Tuesday, July 17, 2012

JAM DESHO: World's End Girlfriend - Seven Idiots (VBR-001)

By Steve Jones.

(JAM Desho highlights the very best of music from the Far East. Today, we begin our feature on Virgin Babylon Records with Seven Idiots by World's End Girlfriend.)

Label worship isn't my style, but when Katushiko Maeda announced back in 2010 that he was starting his own record label, I had to take notice. Virgin Babylon Records became not only Maeda's vehicle for his own World's End Girlfriend project, but also a haven for many other visionary artists: ones I already enjoyed (Kashiwa Daisuke, Matryoshka, and Mutyumu) and more I hoped to discover. 2 years later, the label has a healthy collection of records under its belt, and it is celebrating its 2nd anniversary by making them each available for streaming on Bandcamp for a limited time. Every week, a new record will be streamable, and each record will be available for 2 weeks. This will be the first opportunity for many listeners to hear these albums, and I'll be highlighting each one as it becomes available.

We begin with Virgin Babylon's inaugural release, the founding Seven Idiots by World's End Girlfriend. I've hinted at such, but WEG is one of my favorite musicians. He has been releasing albums since 2000, and each iteration of his music finds him exploring new territory, pushing new boundaries, and retaining his status as one of the most important people in Japan's current music scene. With The Lie Lay Land (2005) and Hurtbreak Wonderland (2007), Maeda established himself as a man who could fuse post-rock, modern classical, IDM, and other genres together into an erratic and engaging sound all his own. He could throw every instrument into the mix, along with the kitchen sink, and still turn out a cohesive and effecting piece of music. Seven Idiots took all of these elements and then some, amplified them, and churned them into a demon of an album that pushed many old fans away, while drawing a few even closer into Maeda's dizzying psyche.

Almost two years later, Seven Idiots remains in part an impenetrable collection of music to me. I understand it better than I did when I last wrote about it, but I still have a lot of questions. That's why I like it so much. I have so many albums of MUSIC that I can PLAY in the background and ENJOY the hell out of, but this record demands attention, commands respect, and punishes the listener even should they follow its instructions. It is at times beautiful, at times grotesque, and always gazing slightly down at you. As an album which mirrors a descent into hell, its grandiose disdain never feels out of place, and in fact its taunting makes it all the more irresistible for repeated listening, if only to gain a bit more from it. It's easy to forget how the impenetrability of a piece of art can be intoxicating, but Seven Idiots always reminds me.

The first track provides the listener with one clue to aid in their unlocking of the album. Its title, "The Divine Comedy Reverse," tells you what you need to know. Dante's epic The Divine Comedy followed his journey from Hell, to Purgatory, finally to Paradise. Seven Idiots follows this same road, but in the opposite direction. Paradise, as signaled by the second track and lead single "Les Enfants du Paradis," occupies the first collection of tracks through "GALAXY KID 666" (the name should tip you off that Paradise will be left behind very soon). Purgatory is composed of the the middle section of three tracks, all of which make up the larger 21-minute composition "Bohemian Purgatory." Finally, Hell can be found in partially in "Der Spiegel im Spiegel im Spiegel" and totally in "The Offering Inferno." The final track "Unfinished Finale Shed" functions as World's End Girlfriend's sweet seal of closure, signifying the journey's end with a quiet and thoughtful piece.

The songs in Paradise explore a lot of new sonic territory for Maeda. Taking the "rock" in post-rock more literally that most, they draw inspiration from a classic hard rock sound, with lots of loud electric guitar riffs and chords leading the frantic array of strings, saxophones, slap bass, synths, and other kaleidoscopic sounds. Some if its titles ("TEEN AGE ZIGGY," "Helter Skelter Cha-Cha-Cha") also reveal their heritage. Maeda revealed before the album's release that he started his compositions by writing tradition pop/rock songs with vocal parts, removing the vocals parts, then reworking the songs into their final shape. I suspect that applies to all of these Paradise tracks. They are noticeably bright and joyful and strange experiences, but you can hear the facade of bliss begin to crack in the latter tracks like "ULYSSES GAZER" and "GALAXY KID 666."

Purgatory sees more of the World's End Girlfriend listeners may be familiar with from The Lie Lay Land. "Bohemian Purgatory" is more reliant on a lush neoclassical sound led by the piano, with WEG's trademark collage of electronics and sampling adding color. That is, before it degenerates into pure noise in its third movement, heralding the beginning of the end.

Hell's songs are less songs and more sound collages. "Der Spiegel im Spiegel im Spiegel" is held together loosely by a single piano note, but "The Offering Inferno" abandons structure entirely, opting for a nightmarish barrage of screams and cacophony with no redeeming consonance. It is brutal and unyielding and the reason, I suspect, that the album was not received very well. You can dismiss it as pretentious nonsense, but you'll be cheating yourself of an experience. "Unfinished Finale Shed" wraps things up. It isn't the best track of its kind to come from World's End Girlfriend, but it functions nicely in its place as the closer. You need something mellow after all of that schizophrenia.

Some considered this LP to be WEG's fall from grace, his descent into overindulgent excess with little regard for musicality. Truth be told, Maeda does come across as a fallen angel in Seven Idiots, especially in the wake of the heavenly sounds of Hurtbreak Wonderland. But the at times hellishness embolden the at times sweetness, and the evil in these tracks emphasize the good. It's a difficult listen, but a rewarding one. It's the prefect herald for Virgin Babylon Records, and I hope you take the opportunity to listen to it below.

(Steve Jones is the seven idiots. If you need further proof, just follow him on his Twitter @vestenet.)

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