I should have expected this. Every time I put my preferences in print something comes along that like a bowling ball totally knocks my list to shit, as indeed has happened since the posting of last week’s lists. I explained this a bit in the list article, because even if you could be totally objective about art (which, ha, you can’t) then it’s probably literally as well as practically impossible to listen to all of 2011’s music at all, certainly within 2011. There will always be at least one record that you find after you put your list into print that should have gone on there, and the debut album by Yamantaka//Sonic Titan is that record (or the first of those records). Here I was, first day of the new year and living my grey dull predictable life, and along comes the self-titled Yamantaka//Sonic Titan debut in a painfully short flash of colour and excitement leaving me and everyone else present that day with slightly perplexed joy wondering what the hell just happened.
I’ve dropped quite unexpectedly into one of the biggest musical rabbit holes I’ve ever found. Just like the Heliotropes record to which I recently got engaged, this spinning colossus is currently at fifty plays and nowhere near getting old. It is an apt comparison, both Heliotropes and Yamantaka//Sonic Titan are heartbreakingly brief trips into a world where people care about music. It is an apt comparison, both Heliotropes and Yamantaka//Sonic Titan are heartbreakingly brief trips into a world where people care about music. On a less subjective level, they’re both rock bands feeding off a myriad of musical influences helmed by powerful and incredible women and both are not quite like anything you’ve ever seen before. After that the whole thing seems quite different. Heliotropes (spectacular though they always remain) are a distinctly all-American and modern affair. Drawing on influences from the transatlantic hard rock and stoner scene. Yamantaka//Sonic Titan will take a bit more explaining, they draw from the omnipresent rock touchstone: Sleep and guitar tone from the Melvins little-known soporific precursors, Flipper. It doesn’t’ stop there; faces painted to either reflect Kiss or Norwegian black metal (you decide) and ethereal jams that more than anything else recall J-pop. The sounds are much less rooted to a time and place too. You can just tell Heliotropes are from Brooklyn, but in their best moments ; faces painted to either reflect Kiss or Norwegian black metal (you decide) and ethereal jams that more than anything else recall J-pop, you get rock-organs recalling Jex Thoth’s superb project Sabbath Assembly and more than a few nods to the Japrock that Julian Cope so loves, as well as nods towards Amon Düül (phew!). The sounds are much less rooted to a time and place too. You can just tell Heliotropes are from Brooklyn, but in their best moments Yamantaka//Sonic Titan have very little call to any one celestial time and place. It is a resounding and stirring experience. Of course aside from that, it is also damn catchy and fun and fearless.
But what else could you expect from a band that declare themselves an “Asian diasporic psychedelic noh-wave opera group fusing noise, metal, pop and folk music into a multidisciplinary hyper-orientalist cesspool of ‘eastern’ culture in giant monochrome paper sets”, a freak out fun fair joy ride through distortion with a circus mistress at the helm. Riding the rollercoaster through a sea of organs and beautiful vocals in pidgeon-Japanese. A name tells you a lot about a band, and that this particular band of gypsies were torn between the name of what is essentially black-belt Buddhist meditation and the Sleep live track seen fit to share a disk with Dopesmoker and in the end just decided ‘fuck it’ and be called both definitely tells a great deal. Even before you’ve set this monster a-spinnin’ you know you’re dealing with some serious people.
There is ever-increasing evidence that the giant magnet is real, and we are all part of the same hive mind. Throughout history, with the invention of the telephone and powered flight for example, several people were able to simultaneously invent the same device; and as with the shattering of the sound barrier, once an idea is ‘out there’ lots of other people can pick up on it. It can be seen in the music world too, the resurgence of ideas in work by small unconnected bands in the early seventies hard rock scene is evidence of those ideas running in currents and picked up by dozens of heavy heads all across the world; and I think, or perhaps hope, that all the totally boring heaviness of heavy music of the naughties has prompted the rise of some very interesting heavy artists in the modern idiom. As with Pink City and בלטה there is a step away from high quality production, letting the heaviness be in the lo-fi. It is the will of the great magnet, we are all fools to try to defy him.
I love this album, verily I have loved it more than life itself. Like all of my picks of 2011 it is fresh. Whatever else it may be and whether it tickles you or turns you off, you can’t deny this kinda stuff is commonplace. Like Heliotropes Ribbons 7”, it is a record that while nodding and acknowledging all that has gone before, never throws itself at the feet of its elders and never apologises for what it is. It is unique in the same way a person can be described as such. There are telltale signs of parenthood; good breeding and similarities to things much older; but it is shamelessly and furiously of its own time. It is superbly varied and yet consistent. There is no mistaking any of these songs, and yet there’s the pop ballad brightness of Queens or Hoshi Neko (which I am reliably informed is Japanese and literally means “Priest Cat”) and the thick sludgeiness of A Star Over Pureland. I feel that while I love it, I haven’t communicated too well why. And indeed, this is a pretty perfect example of a band you either get (no, not in a ‘too deep for you’ sense, just in a ‘connect with’ sense) or you just don’t. Listening to the music a few more times might help you get it but my rudderless miasma of text probably won’t. Just acquire these sounds and decide for yourself. All I know is that Yamantaka//Sonic Titan, just like all of the bands I trumpet from the rooftops, weren’t even in the running for Christmas number one; muscled out by the elbow-room made by promotion dollars of massive ‘music’ corporations producing crap fuzz that sucks away the very soul rock and roll is supposed to affirm.
Written under duress by Steven.