What W. Axel Rose and his Guns N’ Roses showed the world with their slowest, most patient song, "Patience," was a sensitive vulnerability, unrestrained by the tired power ballad format, that balanced out all the hollyweird, small-man anger their sleazier hits that flaunted to the top of the charts. "Patience" made it to number four in the US and I know for a fact that it continues to enjoy slurred and spirited karaoke renditions the world over, though, as a choice cut, it bodes ill for the novice due to its length and monotony (Kimberly Starling of The Karaoke Informer says it's one of the top 5 songs that tends to bomb: "It just eludes the average ear and when you get off key on this one it sounds to the ear like a turd in a punch bowl looks to the eye.") However, with "Patience" in mind, I am reminded of two recent, overlooked releases that guild a gentle acoustic sound that is characteristically rock while also spiritually folk: Nagisa Ni Te’s Yosuga and Karl Blau’s Nature's Got A Way.
Folk-rock duo Shinji Shibayama and Masako Takeda, better known as Nagisa Ni Te, or 渚にて for those of you who prefer imports, have taken their sweet, precious (four years) time in creating their latest opus entitled Yosuga -- a word that refers to the source or grounds upon which the mind and body rely. This newest addition to the Nagisa Ni Te catalogue is perhaps less solid than its predecessor, Dream Sounds, but it is as soft, melodic and fresh as Nagisa Ni Te have ever sounded and I think it’s unfair to compare a new release with what was essentially a reworked album of greatest hits no matter how great it sounds. The idyllic compositions that comprise Yosuga, reminiscent of the Soft Sounds for Gentle People compilations in every aesthetic sense, blur the boundaries between psychedelic folk and progressive rock to the extent that almost every track transports the listener to a sun-swathed wheat field in full summer, pregnant and clothed in a light cotton dress, down feathers hanging in the air of zephyrs. It’s just that easy.
In describing their sound I think it should be noted that Nagisa Ni Te means “on the beach” in Japanese, which one may presume to be a nod to Neil Young, for it seems apparent that Shinji Shibayama and Masako Tekeda are great fans of his, especially his early work. Many of the songs on Yosuga reflect influences from other guitar deities-- think Jimmy Page plays “Rain Song,” while showcasing the skills and hypnotic powers both Shibayama and Takeda possess. I only wish they’d hitch a ride on one of their lazy, rhythmic meanderings stateside so I can be entranced personally by their live performance instead of feeling the world turn slowly beneath my body, laid out on my bedroom floor with my eyes closed, their record cranked up to eleven. Nagisa Ni Te pretty please come to town, onegai. By not touring the states you guys are testing my patience as much as your gentle music is enabling me to endure it.
I have, however, been fortunate enough to catch Karl Blau in one of his under the radar performances here in San Francisco. I’ll never forget it as it was one of the most wonderfully playful and charming one man shows I’ve ever had the pleasure of attending. Karl Blau is a guy that I suspect everyone knows, or will know, a BFF of sorts. He is just that likable. I am almost certain he is the kind of person who has tons of friends because he seems like the type of guy who makes friends just as easily as he keeps them. As a musician he’s put out so many full length albums via the K Records/Knw-Yr-Own collective, not to mention his mail order music subscription service Kelp Monthly, played in D+, Your Heart Breaks, Brothers Blau, Captain Fathom and has collaborated extensively with Phil Elverum of Microphones/Mount Eerie/Thanksgiving fame that to say he’s prolific seems a slight understatement. After all that all I can say for his style of music is that it sounds like all kinds of people from all kinds of places playing all kinds of instruments. He’s that multi-instrumentalist guy who can pull off a braided look.
His latest record on K, Nature’s Got A Way, is nothing less than all of the above in Karl Blau-ness. I put it on for the first time, like I do with most new releases bought on new release day, during Wednesday breakfast and within minutes I was laughing and dancing with my roommate while I stirred grits, poured coffee and spread generous dollops of marmalade on my toast. Karl’s lyrics are as freewheeling and compelling as his kitchen sink musical stylings with a healthy splash of nonsense in all the right pockets. “Face like a TV/Food is my DVD/Wanna see a scary movie/Just feed some soy to me,” he sings on “Make Love That Lasts,” which not only cracks a smile with my sense of humor, but also affirms my stance on the mystery and majesty of soy products. I love meat just as much as the next Viking warrior, but I’ll thrash on a veggie sausage any day of the week. Perhaps that sums up how I feel about Karl Blau’s music: it is as good as, and at times even better than, the more popular “products” out there, even those that boldly refer to themselves as ‘the real thing.’
One of the most delightful surprises that Nature’s Got A Way has afforded my ears is hearing the odd borrowing of one of my absolute favorite songs by Nikaido Kazumi, one of the most magical folk musicians on the planet, known for her spectacular solo works as well as her collaborations with Saya of Maher Shalal Hash Baz and Tenniscoats and with that Phil Elverum guy. Nothing quite feels like having one's fur pet the wrong way as much as an unexpected cover of a treasured song, but I have to give Karl Blau props for using Nika’s song “Myakuhaku (Pulse Beat)” tastefully, taking the melody and fitting English in place of her original Japanese lyrics. I was so stunned when I recognized the tune that I was speechless -- this was a first for me. I share my esteem for Ms. Nikaido’s music with so few that she would be one of the last musicians I’d expect to hear honored in this way -- and in English too, though the lyrics are not a translation. I suppose I am still in awe because in hearing a song I love so much performed in an almost altogether new fashion by an almost entirely different musician I am reminded of the first time I heard, and subsequently fell in love with, that song. Which reminds me, I saw recently on You Tube Jens Lekmen doing a very sweet live cover of Nagisa Ni Te’s “On the Love Beach” which I think sums up this piece on patient music. Though the video is a bit incomplete and shaky, the part where he messes up a little bit is precious and his pronunciation of the lyrics is nearly perfect. So if Nagisa Ni Te never come to your town or mine, perhaps Jens Lekman will come and play a cover of theirs. Chances are more likely that Karl Blau will be around soon and, who knows, maybe he’ll bring Nikaido Kazumi. If only we were so lucky.