Sen Morimoto Credit: Dennis Elliot

Chicago art-pop wizard Sen Morimoto made national news in July, when the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events removed him from its Millennium Park at Home virtual summertime music series. Morimoto had prerecorded a series of mystical, gentle musical movements, but he began his set by delivering a brief statement lightly criticizing Mayor Lori Lightfoot for her inaction in the face of public protests about police brutality. DCASE asked him to remove the statement, and when he refused, the department chose not to broadcast his set. DCASE’s public statement said that the Millennium Park at Home series “is not intended to provide a platform for public discourse and debate”—a counterintuitive way to think about a program intended to lift up local musicians. In his lengthy response, Morimoto wrote, “Without that social depth of expression, the City is merely perpetuating an Entertainment Industry, and not fostering the vitality of its artistic community.”

On Morimoto’s new self-titled album, his second full-length for Chicago indie label Sooper Records, he foregrounds the artistic community he’s fostered. Morimoto co-owns Sooper, and long before he came aboard with Sooper cofounders Nnamdï and Glenn Curran in 2017, he’d perfected a pragmatic approach to home recording—just an MPC, keyboards, a saxophone, and his voice. Throughout Sen Morimoto he combines hip-hop, indie rock, R&B, and city pop, creating unexpected juxtapositions of placid synth soundscapes, skittering percussion, and delicately layered vocals. And while he can create a rich, full-band sound alone if he has to, he no longer has to: he also brings in his friends, including Pivot Gang rapper Joseph Chilliams and fellow Sooper stars Kaina and Nnamdï, to give his music new flavors of pop bliss. Lala Lala’s Lillie West, poet and songwriter Kara Jackson, and rapper Qari make “Taste Like It Smells” an album highlight; their vocals not only add emotional complexity to the dreamlike instrumental but also enhance its vivid textures until it feels like I can reach out and touch the sound. Morimoto knows how fulfilling it can be to give other voices a platform, and it’s part of what makes his music great—even when he’s the only one doing the recording.   v