16 Aug 2016
Ramayana Soul - Sabdatanmantra / 破地獄 Scattered Purgatory - God of Silver Grass
Reviewed by Nathan Ford
There are few who read this rag who would doubt that we place Kikagaku Moyo at the very pinnacle of the current Japanese psychedelic scene. That being the case, it's not unusual at all to discover that Guruguru Brain, the label run by Kikagaku Moyo's Tomoyuki Katsurada is a veritable treasure trove of adventurous psychedelia, inhabited by names known to few in the Western world. Their first release was a wonderful and essential sampler of modern Japanese psychedelia which can still be downloaded for free here, but it's two more recent releases that we concern ourselves with today.
Ramayana Soul is first on the turntable, and while the band are actually Indonesian, it's obvious why Katsurada's interest was peaked. "Sabdatanmantra" is a joyous wonder that perfectly illustrates the singular way in which Eastern psychedelia embraces free form spontaneity without sacrificing a tune, or in Ramayana Soul's case, a groove. At its best it evokes vintage Can jamming with the Soundcarriers, while the transcendent jam sections in "Raksoya" sound exactly like I've always wanted Santana to sound, with the filthy, barely contained guitar of Adhe Kurniawan wrapping its tendrils around everything in sight and giving it a right good shakeup. Fabulous.
And when they're not chomping at the bit to unleash furious genre-straddling electric psychedelia, they exhibit a more spiritual, earthy side, exemplified by a series of fine, trippy, sitar, drone and chant pieces which sound like full on devotionals; only the language barrier prevents me from knowing for sure, but if so, this is my kind of place of worship, lots of incense and an elevated sense of consciousness.
And then at a rough midway point between these extremes, there's the quite extraordinary "Demensi Dejavu", with its slinky, sinuous bassline, swells of backwards guitar and creephouse organ, and the otherworldly, snakecharmer vocals of Ivon Destian casting a hypnotic spell, before reaching an unexpected hysteria laced crescendo.
Definitely an album worthy of the sort of crossover success that Kikagaku Moyo have achieved, and one of the best I've heard this year. Lovely packaging too on the vinyl version.
Accompanying this release was another from Guruguru Brain - the second album for the label from experimental Taiwanese duo 破地獄/Scattered Purgatory . This one is a cassette and digital release and is lovely stuff indeed, merging experimental, ambient, psychedelia and kosmische into four semi-improvised suites that fit together seamlessly, with an adventurous approach to composition and structure which sounds thrillingly exotic to these uncultured ears.
Opener "Pao-p'u-tzu" sounds like an outtake from the second side of Bowie's "Heroes", had Bowie begun investigating drones, while "Pathway Ghost" rides a relentless krauty pulse that generates a heady, claustrophobic tension by the time it reaches its conclusion. "Dim Moon" is a reworking of an old fifties Eastern pop tune, but you'd be hard pressed to recognise it beneath the lovely vintage synth, nightmarish vocals, and wailing guitars. Fab. And then there's the 24 minute title track which is truly indescribable; a collaboration with several other like minded local musicians it's a true tour de force. Experimental, uncompromising, and equally challenging and rewarding, it's quite a journey.
Investigate through these links (with full streams):