Once while I was sitting in a History of Rock
and Roll class during my undergraduate days, the professor kept
hammering on about how musical trends mutate and grow when they
are interpreted or, better yet, misinterpreted. As an example,
The Beatles took Buddy Holly and the blues and, in their earnest
and winsome way, built a template that was then interpreted,
from America to Britain to places beyond. The "interpretation"
can be a crass rip-off, slavish but muddled imitation (Lenny
Kravitz anyone?), or something similar but new. What to make
then of the Japanese psychedelic collective known as Acid Mothers
Temple? If the movie Lost
in Translation taught us anything, it showed us
that the Japanese love to appropriate Western pop music. But
can they make it good? What if it isn't pop, but hippy trance
and Nuggets-style psychedelia? Anybody who has
had the pleasure of dipping into AMT's discography can attest
it is so much better than good. Sometimes it's even genius.
One such genius is Kawabata Makoto. After playing very loud guitar in a number
of classic Japanese bands, he formed his own group, which is
perhaps better described as a commune. Since 1998, scads of
releases, often ridiculously hard to find, have poured out of
the man and his buddies. Highlights like Electric Heavyland
demonstrate that loud guitars get even louder, and freak out
jams can move your mind into the cosmos. AMT can create the
sort of space music that marries Hendrix and early Pink Floyd
and somehow manages to avoid the sort of trippy hippy excess
that such a combo threatens on the ears.
Mantra of Love, lovingly given to us by Alien8
(a label to remember), is the sound of AMT evolving. Those familiar
with AMT freak-out classics like the aforementioned Electric
Heavyland might be in for a surprise. This is a kinder,
gentler AMT. There are 2 tracks, both over the fifteen minute
mark. Long time stalwart Cotton Casino starts off the first
track. There's an air of traditional Japanese folk in the thing.
It starts almost gentle, then builds and builds until the guitars
roar, the keyboards do a space gurgle, and the rhythm section
gallops. It is invigorating stuff made more so by the contrast
to the folk beginning.
The second track starts off in space. Psychedelic keyboards
launch the track and are in the forefront throughout. Then,
Cotton's voice is heard, albeit somewhat buried. There's a wonderfully
cinematic feel to the drones and swoops of the synthesizers
and instrumentation. You could lose yourself in a musical landscape
such as this, and I suspect that's the point. It comes across
as Krautrock-y in the best sense, if a little too short.
Mantra of Love's strengths are many. AMT at their best always
provide a musical journey, a feeling of traveling to places/things
exotic. There's also a good compositional structure to the disc.
It's a bit like film or a painting. There's color, drama and
a nagging, implied narrative to hold the whole thing together.
AMT have given up heaviness in favor of an expanded sensorial
Weaknesses? I suppose the pretentiousness in the last sentence of the former paragraph is a hint. This ain't music to which you drink beer or even clean house. That's not to say it's overserious (there's too much playfulness in the mix for that), but it still may be a bit weird or conceptual for some. Also, the lack of wall to wall guitar pyrotechnics might discourage those who have come to expect that from AMT.
That said, there's a depth and maturity in this album which bodes well for the future growth of Kawabata and company. Especially heartening is their use of traditional sounding Japanese styles. If great rock music is based on interpretation and mutation, you don't have to squint to see the fish crawling out onto the beach.