Psychedelic collective Kikagaku Moyo are currently a five-piece band, consisting of singer and guitarist Tomo Katsurada, bassist Kotsuguy, drummer and vocalist Go Kurosawa, guitarist Daoud Popal, and sitar player Ryu Kurosawa.
Kikagaku Moyo cite a number of influences, ranging from krautrock to traditional folk, 1970’s rock to Indian classical music. The resulting album though is perhaps surprisingly cohesive; they seamlessly blend these diverse inspirations into something entirely their own. A key component of their sound is repeated instrumental motifs, whether it’s bass, acoustic or electric guitar, they are band who build mood using repetition and then often improvise around those to add detail. Whilst the words are, for the most part in Japanese, the singing style is generally quite Western, the tight harmonies bringing to the mind acts like The Byrds or even the more experimental side of the Beach Boys.
Despite the slightly misleading presence of a sitar, Kikagaku Moyo formed in Tokyo. The largest city and capital of Japan, although technically it is not a city but a, “metropolitan prefecture”, whatever one of them is. A 2014 TripAdvisor survey resulted in Tokyo being the number one ranked city for best overall experience. Tokyo is also considered the safest city in the world, has comfortably the most Michelin Star restaurants of any city and has the world’s highest density of higher learning institutions, with over 100 universities and colleges. Tokyo’s music scene is fascinating due to its drip-feed of Western influences, which has led to the emergence of scenes from J-Pop to Japanese Hardcore and Extreme metal, which have appeared often long after the bands that have influenced them. Some of our favourite Tokyo acts include noise-rockers Melt Banana, New-Wave punks Polysics and legendary post-rockers Mono. There’s also of course Babymetal if you like your bands very odd and inexplicably popular.
Kikagaku Moyo originally formed whilst busking in the streets of Tokyo. Initially a loose collective of alternating musicians, they quickly evolved into a set line-up. They self-released their debut record, before being snapped up by Greek label Cosmic Eye/Sound Effect Records, who re-released their debut record on vinyl. In 2014 they released a second album, Forest Of Lost Children via Beyond Beyond is Beyond Records. Both their self-titled record and experimental EP, Mammatus Clouds were re-released in 2014 by Captcha records in the US and Cardinal Fuzz Records in the UK. Their latest effort, House In The Tall Grass came out earlier this month via Tokyo label, Guruguru Brain.
If music has ever produced a better advert for multiculturalism than Kikagaku Moyo, then we’ve never heard it. That five men who met busking in Tokyo can produce music with such a vast global influence is intriguing and wonderful in equal measure. The band’s sound takes in pastoral UK-folk with nods to Pentangle, vocal harmonies that are pure Laurel Canyon, and then lace the whole thing with a liberal dash of sitar associated with Indian-classical music, although as uncultured British-louts, sitar does always remind us a lot of The Beatles and LSD.
Describing Kikagaku Moyo’s latest album House In The Tall Grass, drummer Go Kurosawa noted, “we wanted to make a record which would bring scenic images to the listeners.” Certainly this a record that has as much in common with soundtracks and expansive post-rock as it does with more traditional song formats. Although it is not a difficult journey, the band guide the listener expertly, so even songs like Silver Owl, that runs at over ten minutes in length, don’t feel difficult or inaccessible. It is also a record that is loaded with more immediate moments, whether it’s the Rock’n’Roll twang to Dune or the proggy, Yes-like psych of Trad, it is a record that rewards the listeners with plenty of thrilling blasts in between it’s more expansive musical vistas.
The scope of the album is perhaps best summarised by the tracks that open and close the record. The albums first track, Green Sugar is fabulous, starting a wash of rapid guitar thrashing and fluttering, pulsating cymbals, the opening crescendos ultimately resolves into a thick, buzzing, bass riff that underpins much of the song. The track deals in a sort of subtle, almost pastoral, psychedelia, it’s not the heavy, excess of prog, but a softer, more melodic trip, reminiscent in a way of Midlake’s more recent output. Closing track, Cardigan Song, couldn’t really be much more different, it starts with little more than a lone acoustic guitar, it plays a complex, fluttering, piece of finger-picking wonder, joined only fleetingly by a rich, harmonious vocal sound. It’s a track that wouldn’t sound out of place on a record by Nick Drake or even Bert Jansch, infused with a subtle, gentle atmosphere, almost as if it’s being absent mindedly improvised in the corner of the room, yet, like so much of the material here, it’s utterly enchanting.
We’ll admit that Japanese psychedelic music with an Indian-classic twist does sound quite intimidating, and possibly won’t be to everyone’s taste. That said it’s considerably more accessible than you might initially imagine, and it’s unquestionably fascinating.
House In The Tall Grass is out now via Guruguru Brain. Kikagaku Moyo tour the UK this month, click HERE for details.