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Thursday, May 10, 2007

1, 2 no 3 de - Mizoguchi Ryoko (download from

One of the main reasons a lot of people get into Japanese music is that it often sounds vastly different to what's being made by Western bands (of course, a lot of people also just get into Japanese music because they think it automatically makes them cool, but that's a rant for another day). Unfortunately though, this sometimes leads to bands who end up sounding the same when trying to be different. For example, thanks to Melt-Banana there are numerous bands who have welded frantic guitar noise, apocalyptic sound effects and tortured chipmunk vocals. Some are good, but a lot of them just plain suck. Fortunately, there are also artists like Mizoguchi Ryoko who strike out on their own path rather than choosing between the two roads signposted 'Polysics wannabe' and 'Shonen Knife wannabe.'

Mizoguchi's mini-album 1, 2 no 3 de is short, but then my five foot two inch tall mother always told me that the best things come in small packages, and after listening to this record over and over for the past few days I'm starting to think she may have been right all along. Armed mainly with a piano and a voice pitched somewhere between Kate Bush and Cerys Matthews, Mizoguchi has crafted a collection of songs that burrow themselves deeply within your subconscious, then keep bringing you back to them even when you know you ought to be listening to other things.

Try staying away from the Kate Bush/Ben Folds sound clash and fantastic 80's style soaring chorus of opening track "Suki ni Nachetta" for a couple of days. See if you can expel the sampled cicada chatter and pitter-pattering piano of "Semi no Isshuukan" or the vocal acrobatics during "Furueru Mune", Mizoguchi's very own torch song – it's nigh on impossible. Even if you do manage to do this, I guarantee you that "Ii Deshou" will be with you long after you first listen to this album. It opens with a loosely-strung bass-line, sparsely played guitar and simple tub-thumping drumbeat that wouldn't be out of place on the first Velvet Underground album. After about twenty seconds Mizoguchi's vocals kick in and the song takes on a hypnotic, almost tribal aspect as she chants rather than sings. Another minute or so later the bass strings seem to get even looser and Mizoguchi's voice, now bathed in static, appears to being beamed in from somewhere just past Pluto. None of this prepares you for the bridge of the song though, which sounds like it was recorded in the studio next door to The Beatles during the Revolver sessions, taking its cues from the swirling instrumentation of "Tomorrow Never Knows". The song briefly dips back into the semi-tribal chants of earlier, before closing with Mizoguchi's multitracked voice ululating over a disintegrating rhythm section.

Paradoxically, the quality of "Ii Deshou" is also this record's only real weakness. To me the song is the obvious choice with which to close the album, but it's stuck in here at track five. This ends up making the final three songs sound a lot more ordinary than they actually are. "Kei no Stage e" might have lived up to its dramatic piano if it had made an appearance earlier on, but after "Ii Deshou" it sounds like it's trying a little too hard. "Birthday Song" fares slightly better, throwing together mariachi style trumpets and a keyboard hook that would probably have Ray Manzarek speed-dialling his lawyers if he was ever to stumble upon this album.

"La La La Song" is the track that does close the album and normally I'd say it was more than worthy of this role. Mizoguchi divests her vocals of any discernible language and sets them adrift over an elegiac piano track that Moby could well steal and use in an advertisement for whichever car company offers him the most cash. As good as it is, I was still left thinking that it had usurped "Ii Deshou" from it's rightful place. Thankfully in this age of iTunes and the like you can resolve this by rearranging the album yourself. Then again, Mizoguchi probably meant the album to run in this order, and who am I to argue?