight in with an upbeat instrumental mixing G-Funk with lo-fi in an audacious manner. The classic hip-hop drums and thumping bass underpin the track and give us an early indication of what’s in store. The synth line recalls 80s video games in a very pleasing way, instinctively making the listener check her pockets for change.
The album kicks off proper with two of the singles previously released, “Girls” and “O.M.W. (One Man Woman)”. While the two tracks have fundamentally differing messages regarding fidelity and monogamy, they represent the duality of the human experience. “GIRLS” features Korean-American rapper pH-1 and the organic, live-sounding instrumentation flows straight through to “O.M.W” riding a deftly placed guitar lick and basslines which were simply unfeasible for the 90s R&B artists who provided the inspiration.
Starting the album with a couple of comparative slow-burners turns out to have been a wise move when the N.E.R.D. funk of “2NITE” makes a flamboyant entrance, drenched in synths and ready to embrace a digital sunset. The track finds Ace working up the nerve to profess his feelings to the girl he loves, assisted by Japanese singer Taichi Mukai singing in his native tongue and reinforcing Ace’s strong links with the country.
“TRAK STAR” is a prime cut of modern R&B funk, its sloping bassline priming us for a feature from much-hyped Australian rapper Tkay Maidza. While her usual style is fast, brilliantly obnoxious rap over huge trap beats, here she gets straight into the spirit of the album by singing a timeless R&B duet with Ace. He kicks the track off with a silky falsetto, again revealing his feelings to the object of his desires, this time to hear them returned with interest by Tkay. This is a duet with crackling chemistry and may provide inspiration and hope to young unrequited lovers everywhere.
Rap gets its first significant opportunity to shine on “Great Indoors”, in the esteemed company of Sir Michael Rocks of Cool Kids fame. The beat is deceptively simple, but its muted pianos and slow pacing gives the rapper the free rein to swing a lyrical cat around. The penultimate boast of having been “finger-fucking since the eighth grade” is particularly egregious, and one can only wonder how far Mikey Rocks has developed his technique since then. Devin Morrison also guests, singing the first hook with understated perfection before Ace takes the torch. Both singers espouse the benefits of exploring the great indoors with a lover, and they’re not talking pillow forts.
A pitched-up vocal is utilised to great effect on the beat for “4EVERYTHING”, in which Ace uses his Korean-American connects further by bringing in rapper Kero One. The two artists have a history of collaboration, which is evident in their dynamic.
“Every time I’m scrolling down my Instagram
There'll always be some guy who has the upper hand”
We can all surely relate to Kero One’s comments about the anxieties and insecurities placed on men and women by unrealistic expectations applied by social media.
The last track proper, “I FEEL FLY”, is a short, sugary blast of real vintage R&B pop, bringing to mind sharp suits and malts at the diner. Ace brings in Chicago chanteuse Mon’Aerie and both artists repeat the same refrain:
“If you didn't know, I feel high as a kite
Whenever I see you I feel fly”
The simplicity of the sentiment gives the listener a saccharine high to end the album, which is a touching tribute to musical styles which often get looked at nostalgically but rarely updated with as much affection as Ace Hashimoto. He is clearly keeps it true to the spirit of his predecessors on Play.Make.Believe, while adding his signature sauce, combining authentic instruments with synthetic synths to the point where it all sounds authentic and you forget whether Bill Withers used 808s or not. If this is indeed to be Ace’s one and only solo album, it would be sad but at least he got to fully realise his vision and pay homage to the acts which moulded him as an artist. Play this to your significant other in 2021 and beyond to make them feel special. Sayonara Ace.
Buy the album here.