Sunday, March 6, 2011

Math Rock pt. Two: The Japanese Factor

In the 90s, the alternative became the mainstream, and I personally reacted by alternating between obscure power pop and Frank Zappa’s back catalog.  Thanks to an unhealthy obsession with Jellyfish, I was finally becoming acquainted with the Beatles, and Weezer was dragging me kicking and screaming into the nuances of the three minute pop song.  My interactions with Don Caballero during their 90s heyday will always be out of context and in retrospect, and so in all likelihood I just missed out. 

More current manifestations of the math rock aesthetic readily attract my attention, though.  If the style was a bit stagnant at its inception, it has evolved a sense of organization and cohesion that enhances its more emotive aspects.  Interestingly, there is a whole scene in Japan that gets into math rock’s more passionate side, and these groups are the ones that currently have my attention.

My interest in Japanese instrumental rock is not totally new.  I discovered Lite a couple of years ago, and their album “Filmlets” was a clear standout in my 2009 listening.  As I said in my Amazon review, Lite uses the distinctive guitar interplay that is characteristic of math rock, but they also have a concept of song form and melody that lends a compositional strength to their work.  This is a personal favorite:

In the process of working up this post, I was also pleased as punch to find out that Lite has a new EP out called “Illuminate,” and that they are coming to Austin this month.  I will be making every effort to attend, so perhaps you will hear more about them later.  I also stumbled across this song is from “Illuminate,” and its angular lines and erratic metric changes bring a smile to my face.

The band Toe have also popped up on my radar, and although I have not given them a focused listen yet, what I have heard of them I find really, really interesting.  I'm saving them for another day.  What is more interesting is that they have their own label with a stable of adventurous groups, one of which is Mouse on the Keys.  This trio really has my ear right now.  I would argue that, despite having no guitars, their complex piano interplay and disconcerting time changes are another manifestation of the math rock aesthetic.  Besides, what else are you going to call them – jazz fusion?

Well, maybe.  Let's not argue.  Too much, anyhow.

Anyway, their EP “Sezzions” is playful, dissonant, aggressive, and dark, and I think its the real deal.  The above-cited lead track “Saigo No Bansan” effortlessly travels through all of these extremes in a relatively short running span.  Although this track really has me in awe at the moment, I look forward to “Sezzions” in its entirety every time it comes round in the CD changer.  I am hoping that Mouse on the Keys' full-length release “An Anxious Object” is as consistent.  I leave you with a live performance of a couple of tracks from that one.  Again, give it a minute to ramp up.

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