Albums, like books, can be seeds: they can lie dormant for any length of time and then flourish in completely unexpected ways. This was definitely true of Yoshinotsune, one of Merzbow’s less widely-discussed albums, and one I confess I went to with expectations that held me back. The album’s apparent theme was Yoshitsune — a national hero of Japan, the subject of enduring legend, and a personal fascination of mine. But the record itself didn’t seem to use its subject in a way that connected at all with the music, and after the high of Amlux this seemed like a letdown. I threw it back onto the shelf and tried to forget about it. Months later it surfaced again, on one of my portable music device’s playlists, and then in that context — without my overriding expectations for it — it clicked wonderfully. What had sounded arbitrary and uninvolving the first time now made sense.
In many ways I had a hard time not bringing expectations to the record, partly because of my affection for the material Merzbow was referencing (if only for the sake of a title and the names of the songs). In recent years he’s been drawing more explicitly on Japan’s past and heritage, but in creative and unpredictable ways. It isn’t always possible to map an unbroken line from the source material or the underlying idea to the finished product — probably in the same way you wouldn’t necessarily draw a connection between a tube of paint fresh from the factory and a finished Mondrian canvas. And maybe you shouldn’t have to, but one of the pleasures of Merzbow’s music is that I’m being challenged — that I’m being asked to see past the changes on the surface and sense the greater governing dynamics of what’s going on. Read more
In every recording artist’s catalog there’s almost always one or more releases that seems so far out of phase with everything else they’ve done that it might as well not bear their name. Those are the recordings that tend to catch my eye first, actually — the anomalies, or “outriders”, as they say in the world of statistics. They’re not always as good as the artist’s general body of recording, but I always like to give them more of a chance than they might normally have. Sometimes you make wonderful discoveries.
This is definitely the case with Vangelis, the Greek piano prodigy and sometime progressive-rocker now best known for his movie scores: Chariots of Fire, 1492, and most famously Blade Runner (for which a decent CD edition didn’t even exist for decades on end, and the best versions of which are still only available as bootlegs). Even most of his non-soundtrack releases have a very soundtrack-like feel to them — if they aren’t already soundtracks, their inclusion in a movie soundtrack is probably inevitable over time. Read more
There was a time, not all that long ago, when pure excess and overkill were enough by themselves to get your name in the books. This definitely applies when it comes to noncommercial music, where a fair number of both the people in the audience and the creators themselves are mostly interested in seeing how far they can go for its own sake. After a while, however, the road to excess no longer leads to the palace of wisdom (to paraphrase Oscar Wilde), but into a cul-de-sac where one-upsmanship is more important than real creativity.
It’s hard to find a better embodiment of this sort of thing than Masonna, the stage name for musician and clothing boutique owner Yamazaki Maso. He leapt — quite literally — to prominence in underground circles with his live performances, where Yamazaki would throw himself across the stage with fearsome disregard for his own safety and pump an ear-punishing flamethrower of feedback and stomp-box processed noise through the sound system. Some of these concerts didn’t last more than a few seconds: he’d come on stage, pulverize the audience, and walk off. Read more