This is such a beautiful album. I could leave it at that because in a sense that is all you need to know. It is an album that would not be out of place in a Zen garden, with all the notes seemingly placed quite exactly in order to create just the right sort of ambience that allows the listener to sit comfortably and let the stresses and strains of life melt away. Like a Zen garden, though this is not ambient music, rather it is music that facilitates…it is active not passive.
This album is 破地獄 Scattered Purgatory’s second release on the fantastic Japanese Guruguru Brain label and, those familiar with their previous album, “Lost Ethnography of the Miscanthus Ocean”, will know about the Taiwanese duo’s ability to weave meaning and feeling into their music, but there is much more fragility in this release replacing heavy riffs with something altogether more delicate. This is music that is rooted in 破地獄 Scattered Purgatory’s own heritage, and that is part of its appeal, with soundscapes that are, to my ‘Western’ ears, exotic and other worldly.
This is certainly the case with opening track, ‘抱朴子 – Pao-p’u-tzu’, which is so elegant, airy and graceful; with silence almost being used as an additional instrument, and which acts as a wonderful catalyst to facilitate contemplation. ‘途鬼 – Pathway Ghos is more intense by comparison, with contrasting sounds evoking light and dark, with delicate strings competing with heavy drone in a manner that seems initially discordant, but gradually seems to reach a resolution.
Next up is ‘黯淡的月 – Dim Moon’, ostensively a cover version of a Taiwanese pop song from the 1950s, a cover that is heavily applied. Utilising some heavy beats and drones this track really plumbs the depths of the soul as it progresses relentlessly towards its conclusion. There is a real darkness to this track which is at the same time soothing and unsettling, a siren voice drawing us to something that is uncertain and uncomfortable
Last up is the epic 24 minute title track, ‘芒神 – God of Silver Grass’, in which the duo become a quartet. This is music to lose yourself in, to totally zone out and let it take you off into landscapes of the mind. It is one of those tracks that seems timeless, not because it could have ben made at any juncture over the last few decades (although that is also true), but that you lose all sense of time when you are listening to it. Going back to the Zen garden comparison, there is a sense that every loop, and every pluck is there for a reason; and whether or not it is improvised there is a certain meticulousness to this music that somehow adds to the wonder of listening to it.
This is indeed a very beautiful album, and an album whose beauty runs deep. It is it many ways an album of sounds that are laid-back and ambient. At no point, however, is this an album that should be on in the background; it is not made up of musak such as may be played in Spas, but a genuine tool to generate active calm and ponder the nature of things. Just follow 破地獄 Scattered Purgatory’s lead and succumb to the inevitable.
芒神 – God of Silver Grass is available on cassette and digital download from Guruguru Brain here.