It has been six years since Shizuoka-based DJ Okawari last released an album, but his timing in releasing new collection “Compass” couldn’t be better.
It’s a set of warm, calming hip-hop beats anchored by acoustic guitar and orchestral string swells, a comforting bit of escapism for 44 minutes. “Compass” doesn’t see DJ Okawari heading down any new paths, but rather refining his approach to instrumental hip-hop.
The album is split roughly in half by instrumental tracks and numbers that feature guest vocalists. The former are DJ Okawari’s comfort zone, as he excels at layering drums, guitars and synthesizers to create a soulful backdrop. The easy — and most accurate — comparison is with Nujabes, except Okawari feels closer to R&B than hip-hop. The songs with vocal components bear that out. Save for a short appearance by Talib Kweli on bird-sampling opener “Bounce,” “Compass” leans heavy on singers such as Emily Styler (“Eventually”) and Emi Meyer (“Midnight Train” — a highlight). They add a human glow to Okawari’s constructions, and turn the whole album into a sweet escape.