Because Kikagaku Moyo are one of my absolute favourite bands I have to admit that I really wanted to like this album, their fifth and final studio outing following the announcement of them entering an ’indefinite hiatus’ at the end of 2022. However, I have to say that the first listen through left me somewhat deflated… I didn’t get it at all and although there seemed to be a few highlights and moments to grasp on to… it sort of left me cold.
However, given that the band has not made a record that I didn’t like up to that point I carried on listening undeterred. I further reminded myself that I had only very recently come round to their 2017 ’Stone Garden’ EP which, after having hardly listened to, has been on regular rotation in the car recently to much enjoyable effect.
As a result things started coming together on my second run through, when I also began to think about what the album was about and what the ideas behind it were… and was struck by a couple of things straight away.
Firstly in their own description of the album the band say…
In many ways ‘Kumoyo Island’ represents the culmination of a journey for Kikagaku Moyo. While their decade-long career can be summarized as a series of kaleidoscopic explorations through lands and dimensions far and near, there’s a strong intention in each of their works to take the listener to a particular place, however real or abstract they may be. In that sense, the title and cover art for the band’s fifth and final album draws you into a magical mass of land surrounded by water—but the couch suggests that ‘Kumoyo Island’ may not be a fleeting stop, but rather a place of respite, where one could pause and take it all in.https://kikagakumoyoggb.bandcamp.com/album/kumoyo-island
This immediately peaked my interest and got me thinking more about how the band had developed over the last ten years of their existence and my personal ride with them. I began to realise that my initial discomfort with this album was that it was not what I was expecting… but that this was also a bit weird given that all their albums have had their own character and personality. This thinking was further helped by a blog post by Rinat Hozin (it is in Russian, but it translates well with software) in which he points out that each Kikagaku Moyo album has invited us to inhabit somewhere in particular and, as we see from the band’s description, this one is no exception.
This was obvious to me once I had read it given that the band’s ’Little House in the Tall Grass’ had been an essential part of my lockdown survival kit (as well as my album of the last decade). Now that I had that headspace I could really get into what this album was about, although this would have been clearly fruitless if the album was as poor as my initial experience of it.
Fortunately for me this isn’t the case, and now I’m four or five listens in I can really feel it coming together… I’m gradually noticing new things and am already coming round to think that it is a fitting final tribute to a great band (and I’ll write more on their legacy after I’ve seen them for their final two London shows next month). So let’s get into it…
Part of my previous disorientation lay in the first track ’Monaka’, whose name is apparently taken from a brand of Japanese wafer sweets, played in the minyofolk style which was not something my ears was accustomed to… but, for the band, represents an element of this island which they are inviting us too… I for one am very happy to accept that hospitality and am really starting to feel comfortable with it and, given the absolutely stunning ending to it… I really cannot wait to hear ’Monaka’ being played live now…
From that we head off into the funk of ‘Dancing Blue’ which I also imagine will be absolutely blinding in a live context… I can imagine the whole audience going absolutely crazy turning the venue into a massive dance floor. Here Kikagaku Moyo do brilliantly what they have done throughout their decade of existence… wonderfully marrying musical styles into a hybrid that is somewhat unique to them… with one of the features of this album being that they invite styles from all over the world onto their sonic Island… with wonderfully blissful results.
After that ’Effe’ is something that it a little more understated and mellow. The horn at the beginning reminiscent of some free jazz, and perhaps a nod to Miles Davis… I love the understated use of the sitar here which briefly pops up then gradually weaves its way in… and then the track is gone with some birdsong… almost as if it was never there… the sort of enchantment that has marked Kikaguku Moyo’s music over the years.
This is something that is replicated, albeit in a different manner, with ’Meu Mar’ which is a cover of the Brazilian Erasmos Carlos’ song. Again bringing the music of world to this lovely island we get a nice lilting bossa nova to the place… before briefly and dynamically introducting their own inimitable guitar style to an upbeat bridge before gentle resting us back again on the gentle sand of the shoreline.
After that ‘Cardboard Pile’ bursts out of the speakers with a massive statement of intent before collapsing in a melee of noise, in which you can hear many elements of the band’s signature sound, before it resets into a far more gentle melody. This was one of the lead tracks to be released from the album… and was perhaps responsible for my initial disconnect with this one… because is is definitely more reminiscent of the band’s former output… a familiarity which perhaps lulled me into a false sense of comfort. Anyway, within the context of this album is now stands as a monument to the band’s heritage… and takes a rightful and prominent place here… not the same as what has gone before, but more alluding to it.
It also marks the point at which the album perhaps becomes a little more experimental, starting with ‘Gomugomu’, which is a gem of a short jam which feels lighthearted and fun… with so much going on in it from a country guitar to some pretty unusual sounds that could have come from a rather pleasant fever dream… and like one of those is quickly gone to leave us with the eerie and spacious ’Daydream Soda’ with its breezy outlook… it feels like we have found a cool clearing on the island and have time to sit and reflect on the journey travelled before reaching our destination with its meditative beats and splashes of sound… it feels like we are headed towards the end… but before that there is one final push ahead.
This starts with another short interlude ’The Field of the Tiger Lilies’, which is based around a psychedelic riff which seems to be getting us into a certain frame of mind before hitting us with ’Yayoi, Iyayoi’ which is a great Kikagaku-style rock tune which just hits all my buttons as to why I have liked this band for the last decade with it the beautifully woven sitar, the sharp guitar, the lilting beat, the soft siren-like vocal and the readiness to change styles from bar to bar… for me it’s something of a distillation of what the band are about… and, as we are about to discover, is well placed in terms of how this album (and Kikagaku Moyo’s recording career) ends…
That is because next up we have ‘Nap Song’. Now ’The House in the Tall Grass’ ended with the lovely ’Cardigan Song’, and ’Masana Temples’ with ‘Blanket Song’ (and perhaps also ’Dawn’ on the first album, and also ’White Moon’ on ’Forest of Lost Children’) and so it is here… a sort of lullaby to help us relax after what has gone before… something to comfort us wherever we are and whatever we are doing. ‘Nap Song’ is a more than worthy addition to these and something to lull us into that moment when we have to realise that everything is coming to an end…
…on this occasion it isn’t quite the end, and Kikagaku Moyo go out with the sort of soporific dream sequence that actually, when I reflect on it, is just the perfect way to leave… in a way that evokes a hazy dusk with mist hanging over a calm sea as the sun opaquely disappears over the indeterminable horizon… it is like a wonderfully peaceful trip that is long enough to say our fond farewell to a band that has truly made an impact over the last decade…
They may be disappearing from the scene… but they have left behind this sonic island for us to visit at anytime, and it will certainly become one of my destinations of choice.
‘Kumoyo Island’ is released by Guruguru Brain here
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