Wednesday, August 22, 2012

JAM DESHO: Go-qualia - Puella Magi (VBR-006)

By Steve Jones.

(JAM Desho is our feature in which we talk about Asian music of the interesting and/or independent variety. We're almost done with our Virgin Babylon Records retrospective, which today features the album Puella Magi by Go-qualia.)

In preparation for writing this, I used the weekend to marathon the entirety of Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Turns out, you don't need to do so to like this album, but it is a good show.

Go-qualia, more so than some other artists on Virgin Babylon Records, is quite the underground figure in Japan's music scene. He's been active for a few years now, and, while I'm not familiar with his prior works as a musician, he has an important claim to fame as the founder of the net label Bunkai-kei Records. The label takes a lot of fledgling and talented electronic artists under its wing and publishes their songs and albums as freely available streams and downloads, a la Bandcamp. For instance, I blogged a while ago about the Competor album Tape Recorder, but his most recent effort Su was published by Bunkai-kei. They also have a collection of remixes from Joseph Nothing Orchestra's Super Earth, another Virgin Babylon Record recently featured here. And, as proof that Bunkai-kei is not exclusively small-time, two artists from this collective, one of whom being Go-qualia, contributed to the official remix album for NieR, which, incidentally, is fantastic. I could go on, but my point is that Bunkai-kei is an excellent resource if you're looking for a portal into Japan's underground electronic scene. Just pick a release and see what you like.

Puella Magi is Go-qualia's first record to be given a CD release, having been published just this past December. An ambitious album, it takes up a full 79 minutes and 15 tracks. It occupies that space where the incredibly busy meets the incredibly relaxing, where IDM overlaps with ambient music. Honestly, it's not a space where I find myself very often--even Aphex Twin's excellent ambient works are pieces I rarely visit--but I can appreciate the craft of what Go-qualia constructs here. This album thrives on strangely beautiful landscapes built from distant samples and glitchy twists. Most tracks will build anticipation before granting the release of a breakdown, which is formulaic, but it's a good formula. The music doesn't stick with you so much as sound nice when it plays, but other listeners might find more to love and hold onto here.

The above video for the track "Requiem" provides a good snapshot of the album's aesthetic. It's also one of my favorite tracks. The chopped-up voices anoint it with an eerily beautiful sound, and "Requiem" is the place where I can most clearly hear a line drawn towards the Puella Magi Madoka Magica series. Despite the album's name, there's no overt connection, musical or otherwise, to the series. Even if Go-qualia uses samples from Madoka, they are not obvious, but I like that. Puella Magi, very much to its credit, strikes me more as a companion piece than a tribute album, and it is more rewarding for it. Maybe listeners more familiar with the anime and its soundtrack can point out connections I missed, but the album's subtle approach and attention to detail are its greatest strengths.

Puella Magi is available to stream until September 1, so have a listen.

(Steve Jones would like to make a contract with you! Once you're ready to be a Magical Girl, think of a wish and message his Twitter @vestenet.)


  1. Mhm, great review. On that last note, Puella Magi is a tribute/companion album not just to Madoka, but to all magical girls who have ever existed.

  2. Nice review. One of the better IDM releases I've heard.
    fyi, I am from Israel and it seems that all the tracks on this album are in Hebrew. Here are some translations:

    1. Lilith is a jewish mythological figure:
    2. Malchut - Kingship
    3. Hod - Majesty
    4. Cochma - Wisdom
    5. Yesod - Element
    6. Kether - Crown
    7. Binah - Understanding sense
    8. Geburah - Bravery
    11. Tiphereth - Splendor
    12. Daath - Knowledge
    15. Netzach - Eternity