|GOD MOUNTAIN CD REVIEW|
Beyond the Blue Heaven
[God Mountain; 2003]
Like many post-rock cosmicians, Japan's The Saboten excel in music that works at least as well as a backdrop as it does the feature attraction. But where DJ Force, guitarist Saguaro, and Tokyo underground legend Hoppy Kamiyama might concoct an ambience in common with Western space-mixers DJ Spooky or Instrumentals-era Mouse on Mars, their real talents seem closer to cinematic sound design. Over the course of six albums (including soundtrack work), they've refined an identity well-suited to colors of bliss, exotica and quease-- sometimes with the aid of sex and bondage imagery (try "ass hole box" as an instrument), though most often with a mere mastery of electronic textures. Kamiyama's experience as a producer and arranger doesn't hurt, but as with many of the best Japanese bands today (and German ones from yesterday), it's the voice of one from many that resonates loudest. Simply, The Saboten make a soft noise that, at its best, soothes the savage trip.
Beyond the Blue Heaven does feature heady stuff-- especially on the opener, "Helicoid Spume". Beginning as a low murmur, the track takes its time revealing small details over a 30-minute course that ultimately seems shorter. The bass-hum gradually exposes itself as the rattle of a slow-motion helicopter, and from the distance looms a high-pitched (but hardly piercing) digital whistle. The pastel synth tones are like mist on an already moist pallet, and soon the whistle dissolves into runny static. A human voice in the left channel manages a single syllable, panned across the mix, and before I have a chance to notice the volume has come up, the helicopter jumps an octave, and tower bells and some kind of intermittent jittering clang replace the synth tones. Soon, the whirling, whipping blades of the machine jut out beyond the rest of the pack-- though not so much as to completely drown out the percolating vintage Cluster line in the left. This is the kind of track that, from a distance, might seem a gigantic, spiraling mess, but it's pretty exhilarating from inside the eye of the storm.
So it's all the stranger that The Saboten should choose a nourish jazz piece as the other half of the record. "NヨK" blasts out of the gate with a full horn section and the percussion of Ruins leader Tatsuya Yoshida (who, for whatever reason, is quickly becoming the de facto Japanese "jazz" drummer).
They blare and bawl something fierce for a few moments, when suddenly everything drops, and a Fender Rhodes strums out a couple of cocktail lounge chords. There's a little computer-driven feedback for spice, but when the horns come in, the vibe is obviously "lowdown" and "bluesy." The contrast with the previous tune is a little jarring, but given that The Saboten tend to let their ideas wander off now and again, you have plenty of time to gather your wits. Much of "NヨK" reminds me of John Zorn's experiments in noir-jazz, especially that of some of his Filmworks series. Of course, when I asked Kamiyama about this music, he told me it was supposed to be a combination of Kraftwerk and Sun Ra, so who knows?
As an album, I'm not sure Beyond the Blue Heaven makes much sense, but in the scheme of most of these guys' careers, that's not really a criticism. Truth be told, the second tune doesn't really even get going until midway through when it becomes a free-funk tune and everyone starts playing at once, so haphazard choices were probably the order of the day. I might recommend a few other Kamiyama projects before this one, but where The Saboten win is in their dedication to milking a mood, and in making epic soundscapes seem like a walk in the park.
-Dominique Leone, May 2nd, 2003
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