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  Mantra of Love  
  Acid Mothers Temple  
Release Date:
Reviewed by:
  Mr Pharmacist  

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 palette.

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.

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