Kaminumada Yohji - "Second" (Ebisu Records 1998, (JP) EBS-009)
Kaminumada Yohji - "Katana" (Aether Records 2000, AELLP-008 (ltd. ed. LP)
From Aural Innovations #12 (September 2000)
I actually picked up the newer LP by this 4-piece Japanese psych outfit (at Quarkstock) before snagging the CD later on (at NEARFest), but I think I'll review them in chronological order. However it doesn't really matter much, as they share a great deal of tracks. I rarely buy LP's these days, but I was intrigued by the description of the music, and I've discovered some interesting psychedelic rock coming from Japan over the last decade. Like me, they seem to have a fascination with the old German approach, Kaminumada Yohji looks toward the Munich style of Emtidi, Embryo, Between, etc. That is to say, they merge 'old world' Eastern music with 1960s/70s Western sensibilities. Well ok, that's the way it seems to me... I imagine that you might get a different story from someone coming from a different perspective. Like Japan, for instance.
The 'Second' CD features seven tunes totalling only about 30 minutes, so oddly the LP is actually quite a bit longer. Kaminumada Yohji is fronted by guitarist/songwriter Akihiko Horiguchi, who has a rather simple writing style, preferring to decorate his pleasant folksy compositions with lots of extra toppings. And we see that right off the bat with the excellent "Sword in My Heart," his light and airy guitar leads dancing around the strumming rhythm guitar of Naohiro Nishayama. Nishayama is also the group's lead vocalist and sings most often in a laid-back style and always in Japanese. Perhaps not the most musical of languages, but it's not something that bothers me, and he's got a pretty good voice. Sitarist Hayato Kashiwagi is also a prominent member of the group, at times playing with an even twangier than usual tone... in that way, the band has even a more 'oriental' sound. The short-but-sweet "White" is another simple ditty, a real throwback piece to the late 60s, featuring more spirited singing and a bouncier feel. The fourth track (title only given in Japanese) is the one lone track specific to the CD, and is a slowly-developing twin-guitar experiment that on one hand shows off some really nice ethereal guitar statements from Horiguchi, but it also wastes half of its eight minutes with not so much happening. "Escape to Your World" is a full-band piece, with effective use of countermelodies (e.g., the sitar) and a mix of guitar styles (both the airy cosmic type and some dirtier wah-guitar soloing). The instrumental "Kuremai-Crimson Dreams" and the finale "Mid-summer Rain" (with its raga-like intro) both continue the strong interplay between the guitars and sitar, including more of the oriental 'plucky' variety.
Side One of the Aether LP is simply six of the seven tracks from 'Second,' plus three live 1998 tracks on the flipside. "You're Mine Forever" is the same sort of dreamy psych-folk as before, but here Nishiyama (I guess) sings with a falsetto voice that - well I thought it was a female. So while that didn't work for me, I still like the soaring slide-guitar work here. And the lazy and dreamy "Virgo and Virgo" is perfectly set up for more of the same, a touch Floydian if you will (say, 'Obscured by Clouds'). We also gets lots of variety on "Slave of Lusts," random touches of aggressiveness scattered amongst the more subdued passages. Drummer Hiroyuki Wakita, who rarely gets to crank it up, has a chance here to get into the thick of things with some military-cadence style rhythms at least.
So, without stating a preference for one item over the other based on format (CD vs. LP), there's no question that the LP not only contains 10 minutes *more* music, it also has the better overall quality of music in my opinion. The live tracks are well-recorded, though the very meager applause makes it seem as they were playing to just a few friends. Perhaps the amount of cool Japanese psych rock being created doesn't truly indicate the audience for it in their own backyards. But then, I'm afraid that might be true just about anywhere you go. So much good music, so few people aware of it!
Contact Ebisu Records at: 3-3-7-704 Asahimachi Abenoku, Osaka, Japan.
Aether Records is online at http://www.aether-or.com, Ph. (317) 466-1352, FAX (317) 466-0494
Reviewed by Keith Henderson