Bondage Fruit - "IV"
(Gazul [A division of Musea] 1999, GA 8627.AR)
From Aural Innovations #11 (July 2000)
Bondage Fruit are a Japanese ensemble who have been described as being one of the best examples of zeuhl music today. On "IV", there are certainly zeuhl influences, but Bondage Fruit's talents lie in their ability to incorporate traditional music such as blues, jazz, and rock, into manic and complex avant-progressive instrumental passages that are well structured, but have a freeform "jam" feel as well. The bands consists of Kido Natsuki on guitar and synthesizer, Okabe Youichi on trap drum and percussion, Ohtsubo Hirohiko on bass, Takara Kumiko on vibraphone, percussion, and organ, and Katsui Yuji on violin and vocals. Apparently female vocals were once integral to their sound, though there are none on "IV".
The opening track, "Minus One", hints at traditional rock rhythms, and the opening guitar bit reminds me of an old Edgar Winter tune I can't quite place. An interesting analogy given that the whole of the track explores early Zappa territory, particularly its cool scratchy "Willie The Pimp" violin. Percussion, vibes, violin, and guitar all function in a gorgeous instrumental stew in which the instruments work independently but cooperatively. Kind of a zeuhl and Crimson meet Zappa and Beefheart comglomeration.
"Prayer" opens as a sort of avant-bluesy piece, though it too gets a bit into the Zappa realm, but also has some heavy, but all too brief, power-rock segments. The music builds in intensity and becomes a freeform and quite fiery jam that utilizes a lot of off-kilter but well constructed rhythms, until its last minute when it closes with a more standard rock, but Zappa-oriented feel. Bondage Fruit delve deeper into the blues on "Screen Game". Delta blues slide guitar and violin lead the fray in this swinging party tune. The combination of instrumentation helps make this Bondage Fruit's own, again blending traditional music with a free-for-all avant-progressive styling. And for something really different, "Old Blind Cat" combines Middle Eastern influences with blues. Imagine harem girls chanting at the banks of the Mississippi. Add some mucho spacey synths and you've got a way cool tune that stray miles away from the norm.
The CD's epic track, hottest music, and my runaway favorite, is the 19 minute "Sono-bank". Bondage Fruit has performed in the past with Happy Family, and there are strong similarities to that bands' manic style here (though without the punkish tendencies), and the zeuhl influences are more apparent here than on the rest of the album. The music opens with lots of fiery guitar and percussion work. You can feel the momentum building and can sense that an explosion is imminent. Yet the music holds this state for an extended period which kept me on the edge of my seat in a hyper-alert condition as my brain was pounded to a pulp. Love that crazed wah guitar! This is a rapid-fire hurricane of a piece that is relentless in it's assault. Each musician is locked in a duel for brain bashing intensity that still manages to result in a band effort. An enjoyable mixture of crazed instrumental prowess and majestic Magmaesque zeuhl segments. I was exhausted by the song's end. Absolutely smokin'.
In summary, fans of intense, complex progressive rock, often played at lightening but controlled speed, and with hints of zeuhl and even traditional musics, should check this band out. You won't be disappointed.
The CD is distributed by Musea Records. They have a link on the main page to distributors around the world.
An internet search on the band turned up little, though I did find a short history at http://www.asahi-net.or.jp/~uz6t-kti/bandprofile.html.
Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz