Stone Garden EP by Kikagaku Moyo

Release date: April 21, 2017
Label: Guruguru Brain

If last year’s House In The Tall Grass album displayed the hitherto strangely pastoral Japanese psych band’s mastery of a more familiar/classic ebullient acid rock/garage psych sound, this five track EP shows Kikagaku Moyo stretching out and flexing their muscles again, albeit still mostly within a (relatively) straight psychedelic rock sound. To an extent the EP brings these two strands of the band’s work together in one place more effectively than the album did, (though the folk/rock aspects stay pretty separate mostly), but it also adds an ambient passage which is a slight departure from what has come before.

The opening track ’Backlash’ manages to be both pleasingly excessive in its execution – it’s basically an exhilaratingly rowdy late-60s style psychedelic jam – and (depending on your mood) disappointingly minimalist in its simplicity. The sound is great; massively loud and distorted, gloriously ragged guitars dominate; but in the end it feels a bit anonymous, where their early work was distinctive in its character. By contrast, ‘Nobakitani’ could almost be from Forest of Lost Children. It begins as a limpid, skeletal acoustic track until the primitive drums propel it something slightly reminiscent of the Velvet Underground’s ‘Sunday Morning’ played on acoustic guitars and sitar; a kind of pretty, melancholy hungover drone. The fragile vocals add hugely to the song’s impact, but they come and go pretty quickly, leaving the track to play out with its vaguely country-ish guitar and delicate, simple but effective sitar melody. Psychedelic music, of all genres, is always about the mood of the listener, but as with ‘Backlash’, the line between locking into a hypnotic groove and simply playing the same thing for a long time is uncomfortably blurred here.

Trilobites’ is perhaps the highlight – a beautifully spacey instrumental, the guitars rough, distorted to the point of decay, but buried in a swathe of embracing echo and delay. It starts off sounding like a classic Nuggets garage band playing Santana in a swimming pool and ends up somewhere close to early Sonic Youth, leading perfectly into ‘In A Coil’, the most determinedly retro of the songs here. At its heart this is a kind of dirty Seeds-like garage-psych  track (an even better parallel would be with the more experimental of the Japanese Group Sounds bands of the late 60s) with a chanted vocal and a passing resemblance to the Yardbirds’ ‘Over Under Sideways Down‘. Like that song (and indeed all of the other tracks on this EP) it’s a determinedly, deliberately monotonous piece of music, gripping for as long as the atmosphere and nice guitar playing holds the attention; music to fall asleep to, in a good way.

The closing track, ‘Floating Leaf’ is the strangely minimalistic – an ambient piece with a pulse that seems about to break into an insistent groove or another guitar freakout, but which instead fades away before it ever really gets anywhere. ‘This is boring, I want more of it’ may seem like a counterintuitive suggestion, but if there’s a problem here it’s really with the brevity of the EP. The songs mostly clock in at around 6 minutes – just long enough to get boring, but not quite long enough to lose yourself in. Essentially this is good but Kikagaku Moyo are better. Still; for fans of psychedelic garage rock it’s an enjoyable listen and the band alternately makes a great racket and creates intensely vivid atmospheres – albeit all too briefly.

Hopefully the next album will expand on what they do here, or better still, will bring together the two (or three) sides of their sound in creative and imaginative ways; the potential for greatness is here.

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