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Kikagaku Moyo progressed from early days in Tokyo’s experimental scene to traveling the world with their mind-bending sounds, exploring different facets of psychedelia on each new release and blowing minds with a live show that was just as searching as their records. The shifting dimensions of Masana Temples are informed by various experiences the band had with traveling through life together, ranging from the months spent on tour to making a pilgrimage to Lisbon to record the album with jazz musician Bruno Pernadas. The songs came together in the wake of the band breaking up the communal house most of them had shared in Tokyo, with some members relocating to Amsterdam, and others moving to different parts of Japan. Transitioning from being based in the scene they had roots in to scattering around various locales made for an even more enhanced understanding of how mystically connected the sum of their parts were when the band reunited to record new material. The music is the product of time spent in motion and all of the bending mindsets that come with it.
The band sought out Pernadas both out of admiration for his music and in an intentional move to work with a producer who came from a wildly different background. With Masana Temples, the band wanted to challenge their own concepts of what psychedelic music could be. Elements of both the attentive folk and wild-eyed rocking sides of the band are still intact throughout Masana Temples, but they’re sharper and more defined. Without sacrificing any of their experimental impulses, songs are more composed and cohesive. Pernadas’ bright production meets with nearly telepathically locked-in performances, on both lazy cloud-like jaunts like “Nazo Nazo” or fuzzed-out expeditions like lead single “Gatherings”. Drummer/vocalist Go Kurosawa, guitarist/vocalist Tomo Katsurada, bassist Kotsuguy, sitar and keyboard player Ryu Kurosawa and guitarist Daoud Popal Akira act as a unit, with an intuitive attention to space and dynamics that could only come from years of playing together in every imaginable setting.
More than the literal interpretation of being on a journey, the album’s always changing sonic panorama reflects the spiritual connection of the band moving through this all together. Life for a traveling band is a series of constant metamorphoses, with languages, cultures, climates and vibes changing with each new town. The only constant for Kikagaku Moyo throughout their travels were the five band members always together moving through it all, but each of them taking everything in from very different perspectives. Inspecting the harmonies and disparities between these perspectives, the group reflects the emotional impact of their nomadic paths.
Coming together in a way more deliberate than the beautifully floating improvisations of their Stone Garden EP or the sometimes hushed dreamstate of 2016 album House In The Tall Grass, Masana Temples is focused and clear in its vision in a way that feels unlike any of Kikagaku Moyo’s earlier sounds.
The pieces on Nighttime Birds mine components of the Appalachian folk music Louise is steeped in, as well as spiritual jazz, contemporary classical, and new age, while drawing intensely personal inspiration from the natural world. “Ancient Intelligence” ruminates on the power of and connection to Mother Earth through wordless, almost alien skitters. For Louise, the natural and the psychedelic are indelibly linked through their ability to provide healing. Drawing inspiration from a profound healing experience she had, Sarah assembled the pieces in dedication to that healing. Compositions exude spiritual relief and exploration, as they are both explorative musically and soothing in their gentle, delicate details. Moments of surreal intensity bubble forth on tracks like “Chitin Flight” which stoke curiosity and provide flares of tension and relief. Pieces like this offer Louise’s unique take on what a guitar solo can be while whimsically playing with guitar tropes of the psychedelic era.
Technically she approached performance on the album in a patulous manner, improvising on electric guitar in standard tuning, rather than her signature 12-string acoustic guitar and song- specific tunings. This radically different approach for Sarah was in and of itself liberating as well as inspiring. Louise carried this intuitional mindset with her into recording new pieces. Like Deeper Woods, she engineered the album herself, but with a new focus on innovative use of her recording program. With her improvisations as the raw material, she carefully crafted deliberate compositions that are her most painterly and cosmic work to date. Sampling herself, Louise’s approach to composing with guitar magnifies single notes, short patterns and overtones to reveal microtonality and otherworldly timbres. Frayed rhythms flow freely atop and between lush waves of devotional drones. Variations in speed and tone transform the guitar across the album from brassy bellows to the sounds of rustling insects.
Louise’s daring blend of heartfelt stream of conscious playing and bold studio processing demonstrates her unique ability to craft poignant music regardless of what tools she uses. She finds harmony rather than dissonance in synthesizing raw and organic materials with the technological. Sections of electronic bursts swell and ebb with a lifelike pulse, collapsing distinction between the natural and artificial. Each piece inhabits its own biosphere and Louise’s guitar and voice act as the flora and fauna. With Nighttime Birds and Morning Stars, Sarah Louise has reimagined the limitations of guitar music to create a work of sublime resplendence.