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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Painted E.P, Miaou, Thomason Sounds

I feel like I've been time travelling when I listen to this E.P. I only picked up the band's 2003 debut album recently (not knowing it was three years old) and I've been playing it to death. Last week while out making wish lists in the record shops of Shibuya I noticed their most recent E.P and decided that it had to be bought. Miaou are still fantastic but they're not the same beast they were three years ago. Usually when you get into a band you can follow their progress release by release. My experience with Miaou has been more akin to time-lapse photography crossed with the kind of wormholes that mess up the space-time continuum in Star Trek.

The deceptively simple instrumentals that drew me to the band in the first place are still in evidence but the crunchy guitars have, for the most part, been left at home and everything just seems to shimmer that bit more. The first track, We Lost It, sees the band move from Mogwai territory to something more like the bucolic sound of Four Tet. An acoustic refrain floats atop burbling electronica that starts out quietly and builds into a track of rare beauty. Any directors looking for an instrumental piece to use in the opening credits of their film should search no further.

The rest of the album follows a fairly similar path, but when it's done this well it doesn't become boring. The record has been sequenced in such a way that it seems as if each song is organic, almost breathing. Scene of the Sunrise sees the pace increased a little and the band allow the song to stretch itself and fill out a very satisfying eight minutes. The gentler Anything Goes gives the band a short breather, but towards the end of its seven minutes they seem to regain some of their energy and things pick up again.

Grasslands (Revised) is a graceful epic, an aural collage of wide vistas that is one of the best ways of lifting you out of the sardine-packed hell that is commuting in Tokyo. The last original track on the E.P, Airship is probably the least arresting of the new songs showcased here. It's by no means terrible, but it's the first song where you find yourself looking at the seconds ticking over and wondering how long there is to go. I think it's a case of the band setting the bar at a dizzying height and paradoxically Airship is the one song that can't get over it. Oh, the humanity.

The final three tracks on the E.P are all remixes. Not having heard the originals I don't know how much the remixers have changed the songs. The Millimetrik Remix of Future Pavilion adds a darker undercurrent to the rest of the album's phosphorescence with it's doom laden atmospherics that sound like Massive Attack at their most paranoid. This paranoia morphs into claustrophobia during the first half of Epic 45's retooling of Dante, where it seems we really are being taken deeper into the inferno, before the usual Miaou sound breaks through the fug. It doesn't last though, as the last minute of the song sees the song engulfed in darkness once more.

The E.P's final track, the Qua Remix of On A Sunday sounds as if it may be the most dramatic reworking of the three. At times it sounds like Gizmo the Gremlin purring along to Tomorrow Never Knows, but then there are moments of cello and acoustic guitar that wouldn't sound out of place on a Nick Drake record. It's an intriguing end to a remarkable E.P.

So, Miaou are still my new favourite band. Their slight change in direction seems to be an inspired one and I'm looking forward to going over their back catalogue and seeing just how they got from Happiness to here.

Note - a slightly edited version of this review has been published on the keikaku website.