Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Yamantaka//Sonic Titan: Killing the Buddha With Noise

For a fan of both Japanese culture and prog rock, Yamatanka//Sonic Titan seems to be a dream come true. From behind Noh-inspired stage makeup and elaborate stage sets, they emit a compelling contemporary experimental rock sound that has a noticeable Japanese flavor. But conceptually, they are far more complicated than merely being a Japanese band. In actuality, Yamatanka//Sonic Titan’s members are a collective of Asian-Canadian musicians whose constructed image is not just Japanese, but an open challenge their own pan-Asian authenticity. This heavy-handed ideology could easily ring hollow if the band didn’t deliver musically, but ultimately Yamantaka//Sonic Titan’s alchemic genre-jumping crystallizes into a distinctive statement.

Despite being comprised of a pastiche of styles, their debut YT//ST maintains a respectable coherency. The album opens like the soundtrack to a rainy anime film, recalling rolling credits from Ghost in the Shell and Akira. Although this attention to atmosphere persists throughout, YT//ST''s overall palate is much broader than pentatonic and open 5th soundscapes. Yamatanka//Sonic Titan also subverts the meditative qualities of their Buddhist upbringing with noise, sometimes resulting in an intensity comparable to Battles, Tool’s deeper cuts, or, at times, perhaps even the assaulting noise rock of the Boredoms. YT//ST mostly unfolds between these extremes, however, creating a challenging riff-injected shoegaze dream-pop reminiscent of Mew and early Radiohead with just a sprinkle of proggish organ pyrotechnics for good measure.

Yamatanka//Sonic Titan’s explicit mission statement is to incorporate and reinterpret cultural material from groups whose traditions have been pushed aside by modernity. It may seem that the day for stage makeup has passed, but like Peter Gabriel-era Genesis, YT//ST stands on its own while the band’s performance art enhances, rather than replaces, their music. The stage presence and meditative drones that Yamantaka//Sonic Titan employ might be met with confusion out of context, but have a deeper meaning when couched from within their overall concept.

On YT//ST, the band’s members explore the authenticity of their own Asian descent in a contemporary Western framework, and in the process create an intriguing debut that delivers on multiple levels.  From a certain point of view, music has an inherent responsibility to challenge the listener with social issues. Yamantaka//Sonic Titan don’t try to speak for these groups in the rather blunt way that U2, Midnight Oil, or other politicized bands might.  Instead, they mine their own hybridized identities as resources for inspiration, attempting to synthesize something both novel and meaningful.

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