Kikagaku Moyo - Kumoyo Island

28 May 2022 - Stephan

Psychedelic Rock | Guruguru Brain | Release date: 06 May 2022

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In 2012 Kikagaku Moyo was born as a music collective on the streets of Tokyo. Ten years later the band looks back on several albums, relocating to the Netherlands and having toured around the globe, establishing them as one of the most spectacular live bands in psychedelic music. To quit now would be a huge surprise from the outside, but certainly the highest possible note on which anyone could leave. But yes, that’s exactly what the Japanese quintet is doing this year. Luckily, they are saying goodbye not only on stage, but also with this last album.

Just like most of the band’s lyrics being written in a made-up language, Kumoyo Island, which lends this fifth and final studio work its title, is a purely imagined place. In contrast to that the cover artwork (including backcover and credits) is remarkably real: It’s an impressive mural, photographed with a couch in front of it, on which we can relax, enjoy some fruit and observe.

And indeed discovering the island through this album is both an immersive and a distant experience. It’s easy to see yourself being led from the tropical holiday inn to the paradisal gardens and beaches, through the jungle and ravines into ancient caves, with endless wonders of nature to behold. But there is a dreamy haziness about it. You see and feel all the peace and beauty breathing through Kumoyo Island in great detail, but somehow unreachable.

Do you remember Don Draper’s famous carousel pitch in Mad Men? Maybe this is about nostalgia. Imagine you’ve gotten hold of an old box of decades-old dia-positives and Super 8 films! You’re watching a family you’ve never met in harmony at a place you’ve never seen. You’re excited about the treasure unfolding before you, and even the most mundane scenes are immensely fascinating. A part of you is longing to walk in their shoes, wants to relive that sense of childhood and innocence you’re seeing. In truth, however, you’re fully content with the privilege of just watching this magical time capsule. Listening to Kumoyo Island evokes a similar spirit for me.

Now don’t get me wrong! Kikagaku Moyo’s album is not all rainbows and butterflies, even though at least some of those track titles which are in English might indicate it: “Daydream Soda”, “Nap Song”, “Field Of Tiger Lilies”… I fully understand if those make you afraid of a potentially boring over-abundance of consonance and loveliness. But there’s no need for that, so please don’t drift away into Sleepyland yet! Only because most of this album is the soundtrack to a yet to be filmed feel-good movie, it doesn’t mean that it lacks tension. No matter where the multifaceted sound of the group takes you, there’s always an intriguing air of adventure, no matter if they sprinkle you with almost too sugary sweetness or suddenly throw you into sprawling layered freak-outs.

While the band has established an already very wide base sound that mixes German kraut traditions with Japanese psychedelic rock, global folk influences, a pinch of jazz fusion and a strong Indian note - Ryu Kurosawa’s electric sitar is probably the band’s most obvious trademark besides his brother Go’s dynamic drumming and delicate lead vocals -, you can always count on them to sneak in some new nuance which will surprise you. Be it the 70’s disco vibe of “Dancing Blue”, which in fact puts them into close vicinty to Yīn Yīn’s The Age Of Aquarius (reviewed by yours truly back in March), the flute and Magma vocals in the finale of “Meu Mar” or the disturbance of the “Cardboard Pile” sticking out from the island paradise like a sore thumb, before suddenly being pulled back into the - now weirdly tainted - bliss of the trip.

The short “Gomugomu” feels like a fun make-believe scenario of The Beatles not being Brits, but actually of East Asian ancestry. It is followed by the Kraftwerk meets Trip Hop experiment “Daydream Soda”, which heavily reminds me of the Tokyo mega city soundtrack stuff on that PowerShovelAudio sampler I once got with a Japanese 35mm toy camera - and which is probably my most obscure reference in any of my reviews here yet. Good luck finding that stuff online! (Using Discogs is cheating!)

As usual, this Kikagaku Moyo record is not for early quitters, because the last act starting with the epic garage rocker “Yayoi, Iyayoi” and ending with the guitar and piano ambience of “Maison Silk Road” offers some of the most interesting scenes of the journey. With all songs highlighting their own strong qualities it’s hard - and luckily unnecessary - to pick favorites on Kumoyo Island. The whole album is a brilliant work of visceral musical storytelling.

One can only hope that all the different threads which weave the whole of Kikagaku Moyo will be picked up by manifold future projects of the band members. I for sure don’t think that this will be the very last release on Go Kurosawa’s and guitarist Tomo Katsurada’s own label Guruguru Brain to feature these immensly inspired musicians.