The Video iPod: Best iPod Ever?
SOFTLY SWAYING EMPIRE
If you look at that smoke cloud on the left long enough, it starts looking like Al Borland from Home Improvement
Yura Yura Teikoku + Excepter
Take two for this new Excepter line-up, for me at least. Apparently it was take four for them, this new guy named John officially rounding out their post-moancore configuration: four dudes, beat-fascinated, doe-eyed Rolands, green world drum circle shit with John Fell Ryan going for broke on the mic and wearing that fucking hat he always wears. The new guy, who also wears a hat, has a mic now too, but he hasn't figured out what to do with it quite yet.
But talk about actualizing an album title. The Self-Destruction LP, the closest Excepter come to their current live sound, has (name alone) directed the spirit of their last few gigs: The band plays dead, monochrome, all glum, no fun, lots of smoke, zombied out. JFR mumbles, the mohawk dude fakes the funk, JFR turns on the other smoke machine. Nothing works. All the people that left before, leave again. Dan Hougland, huddled way off stage indian-style, does everything he can on keys to keep the mood held damp, dreary. Everything's way serious, man, way technical. And now I want to leave.
Then--I don't know what the hell happened. JFR breaks character, breaks out the trance, starts punching in a beat to his rig--dude's got a rack system now, big time, he can afford to be methodical. The rest of the band's looking at him anxiously. JFR's beat machine-guns out the speakers, impossible polyrhythms, an eight-measure loop with so much nuance, but such a jam too, so much vitality. Everyone regroups: Mohawk and Hougland cut right into these shimmering Yume Bitsu-like drones, careful not to push them too far or too quickly. The new guy starts smacking these wood blocks, close mic'd, weirdly flanged, maybe it was something else, but either way: Excepter have gone Lazarus, from zero to a thousand in less than thirty seconds, a bundle of rhythmic and tonal contradictions nobody would have let them get away with if they'd been paying attention. This is full-fledged ambient house, maybe calypso but who's counting, unafraid of its reggae roots too: JFR, throat-stricken seconds before, now puffs out clouds of pentatonic sound, while his boy new guy growls through the passage--the best I've heard them, ever.
It grew and grew, and I kept writing JUNKYARD CAMPFIRE JUNKYARD CAMPFIRE--but this could mean anything. If I remember correctly, I started thinking midway through that these guys were on some environmental protest shit, some "look at what you've done, America" ghost of christmas future finger-pointing--toxic waste, webbed feet, Kevin Costner. It might have just been the stage lighting. When the beat turns off and Hougland's fabulous sub-bass rumbling is left to hang--that glorious post-thunderstorm sound--new guy's wood blocks sound less like knuckle raps, more like birds chirping. They should have ended there, but instead they jammed for five more minutes and that bothered me more than anything should--even more than their merch guy after the show, who tried to sell me a band t-shirt with a fucking bug inside.
The band most people had come to see, Yura Yura Teikoku from Tokyo, get called any number of things--"Japan's sensational, psychedelic, pop-noise explosion that Western ears have never heard" says whoever writes the kickers at culture-vulture glossy Fader Magazine. But let's be honest, it's much simpler than that: They're a fucking jam band, tight as hell sure, great rhythm section, good riffs (which count for something here). But generally speaking, Yura Yura Teikoku are nothing more (or less) than that String Cheese band or the Grateful Dead guys. I haven't heard a single Grateful Dead song and even I know that.
In that Fader piece, David Marx, a friend and musician whose career I've more than supported, makes the case that Yura Yura Teikoku represent Japan's first wave of psychedelic music, which was stunted in the 60s (when everyone else in the world went lysergic) because of government restraint and economic rebuilding. Rock itself had been trumped too by Japanese folk as the music to nurse the country back to life. Marx understands the Yura Yura mission (specifically lead man Sakamoto Shintaro's) as one "to create what those Japanese in the 60s never could quite get together: Western-sounding rock music with distinct Japanese originality." I can't speak for the Japanese originality part here--someone who knows more about this, I encourage you to comment--but currently I'm on the side of one friend, who said to me midway through one of the band's 10-15 minute jams, "Nobody would give a shit about these guys if they were from Wisconsin." I can understand musical appeal in Japan (and even cultural importance), but as for breaking them overseas, a case needs to be made for that "distinct Japanese originality" bit--otherwise I'm not sure Yura Yura are anything more than a good jam live, and apparently we have plenty of that stuff here.
And that's one difficulty for me--they are fantastic live. So much energy, such efficient riffs and hardworking grooves. Yura Yura Teikoku are rock first and foremost, but dare to be pretty too, not the other way around thank god. Because the other way around--your slowcore, art-metal Mogwai types--think if you play pretty things loud and long enough, they'll rock--never works for me at least. What I like about the overclocked fierce-sounding jam band gigs, if we're going to be generous, is that with enough repetitions, the sound does eventually catch up with itself, compounds, and after fifteen minutes of the same garage rock riff the sound is just monstrous, overpowering and gorgeous. One jam Yura Yura played close to twenty minutes long, so big by the end they seemed forced to finish up on these huge exit chords--one of the few free passes I'll ever give myself on the word "epic." The best part came next: People started clapping, relieved for the breather, and the band jumped right into their next.
When Sakamoto goes into his Arto Lindsay electrocution guitar shtick--different sorts of noises than what you get from a Thurston Moore sex with guitar attack--that's the closest I can come to seeing something different from what's around these Brooklyn parts. Maybe the guitar freakouts are where Haino/Fushitsusha, Yura Yura Teikoku, Boredoms, Acid Mommies have us--so delicate, seemingly so much more control, really picking apart the groove, finding the fissures, letting the chaos spiderweb. Our boys in Wisconsin never seem that methodical.