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Friday, November 24, 2006

Happiness, Miaou, Noon Records

This record is over three years old but I read a review of it a couple of weeks ago whilst in a travel agents in Shinjuku - does that make this a genuine case of serendipity? Going by the dictionary definition I'd say so: "the faculty of discovering pleasing or valuable things by chance". See, it's not just a crappy romantic comedy. Anyway, I digress. What makes this album such a serendipitous discovery is the way it distills elements of a whole lot of my favourite groups - Mogwai, Sonic Youth, Seafood, Tortoise, Explosions in the Sky - adds a twist of that magical, mystical Japanese-ness that stops bands like this from being mere copyists, and mixes it together to create a heady cocktail that intoxicates you from the first listen and only becomes more addictive.

muno, the first track starts off sedately but the gentle washes of guitar soon start to fold in on themselves, building up layers of sound that give the song the structure of an exquisitely made samurai sword. boom 0 continues in a similar vein, starting quietly but soon bulking up into a wall of sound that Phil Spector would've been proud of. The seamless segue from one track to the next shouldn't be interpreted as a sign that the songs all sound the same - they dovetail perfectly but each song has its own character. pao 2000 sounds like an updated outtake from the Bitches Brew sessions, and my only complaint about it would be that the band could easily have kept exploring the spaces this song takes them to for longer than the three minutes that it takes up on the album, without it becoming boring. An intro of seagulls or synths (I'm not sure which) signals a change of pace in the next track, the elegiac el nienyo, which eschews the quiet/loud dynamic of the first couple of tracks. It's a change of direction that works, allowing Mayumi Hasegawa's mellifluous bass to move to the forefront of the song.

KIRAMEKI takes us back into quiet/loud territory, with its gentle melody sounding like a calmer, less Glaswegian Mogwai. jet sound wave is where the album stops being merely good and starts to be truly great. It starts out with another nod to Miles Davis - a skittering trumpet line - before settling into a fug of hazy guitars and Tatsuki Hamasaki's gentle vocals. The haze soon gives way to wave after wave of F/X laden guitars (perhaps the 'jet sound wave' of the title) which ultimately consume the song, causing it to collapse in on itself. It's a song Yo La Tengo would be proud of. HALF seems to signal a recovery of sorts - the squalls of feedback that devoured jet sound wave are still there, but this time the band has wrestled them under control.

There's probably a rulebook somewhere that states all albums should end with their most epic track. It may be a cliche but it's true. There's no point putting it at the beginning because then the rest of the album has to live under its shadow. Sticking it in the middle of the album just doesn't make sense either. If you got the best view from the middle of the mountain, why would anyone bother climbing to the top? Miaou have clearly read this book too and they follow the rules to the letter. Closer water & me is the kind of song that would be out of place anywhere else other than the end of an album. It takes its time - lightly brushed drums, bursts of trumpet, dripping water, woozy synthesizers, acoustic guitars, all flitting in and out of the track, seemingly as they please. The effects pedals have been locked up and feedback banished, as the twin chimes of glockenspiel and guitar lead this song and album to a surprisingly quiet finale - it's almost as if the band felt they had proved their adeptness with noise and wanted to show they could do quiet just as well.

Miaou are touring extensively this month. Click on the link to their website for more details.