Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Back where I belong - Kasumi Trio

After the comfort and predictability – and, yes, I admit the fun, too – of Madonna yesterday, I thought I needed to get back into my more trusted discomfort zone today and delve into something a bit freaky.

And where better to go for that, as least when it comes to music, than Japan? And so I was delighted when today, rummaging once again through the shelves at Missing Link, I managed to stumble across a newly released album, called Oh! Gimme You, by someone called Kasumi Trio, a psych-folk band made up of bits of three other Japanese bands: the avant-garde folk oriented Tenniscoats, the psychedelic rock leaning LSD March, and krautrock-influenced noise rock band Fushitsusha.

I thought that seemed like an interesting enough combination to get me out of the dance steps that were still occasionally appearing today at inopportune moments. And as soon as I heard the gentle acoustic guitar embroidered by weird, eerie electric noise and a sort of droning voice half singing, half whispering, eschewing everything that is squarely grounded in Western tonality, I knew that I had found the sort of jolt that my musical sensibilities were looking for.

The album opens with the appropriately titled ‘first session’, music that gives you really only the barest bones indication of what you are in for, as if it is laying its cards on the table but not yet telling you how it will play its hand. Soft guitars and drums pluck and beat at random, while electronic sounds squeak and squawk around them. Already we know we are in a strange place where familiar and alien worlds come together, and talk.

Some of these tracks, freaky and weird as they are, are, at first, surprisingly accessible, like the utterly haunting but beautiful ‘Cabbage butterfly’, where a simple, strumming guitar is overlaid with what sounds like the noise of oceans and wind and bizarre bird cries, coming from another, dark and ghostly, world.

But the gentleness, and the accessibility, of these songs are deceptive. Beneath the smooth, placid surface disturbed, unsettled things rumble and murmur, like the way 'tokotoko patapata' seems to stroll along, calmly, easily, and innocently enough at first, to steadily plucked chords on the acoustic guitar, but then strays into a strange, weird fog where little spurts of electric noise change the shape and colour of old and familiar things, leaving strange shadows on the music of the guitar, which keeps plodding through it all, its gait ever so slightly thrown off-course; or like the way ‘Middle session’ seems to drive itself along at a pace that is both hushed and hair-raising, with its soft heartbeat drums, and creepy marriage of electric and acoustic guitar, sounding like they are whispering together, plotting sinister things. Or the way the spectral vocals of yu in ‘Summer is over’ sound like a haunted child, rocking, singing a soft lullaby, possessed by demons.

It’s this uncanny mix of the soft and comforting with the jagged and jarred that makes Oh! Gimme You such a fascinating and unsettling album. It’s like it is taking you into its arms, rocking you softly and peacefully, but whispering the stuff of nightmares into your ears as you fall asleep.

The material girl living in the material world seems so very, very far away.

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