Tag Archives: Eiko Ishibashi

Top 20 Releases of 2016: No.2 – Kafka’s Ibiki – Nemutte

kafka's ibiki - nemutte

CD, Felicity, 2016

Kafka’s Ibiki is another name for the Tokyo-based trio of Tatsuhisa Yamamoto, Eiko Ishibashi and Jim O’Rourke, who form the recurring core of any number of other projects of their own collectively, as well as individually branching out to collaborate with others as with Ishibashi’s recent Kouen Kyodai project with Masami Akita (No.14 on this list). Where typically we are used to seeing this trio together as the backbone of either Ishibashi or O’Rourke’s solo projects, Kafka’s Ibiki comes across more as a space for them to explore the alchemy produced by all three together.

There’s more to Nemutte, however, than just three people in a room. The forty-odd minutes of the single track that makes up the album are less a jam session than a three-dimensional sound collage stitched together by O’Rourke from multiple sessions, each part distorted in a variety of ways, to the point where his bandmates were often unable to recognise themselves. Virtuoso performers though the trio might be, Nemutte is as much a masterclass in playing the studio as it is of instruments themselves.

That combination of finely honed studio work and the organic spontaneity of how the component elements initially came into being means that while Nemutte is broadly speaking an ambient record, it is at a more richly textured end of the spectrum than, for example, the no less immaculate but far sparser science of something like Brian Eno’s recent Reflections. Closer to home, it differs from Ishibashi’s Kouen Kyodai record in that it places the emphasis less on the intersections of two contrasting elements and more as a shifting pattern that undulates between multiple poles of influence. It differs too from the conceptual, mathematically determined wax and wane of Asuna and Fumihito Taguchi’s 100 Keyboards x 100 Record Players with 100 Sea Wave Records (No.19 in this list) in that while both albums build to a climax around their midpoint, from which they subsequently draw back, Nemutte is far more a piece of music, composed and structured less rigidly and with a greater ear for organic ebb and flow.

A closer comparison might instead by the impressive Don’t Light Up The Dark by Ippei Matsui, Ztomu Motoyama and Ytamo, which brings together similar organic musical elements within a similarly spaced-out sonic environment. Nemutte nevertheless still differentiates itself, maintaining a propulsive sense of urgency driven by minimal but driving bass and Yamamoto’s skittering drums. In fact, for all its layers, texture and musical complexity, one of the most striking things about the album is how much of a rock record it is, not only in the rhythm but in the heart-stirring mini-crescendo it starts to build to around the halfway point and quietly bouncing piano chords that it settles into afterwards. Just as Ishibashi and O’Rourke’s own pop and rock records regularly travel into more expansive musical territory, the dynamics of Nemutte suggest a recognition even in this decidedly experimental record the potential of rock’s instinctive grip on the emotions.There doesn’t seem to be anything from Nemutte available online, but this live clip features some elements of what the album is doing.

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Top 20 Releases of 2016: No.14 – Masami Akita & Eiko Ishibashi – Kouen Kyodai

Masami Akita + Eiko Ishibashi - Kouen Kyoudai

CD, Editions Mego, 2016

A lot of the most interesting albums of 2016 were ones that explored borderlands at the fringes of noise, and while purists may disagree vehemently, noise is at its most interesting when it’s not a genre in itself so much as a complicating element of something else, channeling different genres through a distorting prism even as it incorporates that change back into itself. The writer David Novak in his book Japanoise: Music on the Edge of Circulation repeatedly comes back to the theme of feedback not only as a reference to the sonic feedback that characterises noise but in the context of the feedback loops that channel influences back and forth between two poles.

In the case of Kouen Kyodai, the two poles are Masami Akita, known best as the man behind noise legend Merzbow, and Eiko Ishibashi, who is known primarily for being the stupendously talented multi-instrumentalist all-rounder and singer-songwriter Eiko Ishibashi. All of which is to say that they’re both artists who bring a certain gravitas to a project, although neither of them is apparently averse to a degree of playfulness. From its lame pun of a title (in addition to being the title of a manga, it’s also a play on the Japanese term for the Coen Brothers) to the way it themes itself around a children’s playground, they set the album up as being a space to mess around.

The most obvious factor differentiating the two tracks is the role Ishibashi takes, with the first track, Slide, seeing her skittering softly, loosely and subtly across the drums, while she takes more of a foreground position after switching to piano on the second, Junglegym. On both tracks, Akita is in relatively restrained “ambient” rather than harsh mode, although that doesn’t stop him building his layers of distorted tones into towering cathedrals of sound. Of Ishibashi’s contribution, it’s her drumming that is perhaps the most interesting. She’s a supremely talented pianist, but that’s also very much her comfort zone and one where the sounds she produces are most familiar, if no less dizzying in their interactions with Akita’s rumbling drones and arrhythmic pulses of noise. As a drummer, however, she brings a distinctly un-drummerlike musicality to her playing that throws unexpected twists and turns into Akita’s gradually building crescendo.

Both tracks fascinate and disorientate in equal measures, but it’s the feedback loop between the two musicians, playing off each other and constantly shifting roles in a harmony and discord that lies at the heart of its appeal.

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Top 20 Releases of 2015: No.3 – Jim O’Rourke – Simple Songs

jim orourke - simple songs

CD, Drag City, 2015

This album differs starkly from everything else on this year-end rundown in the weight of expectation and breadth of interest its release attracted. Never having heard Jim O’Rourke’s 1999 landmark Eureka and only really having encountered his work through his numerous collaborations and production credits, there is a huge wealth of context behind Simple Songs that I’m not a party to.

My first reference point coming into Simple Songs is the backing band, including Tokyo indie and experimental scene veterans like drummer Tatsuhisa Yamamoto and pianist Eiko Ishibashi, while there are elements of the lineup (including O’Rourke himself) that connect this album to singer-songwriter Kenta Maeno, whose brand of folk and chamber pop shares some similarities with O’Rourke’s own. Yes, he has been doing his thing since way before any of this mattered, but here in Japan now, this is the context into which O’Rourke’s music more or less fits.

And Simple Songs excells, the musicianship an immaculate vehicle for O’Rourke’s meandering musical vision, drifting with ease from one movement to the next, making the dense, rhythmical and melodic complexity of the album feel completely natural. These are not really simple songs then, but while songs like Friends With Benefits and Last Year contain multiple songs’ worth of ideas, each of those ideas has at its heart a simple, memorable pop hook that anchors them in something immediate and accessible without hemming the song in from taking any of its multiple excursions into more abstract sonic territory.

The lyrics feel like a trap for the amateur psychologist, their barbs open to interpretation as possibly a series of vicious put-downs or a maybe a more reflexive exercise in self-laceration. O’Rourke’s lyrics defy easy analysis, but they are sharp and intelligent in their wordplay, and he is a master of his craft when it comes to leaving a word hanging at the end of one line that then gets cruelly undermined by the next.

Perhaps the most striking thing about Simple Songs from the perspective of music in Japan is the production, with the sound striking in how far back it appears to sit, in contrast to the heavily compressed, up-close sound that seems to prevail on so many other people’s records. More than any other record I heard in the past year, Simple Songs seems to want you to feel a sense of the room in which it was recorded – to use the speakers to draw you in rather than to push the sound out.

In the wider music world, the reaction to Simple Songs felt like it had been (not unjustifiably) coloured by all manner of expectations, although it seems to have satisfied most of the anticipation projected onto it. In the more microcosmic space of the Japanese indie scene, it also has a place where it feels at home though, and that it excels in both contexts pays fine testament to Jim O’Rourke’s songwriting and musical vision.

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Interview: Panicsmile

There’s a lot of Japan Times stuff I’ve had published over the past couple of months that I’ve been too distracted to post here, so I’m going to start getting round to that now. First up, I have to talk about Panicsmile here, who are one of my favourite bands in Japan, have undergone a massive upheaval in their lineup, and come out with Japan’s best album of the year so far.

Obviously the kind of thing they do is an acquired taste, which is why they’re an underground band and not riding the Rockin’ On Japan gravy train all the way to a mid-afternoon summer festival slot, but as I say in the article, there’s a vibrancy to it that just hasn’t been there for a long time — not really since the sweet spot the band hit live midway between the releases of Miniatures and Best Education. Anyway, Hajime Yoshida from Panicsmile is always an intelligent, interesting person to talk to and you can read the interview feature I did on the band on The Japan Times web site here.

Below, I’ll post a full transcript of the interview, although be wary of the imprecise and maybe a bit dodgy translation.Panicsmile: Nuclear Power Days

PANICSMILE, HAJIME YOSHIDA INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT:

There have been some big member changes since A Girl Supernova. Can you tell us the story behind how the band came to be in its current position?

Eiko Ishibashi (drums), Jason Shalton (guitar) and Kenichi Yasuda (bass) left Panicsmile at that time. However, I had been thinking about the new members before they left, so new members and I started sessions from April. Then, Yasuda got in contact and said he said he wanted to come back and play with us again, so he rejoined in our band as a guitarist. There was a period after that where we made twenty songs in two years, but none of those twenty songs made it onto in our new album. The concept of our sessions with new members was originally “back-to-basics” and we made loads of very orthodox rock’n roll tracks. However we felt a bit weird about them so we didn’t use them. Eventually all ten songs on the new album are fresh material.

Where are the members all based now? Does that make it difficult to run the band?

DJ Mistake (bass) and Yasuda (guitar) are still in Tokyo, while Geru Matsuishi (drums) lives in Toyota city, Aichi prefecture, and I’m in Fukuoka. At the point we started the new sessions in April 2010, our drummer was already living in Aichi, and no real problems happened even after I moved to Fukuoka. We don’t often hang out together outside of our band activity, I’m so used to going all the way somewhere to play. When we do band practice, we gather and stay over at Matsuishi’s house in Aichi prefecture. His house has converted into a recording studio, so I’ve never felt any difficulties about the situation.

What influence did the new members have on the sound?

DJ Mistake is pretty much a beginner, but she’s really active in sessions, while Matsuishi’s background is in jazz and R&B, so he brought some funk to the sound. Yasuda played guitar back in ’93 so that was a return to basics. Any session with me and Yasuda is going to come out weird, but the rhythm section helped put everything together. I’m always surprised at the way they approach things.

In some ways, it sounds a bit like a return to old style Panicsmile, with a simple, energetic, post-punk sound. How do you feel Informed Consent fits into Panicsmile’s catalogue?

When Eiko left the band, she said, “Why don’t you try to make new tracks with yourself in charge and a group of new members you want to play with?” I could take her suggestion in a positive sense, like “Aha! I see!” In a word, it was back-to-basics. Though we had already made seven albums over a twenty year period, I think we could say that we’ve done something new.

What does the title mean to you? “Informed Consent” is a medical phrase, but it feels to me like a phrase that describes a lot of politics now.

Right, it’s a medical term, but you can see this both in the political world and in your daily life. It’s like, “I’ve explained that to you!” It comes down to you, whether you get ripped off shopping, you fail at work or even if a nuclear power station has an accident. The important thing is I’m not warning or preaching though, because I’m always so careless in this regard myself.

Was the nuclear disaster important to you in this album? References to radioactivity appear in a couple of songs.

Hmm. Rather than thinking about the disaster itself, I got a terrible sense of regret, like, “I should have done things differently,” “I was just having an ordinary life, not thinking particularly deeply,” or “I guess I kind of knew, but I still didn’t do anything.” I’m still pursued by the balance of profit and loss, time and money, so this album is a kind of record of my regrets from 2010 to 2013.

You moved back to Fukuoka between the last album and this one. Did moving back home influence how the album developed?

Almost all of tracks were made when I was in Tokyo, but tracks 1 (Western Development2), 2 (Out of Focus, Everybody Else) and 4 (Antenna Team) were written when I was in Fukuoka. So yeah, I think I’d agree that the tracks suddenly become more aggressive. I’m working here as basically a salaryman so there are several kinds of pressure from my Fukuoka life that might be reflected in these tracks.

You also produced Headache Sounds Sample Vol.5 last year. Vol.4 was back in 2005, so why revive the series now?

The time gap between the previous instalment and the latest one wasn’t really the issue. It was really that bands between 2010 to 2012 were very interesting and fun. Bands I come to like tend to be bands that do something I can’t do. That’s my criteria when I choose.

What bands do you especially like from the compilation?

I love all of them! Like I said before, it’s because they are all tracks I couldn’t have thought up myself. This time there are some bands that have instrumental tracks, and I think tracks that don’t need vocals are great.

As I mentioned earlier, there seems to be a simpler sort of energy on Informed Consent. Where does your energy come from, or what gives you energy to keep making aggressive new music?

Maybe it’s something like desire and despair: These things come from an attachment to life. There’s negativity and darkness in the lyrics, but there’s a bit of irony in there. Anger is what you feel when you have a strong desire to live, and that’s something that’s everywhere in our daily lives. It’s possible that these emotions came up after the earthquake. I think people’s minds changed a bit after seeing so many people die.

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CAR-94 – V/A: Post Flag

Post Flag

CD, Call And Response, 2008

This is part of a series of posts talking about music I’ve released through my own Call And Response label. I explain in a bit more detail here.

By 2008, I was looking to do another compilation. Bands come and go, and I’m always discovering new music, so every three or four years, I always find myself looking to do another compilation, not just of Call And Response artists (there are few enough of those) but also of artists around me, that I like, that I book for my live events, and that represent something of where my head is musically at that time. At about that time, I’d been getting into the alternative scene that seemed to have coalesced around Akihabara Club Goodman at that time. In 2005 it had all been about the Kansai area, but that scene had started to die out by 2007, while there were a lot of good Tokyo bands reaching maturity, if not quite the same levels of buzz. At the same time, a lot of what was interesting about the music these bands were making was in how it seemed to be reconstructing rock outside the constraints of Anglo-American 60s forms. It was like being in a parallel world where instead of The Beatles and The Sex Pistols, the dominant creative forces behind rock and punk had been Can and Public Image Limited. So what I thought of doing was making an album of cover versions of 1970s Krautrock as a way of drawing a parallel between the way bands from 70s Germany and modern Japan were both remaking rock without paying tribute to the Old Gods as it were. As I discussed that project with various people, it seemed like it would be quite daunting, and I found the project running away from me. At about the same time, I heard the album Never Mind The Bollocks “Here’s the Softly!”, a compilation put together by neo-Shibuya-kei label Softly! Records that covered The Sex Pistols’ album track by track. Now I hate The Sex Pistols. They’re the utterly overrated, musically uninteresting and regressive, and they suck suck suck. But the covers album was really interesting, partly because the songs are so simple and stupid that they forced the bands to reconstruct them a bit in order to add their own character to them. This got me thinking about another, much better but still minimal and musically simple 1977 album: Pink Flag by Wire. Now to say Wire are my favourite band ever would be an understatement. Nothing comes close to them for me. They opened my eyes in a way no band had previously and I doubt any band will be able to again (maybe Guided By Voices had a similar impact on me… maybe), giving me that inspiring feeling that anyone can make music, but at the same time steadfastly refusing to be normal, laughing at convention, and delivering everything through a cloak of lyrical mystery. Chairs Missing remains my favourite album, but Pink Flag is simpler, probably still better known, more iconic, and most importantly had 21 songs on it, which meant I could get a really broad range of bands involved. So the project became a Wire covers album, taking apart Pink Flag and reconstructing it track by track. I wanted to do it properly, so I spent $1,500 buying the song rights through JASRAC (I still legally can’t sell the album in foreign shops or on iTunes), and set to work recruiting all my absolute favourite bands. Getting Totsuzen Danball involved was a coup, because they were one of the very first Japanese punk bands and are in many ways a kind of Japanese equivalent of Wire, and getting Panicsmile was perhaps even more important given their role at the time as a lynchpin of the Tokyo alternative scene. Of Call And Response’s own bands, Mir and Hyacca both joined, the two bands representing the two different angles bands involved in the project were coming from. I didn’t want the album to be a “tribute album” so much as a radical act of reinterpretation, so I didn’t restrict my recruitment to bands who were already Wire fans and the end result was a mix of musicians who knew and loved the band and those who were approaching their music for the first time. Mir were enormous fans (one of the reasons I fell in love with them was that Yoko used to have a Wire reference in her email address) whereas Hyacca despite their similarities and second- or third- hand influence had never heard of them. Some artists took it even further. Groundcover. leader Ataru Mochizuki knew the song they were doing, Lowdown, but didn’t let the other members hear it, instead letting them jam with him on it until something that sounded like Groundcover. came out. Hajime Yoshida from Panicsmile took it even further, recording Strange (based on the REM cover from Document rather than the original) alone in the studio on one night and then giving the result to his band members to improvise over the following day. Eiko Ishibashi (also then a member of Panicsmile, and the only musician who took part in both the Sex Pistols album and this one) just listened to Fragile a dozen times over and over again, and then played an improvised solo piano instrumental based on how the song made her feel. Electric Coma Trio turned 40-second instrumental track The Commercial into a twelve-minute NDW electro-dub epic. When I heard Yolz in the Sky’s version of Pink Flag, I was at first a bit disappointed because of the straight approach they had taken to the source material, which sounded a lot like Wire, but not much like Yolz in the Sky themselves. Once placed in context, however, it became clear how necessary their track was, as a rare anchor in the original amid a swirling sea of radical oddity. This was a lesson I had at the forefront of my mind when doing the Black Sabbath Paranoid covers Valentine’s gift earlier this month, and I made sure that somewhere in it there would be at least one straight take on the song. I was surprised that more bands didn’t do anything with the language, with Mir translating the lyrics of Mannequin poetically into Japanese, Groundcover. gutting Lowdown of most of its contents and just bellowing the title over and over again, and Agolay Culkin just free-associating brand new Japanese lyrics over the chords to Brazil, but as a rule, bands stuck to some approximation of the original English words. With ramshackle and gloriously cute punk-pop party band And About Hers, this was essential, and the sweary lyrics of Mr. Suit work brilliantly with their irrepressibly happy vocals, emphasising the absurdity and satire of the original song (surely Wire were taking the piss out of the dumb anti-authoritarian stance of so many of their contemporaries with likes like, “I’m tired of fucking phonies, that’s right I’m tired of you! No no no no no no Mr. Suit!”) The cover art was done by my friend Akiko Yoshida, who is one of the most important people in my whole involvement in Japanese music, with her band The Students being the first group I really discovered and who really were singlehandedly responsible for introducing me to the live scene back in 2002. Unable to hold down a steady lineup and never satisfied with their own recordings, Akiko was at least able to contribute to this project by doing her own “cover version” of Pink Flag‘s jacket art, reconceptualising the flag as half a dragonfly in a way that no doubt seemed logical to her. Again, her approach was just right though, preparing you for what you’re getting before you even break open the case. Given that Wire remain pretty much unknown in Japan and bearing in mind the idiosyncratic approach to recruiting bands, it was never going to be a big commercial success, but it did OK and seems to have achieved some sort of cult respectability in underground circles. I’ve always been rather wary about Wire themselves hearing it though. I informed them that I was doing it during the early stages of its production, but never tried to contact them after that. The whole don’t-meet-your-idols thing really, but I think the resulting album in its utter lack of respect for the sanctity of the original material is at least true to the spirit of what Wire continue to stand for, and more than that was a teriffic document of the Japanese underground scene.

Post Flag is available now from Call And Response’s online shop.

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