- by Jeff Penczak Rating:6 Release Date:2019-07-12 Label: Akuphone
Named after the literary magazine (published 1911-1916) and autobiography of Japanese feminist Hiratsuka Raichō, this album highlights seven female artists from the contemporary Japanese electronic, noise, and experimental scene. (And definitely not to be confused with Shurayuki-hime’s 2016 “harsh noise music” (HNM) album of the same name, which is literally nothing more than 40 minutes of brain-crushing static.) The set begins with the haunting vocal pyrotechnics of Fuji-Yuki, who also performs with the drone band Sarry. ‘Blood Moon’ is operatic in its presentation, somewhat akin to the Lisa Garrard of Dead Can Dance. An ominous electronic buzz builds behind her to an almost blood-curdling shrill before the industrialised, razor-sharp metallic sheen is abruptly silenced. If you’ve ever seen Buñuel and Dali’s infamous eyeball-slicing scene from Un Chien Andalou, here is the soundtrack.
Kiki Hitomi (King Midas Sound, Black Chow, WaqWaq Kingdom, Dokkebi Q)’s ‘Gain and Lose’ is another eerie pants-shitter, reminiscent of some of David Lynch’s own experimental recordings coupled with Charlie Clouser & Ceaser Davila-Irizarry’s original theme song from American Horror Story. Definitely not for listening alone in the dark!
The uber-prolific Mikado Koko’s ‘Fukugawa Bushi’ is closer to traditional Japanese koto and/or kabuki music, although she intentionally repurposes her training in theatre and dance to create a synthesis all her own, combining elements of both but ultimately sounding like neither. She has over a dozen releases since 2017, so you have a lot of catching up to do if this is your cuppa, but it certainly grew on me. The repetitive, hypnotic dance beats, koto-like and percussive instrumentation, and toetapping melodies will earworm into your head for days.
Miki Yui is for those of you into the electronic glitch music scene; I find it all a little too penny arcade-ish, bleeps and bloops for my taste, but the adventurous may find something to like in her ‘Radicalv’; but it just sounds like random electronic transmissions from outer space. Maybe one for The Conet Project crowd? ‘Palace Of Deep Water’ is another spooky noise fest, courtesy Kakushin Nishihara, who combines biwa (a Japanese lute which sounds like a cross between a sitar and a koto) with various “noises”, primarily the latter. If you wondered what it would sound like if someone recorded a beehive abuzz with dozens of bees and then wrapped it inside backward-masked tape loops and Nina Hagen-ish squeals, ‘Palace Of Deep Water’ provides about seven minutes of same.
The trio Kunatic’s ‘Dewbow’ is rather patriotic or nationalistic in scope, a bold, forcefully aggressive composition that strikes pride in the listener, with rousing choral passages and clarion calls to arms, backed by percussive mixtures of plucked string instruments, sticks, stones and a few unidentifiable rhythmic impulses. It feels like you are attending a theatrical set-piece.
We end with the spiritual chanting of Keiko Higuchi’s ‘Okesa Bushi’, a 10-minute religious experience which induces calm and focus after the maelstrom of manic music that precedes it. Through elaborate vocal pyrotechnics (cf., Nina Hagen, Diamanda Galas, et. al) and minimalist piano notes, Higuchi mixes jazz, avant-garde, and polyrhythmic krautrock vibes for a delectably attention-grabbing performance, that, at 10 minutes may be slightly past it’s sell-by moment about ¾ through when she piles on the myriad vocal tracks that emulate a mad cocktail party, but it’s certainly not boring!
To warn that this is a rather difficult listening experience is a public service to listeners who enjoy melodies, linear progressions and cozy, familiar arrangements that populate today’s market. It’s certainly not rock and roll, and avant jazz is still a little “kind”, but it’s an experience that is worth living to gauge the underground, experimental scene in Japan. That it’s created by women in keeping with the influential autobiography that gave it its name is another plus. Like Hiratsuka herself, I’m sure it was not easy for these musicians to get this far in the Japanese music industry and this will certainly encourage the more adventurous listener to seek out these artists’ other works as well as likeminded material from their sisters in arms.