SOMA032 / Palm LP Kukangendai
Recorded and mixed by Bunsho Nisikawa
Recorded at Soto, Kyoto JP 0918
Mastered and cut by Rashad Becker at Dubplates & Mastering Berlin 1218
Photographs by Mayumi Hosokura
Graphic design by Shun Ishizuka
Junya Noguchi – Guitar, Vocal
Keisuke Koyano – Bass
Hideaki Yamada – Drums
Kukangendai is a kick ass rock trio from Kyoto (Tokyo transplants). When I first hear this band live I was instantly transfixed by their minimalist yet illusory primitive, polyrythmic and structural, memory evoking rock narratives. Their energy is completely and transparently palpable yet handled with restraint of the pleasure of a disciplined form dealing with time and articulation. They are a power trio of bass, drums and guitar but the music they play is as much the limbic system of a forest than it is a geode. They started in 2006. They left Tokyo to Kyoto and started the cult venue Soto (“Outside”) “to listen to music they hadn’t heard yet” a few years later. They collaborated with Ryuichi Sakamoto last year. They reminded me of James Brown on a heavy binge of Bastro, there’s a deep current of both archaic musical tastes and the human desire for articulating that archaism in there, but you shake your ass and get the shouting in… in a punk basement … 13th century version of Breadwinner, the bare soul version. I’m honoured and proud to work with this tribe, and to count them amongst friends.
-Stephen O’Malley, February 2019, Paris
The music that listeners will encounter on this album stands apart from Kukangendai’s past offerings. The six compositions comprising Palm have come a long way from the genetically mutated Japanese alt-rock of the band’s earliest days; from the ambitious excursions embarked upon by the second album, which sought to translate the rhythmical structures of electronic genres, such as glitch, dubstep and footwork, to be played by a three-piece setup; from their formidable experiments (an outgrowth of the prior excursions) involving cutting up their repertoire into shorter segments, from which they would refashion megamixes to fit the run-times of their live outings; and, indeed, from the organic fusion with rap and hip hop that was the collaboration album with Moe and ghosts. To be more precise: Palm is an album that manages to make a decisive leap forward to an entirely new level, while embracing this whole hopscotch that preceded it.
But is it even right to call this “music”? If that question is neither here nor there, let us phrase it another way: Should these be referred to as “tunes,” “songs”? On my first full listen, the album strongly reminded me of Morse code. Repetition with subtle variations had already been a staple of their output, but with this latest effort, the variations (that is, the deviation) have become so pronounced as to overwhelm and override any repetitive quality. The term “minimalism” no longer suffices to explain this soundscape. Yet, on the whole, the tracks have a decidedly detached ring to them, and could even seem on the surface to be extremely monotonous, a false impression caused by our senses. As an analogy, we might think of how a river’s current appears more or less consistent and unchanging from a distance; but, drawing nearer, we become gradually aware of the myriad jostling swirls and swells that comprise it, of the frenetic movements and changes occurring on smaller scales. Palm demands such a scrutinous, microscopic listen: Extract any single segment, and you will find that it dissembles an unexpected amount of dynamism. Let us return to the Morse code analogy. What is worth noting here is that the guitarist, bassist and drummer each emit their own signals, which, furthermore, do not necessarily convey the same message. Granted, their signals occasionally converge, but it seems as if each is playing his own unique message in Morse code. What is more, there exists no conversion chart that will help interpret these signals. The Morse code messages emitted by each part are themselves encrypted, likely using different schemes that no single program can decrypt.
Music as information ciphered in Morse code – this is of course only figurative, for Kukangendai are not using sound like a language. Even if their sounds were decodable, the content of the decoded messages would have no meaning in itself; nor do they insist that these messages be ultimately conveyed in full. The tracks come with titles, a vocal part and something resembling lyrics, all of which surely betoken some latent linguistic element. Be that as it may, I will venture to say that the tracks are not in fact attempting to communicate any specific theme. There are only traces of movements caused by deviation and repetition – afterimages, as it were. Nonetheless, there are certain hints of motives that appear to be more than mere symbols. Accordingly, when I stated that Palm sounds like Morse code signals, and posited figuratively that they were coded messages, I was insinuating a certain yearning to decode. And indeed, these sounds actively reach out to listeners. Go on, read us if you can, they say to us. Welcome to this singular experience wherein the passive process of listening and the active process of decryption are one and the same.
All in all, Kukangendai’s latest strongly calls for focused and recurrent listening in a way wholly different to other, more conventional music. Playing Palm involves at once reading, and being read by, its six tracks. It offers the unique sensation of being scanned by music – of decoding music and being encoded by music. I should add that this is of course a physical experience too. After all, these compositions will likely be performed live; some of the tracks are even danceable, though the dance they inspire may not resemble any that we have danced before (for instance, if the footwork genre constituted an attempt to tame complex systems into simplicity, then Kukangendai might be said to be demonstrating the opposite).
With this offering, Kukangendai have skipped several evolutionary stages to arrive at a realm that no-one has yet trodden. Though this adventure into terra incognita is by no means flashy, it is a truly astounding one nevertheless. To put it in plainer language: We have never heard “music,” we have never heard “tunes,” quite like this.p>