Top 20 Releases of 2013: No.15 – Umiuma – Kaiba

This debut album by Sendai indie-jazz-prog trio Umiuma combines skittering drums, intricate, kaleidescopic guitar, and sweet, off-kilter vocal melodies, with arrangements that swing wildly between technical, tightly focussed, rhythmically complex instrumental segments, bursts of sheer rock-out energy and moments of sheer, blissful pop. At the poppiest extreme there’s Kangaroo, a quirky melody reminiscent of 1960s French pop, built around a fairly conventional chord pattern, with Masumi Horiya’s vocals coming on like Kahimi Karie. Kiiroi Michi and opening track Era see the band playing with more dissonant and dynamic elements, while most songs combine all these elements to varying degrees. For all their technical prowess, however, Umiuma are never self indulgent. Most of the songs on Kaiba hover around a restrained two or three minutes in length, but the group’s boundless, restless energy ensures that each of them is packed with ideas and sweet surprises. Guitarist Yuhi Kanda might rely a little too much on one particular, clean guitar sound where the use of a wider range of effects would serve the overall texture of the album better, and bringing the male band members for backing vocals at certain points would bring another element into the dynamic, but speculating about what else the band might include shouldn’t detract from the rich tapestry of sounds, musical ideas and melodies that is already here. Kaiba is a thrilling ride.

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