Album of the Decade: House in the Tall Grass by Kikagaku Moyo

To quote The Beatles:

I read the news today, oh boy

But there were not 4,000 holes in Blackburn, Lancashire; but a local Covid lockdown… in fact the whole of the first five minutes on the bulletin felt like déjà vu from March as the seemingly inevitable march towards further restrictions was foreshadowed… added to that was the seeming further descent of Trump into madness and megalomania, seemingly adding a messiah complex to his already bizarre and dangerous menu of mental health issues…

The whole thing left me, not for the first time this year, in a fug of despondency… failing to see the hope as the pandemic seemed certain to extend deep into 2021… with perhaps not the worst yet behind us.

It is at such moments that I try to turn to music for comfort. Sometimes this is angry aggressive music… sometimes it is a proper pop tune…. sometimes it is something that I can zone out to… today it was ‘House in the Tall Grass’ by Kikagaku Moyo.

Let me digress for a minute… as part of lockdown (the first one) entertainment, a Facebook group that I belong to held an ‘Album of the Decade’ tournament… there were group stages, and an extremely exciting knockout stage. It was during this time that I had the opportunity to really think about all the albums that I have adored over the last ten years (many of which are featured on this website)… and I came to the strong conclusion that ‘House in the Tall Grass’ was mine… and, actually, if I were to escape all of this madness and live in a house amidst some tall grass I would be more than happy with just a turntable and a copy of this album for company.

In writing this I read my review of the album from when it first came out in 2016, and was clearly beguiled by it then. Since then I have, of course, listened to it many times… and I think that it is fair to say that I find something new in it every time…

It is like each listen brings to it another coat of sonic varnish, so that the music’s sheen gets deeper and richer on each occasion.

…and because I tend to listen to it at times of high/ low emotion each listen brings another layer of experience and sense of place.

This then is not only my album of the decade because I think it is the finest album to come out over a ten year period… but because it is somehow intertwined with my life…

But there is something else here as well… something that happened on the 27th May 2016 at the Star and Garter pub in Manchester…. that night I saw Kikagaku Moyo, touring this album, and in what surely must be the form of their lives…

This was not just a gig… it was a transcendental experience… it was one of those nights when the whole room just felt at one with the band… my mind and my body were just there, and it felt like we had collectively broken on through to the other side. I have been to many great gigs over the years… but this one was ‘third eye’ level…

…and that brings me back to the present, because this album reminds me explicitly of that night… of that time when we could all meet together in that upstairs room and share something so raw and numinal. When social distancing was not a thing… when we could laugh and dance together… when we took such things for granted… although I think we all recognised that the performance that night was special.

So in its role of ‘album the decade’ ‘House in the Tall Grass’ also reminds me of that decade… of what is already a different time… it offers memories of what was… but also hope of what might be again… but also of what makes the album in and of itself so special?

It begins with ‘Green Sugar’… and now whenever I hear that opening salvo it seems that my mind and body is already automatically preparing itself for what is to come… I begin to feel more relaxed, something that increases when the melody kicks in. Then when the vocal starts the transition is complete and I’m already there… in the land of Kikagaku Moyo… in the house amidst the tall grass… away from the world and all it’s foul accretions. Then at 2’50” it somehow goes further with some lovely acoustic moments that seem to add another layer of transcendence. Then, just when you thought it couldn’t get any better the whole thing just opens out into a mad freak out… I imagine myself just going for it in my little cabin… oblivious!

For many albums… for many bands… that would be the crowning glory, but that was only just the start on this one. ‘Kogarashi’, if anything, takes it up a notch… the melody on this is just wonderful… beguiling… transcendent, and the when the sitar comes, in I could just cry with happiness…. this was the lead track when the album came out and I remember being fearful that the rest of the album would be a disappointment after hearing this… but not a bit of it… ‘Kogarashi’ is, for sure, a special track… but it doesn’t stand out on this album…

After that ‘Old Snow, White Sun’ is one that took me a bit longer to appreciate… in the context of the album it feels more ‘antique’… it has that feeling to me now of being like a beloved piece of furniture (going back to the varnish analogy of earlier) it is a bit more lo-fi and gives me a sense of melancholy… of wistful memories… of longing…

The album continues to move in on itself with ‘Melted Crystal’… the melody on this track is so brittle, so simple yet so effective… it reminds me of a winter’s morning when the frost has taken over everything and spiders’ webs hang in glorious splendour as the sun shines through them… I catch my breath and see it evaporate into the chilly ether… again I imagine my little hut and the whitened vegetation around it… and I feel like I am in my happy place… I, again, experience tears of joy.

’Dune’ comes in and all of a sudden I’m ready to dance… the sixties inspired riff taking me back to the first psychedelic wave… to the meeting of cultures… ‘East’ and ‘West’… just constructs but here melded together as if not to matter anyway… I think of wholeness… of oneness… of compassion and of togetherness.

If you’re listening to the vinyl version, this is where you flip it over… that moment works well for me… it gives me a cause to stop… as somehow ‘Silver Owl’ is better with that pause before it… the punctuation of listening on wax helps to appreciate the beautiful/ intricate/ latticed beginning… the way that the vocal and sitar interact is just superb… it is like your ears are being cosseted in silk… every note seems to have a purpose… every nuance just takes you away to somewhere else… a dreamlike state which seems to get deeper and deeper as you zone out and reach a state of being which only seems to exist in and of itself…


Then the guitars kick in and it’s like that reality is suddenly… smashed/ transcended… I’m not sure which but all of a sudden that dreaminess is replaced by a raw excitement with an ending which is as wonderful as it is unexpected… and somehow gets me every time.

After that the short interlude that is ‘Fata Morgana’ acts like something of a palate cleanser before going into the luscious psych/ folk of ‘Trad’. In some ways this is the most elusive of the tracks here. There is something of a traditional feel to it… but of what tradition? There is a familiarity here… but I can never quite pinpoint what it is… and I love this mysteriousness… this almost mystical element… again this sense of the numinal, taking me into the realm of the non-rational (and away from the irrational)… Then after four and a half minutes the album takes another one of its wonderful 90 degree turns with a bassline opening up into another freak out… an almost automatic change of mood as the vibe again turns from introversion to becoming extrovert…

…and that’s one of the superb things about this album… as it takes you on a psychological journey… a journey of the soul in which the music is the guide that invites you to follow it…. no coercion… but why would you not want to?

Only ‘Cardigan Song’ left now… I say only… because this takes the beauty of this album to another level… like a lullaby at the end of the day this track is graceful, elegant and exquisite… as I listen to it again now I feel myself drifting off into that liminal place where the experiences of the day can be parked and processed… it feels just so effortless at the end of a set which has clearly been put together with so much thought and care… and as it tails off at the end you just get such a feeling of completeness… an end point that was so far away the frustrations of where you were at the beginning… and if that isn’t the purpose of psychedelic music I don’t know what is.

This then is an album through which I can find my happy place… it has gone past just being a great LP to one of a handful that I consider to be truly essential. It achieves this because it does so many different things well. Yes it is comforting, but it is also inspiring, surprising and eclectic… it is an album that can move me in many different ways… it appeals to the majority introvert in me… but also encourages my extrovert side… all in all it is something of a perfect album for me… excuse me now while I go and play it again.



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