Amoeblog

Takako Minekawa emerges from a thriteen year hiatus with Ponytail guitarist Dustin Wong

Posted by Kells, June 20, 2013 05:26pm | Post a Comment

Sometimes the wait for new material from a beloved recording artist can feel like an eternity, especially when their last album presaged a significant shift in one's personal musical tastes. In February of 2001 I picked up Takako Minekawa's Maxi On! on a heavy vibe-induced hunch (the cover art called to me for reasons I'll never understand -- this kind of thing happens to me all the time) and it forever changed the quality of pop music I seek and enjoy. I spent the next few years digging into her extensive back catalog, digesting it rapidly while anticipating a new release that never came. So began my fascination with an artist that had seemingly just shelved her career as a keyboard-collecting, color obsessed, cat-loving experimental electro-pop singer/songwriter indefinitely.

Twelve years later and I honestly can't remember the last time I checked Minekawa's near dormant website for news or scoured the interwebs for any new transmissions indicating fresh airs from one of my forever favorite recording artists. Then the other day a co-worker (and kindred spirit who knows me very well) uttered the words, "hey, have you seen that new Takako Minekawa album? We have two!" Gobsmacked. Yes, gobsmacked is the best word for my reaction to this query. No, I hadn't seen it. I hadn't heard it or heard of it, but I am listening to it, again, right now, all fifty seven minutes.

I also hadn't heard of (ex-Ponytail) guitarist Dustin Wong until yesterday but my opinion of him as a man and a musician are highly colored by the fact that he deserves hella mad props for luring Takako Minekawa out of her thirteen year hiatus. Known for his intricate solo performances where he delicately loops guitar pieces via a bow-shaped arrangement of various effects pedals, Wong's working approach to music-making doesn't sound all that different from Minekawa's methods, that is, if you switch out the guitar and pedals for a drum machine and a phalanx of precious keyboards. With those similarities in mind their collaborative debut, entitled Toropical Circle, sounds a lot like you'd expect it would. Only, it actually sounds better than I expected, but then that's a testament to the kind of vintage hype that only a baited long-ass waiting period can buy. 

The album erupts with the single, "Party on a Floating Cake" -- a title that sounds like it could've been a throwaway from Maxi On!. Though it begins with a blippy, looped prelude the momentum shifts as Wong's sunny, surf-inspired guitar twangs mingle with Minekawa's trademark breathy vocal wisps until the layers of guitars and synths, piled high and teetering at this point, finally waffle into a sort of false ending that feels anything but finished (think: just about any track from Blonde Redhead's 23). At first listen I mistook this as an ill omen for the record as a whole, but I found that each track overall reflects a sprightly and playful organic genesis that sometimes sounds loosely composed in a random jamming (i.e. "experimental") fashion while otherwise showcasing the technical prowess of the two gurus behind this sonic mixed bag. I especially like the track "Swimming Between Parallel Times" as the woven illumination of the instrumentation resembles a piece that OOIOO might've dreamed up during one of their heady gamelan orchestra collaborations. There are also many shimmering magic moments pulsing throughout Toropical Circle that bring to mind another collaborative effort, Tujiko Noriko and Aoki Takamasa's 2005 album 28 (though the vibe there was more late night neon seduction rather than coltish pastel whimsy and stratified "Mary Had A Little Lamb" tangents).
 

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Over It: Foxtails Bridage Finds Beauty in Not Really Feeling Christmas, This Year

Posted by Kells, December 23, 2011 11:18am | Post a Comment

It's Christmas eve eve and whether or not you're reeling in feeling the frenzy of the heightened excitement of the season there's always room for a little plaintive introspection. Local auteur/chanteuse Laura Weinbach and her chamber-pop ensemble Foxtails Brigade are among many who have released a special album for the holidays this year, but no seasonal tribute has ever so sweetly serenaded the ghosts of Christmas past quite like their single "I'm Not Really In The Christmas Mood This Year" from the album Time Is Passed. The song is a beautiful if painfully heart-tugging reminder that the Christmas monster needs taming, a glockenspiel and brush lullaby for the lovers of the true meaning. Plus, it comes perfectly packaged in a ruefully gorgeous, must-see visual medium, do check out the video below!

 
Merry Christmas all, even if you're not really feeling it, this year.
 

Synthsual Seduction: Getting Intimate with Blonde Redhead's Penny Sparkle

Posted by Kells, September 14, 2010 11:00am | Post a Comment
A while ago, right here in this blogosphere, I shared a memorable, if somewhat goofy, moment I experienced in conversation with Blonde Redhead where it was determined that their signature sound is, seasonally speaking, " cold, like winter," punctuated by drummer Simone Pace's joking that they've been trying to score a "summer hit" all these years. True, there's nothing very ruddy or relaxing about the raw, malodorous roots they laid down in their hard-rocking early days, prompting fans to coin the multilingual heart-breakers as "art rock" darlings while some persnickety critics underrated them as Sonic Youth wannabes. Alas, that "certain damaged" sound that Guy Picciotto (of Fugazi and Rites of Spring fame) coaxed into the production Blonde Redhead's middle children albums (In An Expression of the Inexpressible, Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons and Misery is a Butterfly) is as gone as the no wave, DNA inspired D.I.Y. joie de vivre captured on the band's Steve Shelly (of, duh, Sonic Youth fame) produced self-titled debut as well as that of their self-produced, non-slump of a sophomore effort La Mia Vita Violenta and it's bewitching follow-up Fake Can Be Just As Good (sigh). However, I believe congratulations are in order as it seems that Blonde Redhead have, with Penny Sparkle --- their eighth full-length album in fifteen years, their third record for the 4AD label --- created the most lusciously polished, goth jewel of a make-out record since the Cure's Disintegration dropped in 1989.

Sonically, Penny Sparkle seems pick up where the last Blonde Redhead album, 23, left off excepting for the storm cloud of synths that drape the landscape of the record like a down comforter blanketing a snow bank, melting even those once raucous guitars into a symphony of layered, atmospheric electro-confessionals (in terms of 23, think "The Dress" and "Publisher" plus that creepy eight-minute 23 outtake "(We Are A real Team) Harry and I"). I'm guessing this shift in the band's sound morphology has something to do with producers Alan Moulder (whose finger prints linger on 23 not to mention his famed "shoegaze" connections and work with artists like Depeche Mode, My Bloody Valentine and The Jesus and Mary Chain --- make-out jams indeed) and Van Rivers & The Subliminal Kid (Fever Ray) who worked with the band in Stockholm thus accounting for the slight dregs Swedish pop influence that lend extra shine to Penny Sparkle's glittery glow. Though none of the ten songs that comprise the record really stand out on their own all of them resonate in comparable, if not reciprocal, aural ensembles that flaunt the usual melange of minor chords and shadowy progressive elements that have endeared Blonde Redhead to their expanding fan base. But, goll-ly day is it synthy!

Overall, I 'm going to continue to push this record as a the make-out record for 2010. Who knows if Blonde Redhead will ever catch up to said "summer hit" that seems somehow out of their reach (I suppose a meeting with Cee-lo wouldn't hurt). At least they've proven they can make a classy "synth" record that not only doesn't sound like it was sugar-coated for mainstream consumption or polished for awards ceremonies, but also seems to, along with current artists like Zola Jesus, herald the return of goth as a sexy trend to be indulged passionately, in darkened dens, with the cutter you love. If that doesn't sound appealing to you just give it a good seasonally synced listen, after all, you can't get more goth than that time of year when autumn meets winter, and winter is their season.

Blonde Redhead performing the single "Here Sometimes" from Penny Sparkle (4AD Session):