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Acid Mothers Temple ,"Lord of The Underground: Vishnu and the Magic Elixir"

cover imageKawabata Mokoto and his spacey pals have dispatched another communiqué of shambling kitchen-sink psychedelia from whatever mental place they currently inhabit.  As is often the case with this band, I am left scratching my head and wondering whether Kawabata is a genius or a charlatan (or both).

 

Alien8

Acid Mothers Temple - Lord of the Underground - Vishnu and the Magic Elixir

I used to be a fairly devoted Acid Mothers Temple fan, but I stopped buying their records a few years back because they all started to sound the same to me.  Occasionally, an album would stand out as particularly great (La Novia, for example), but many releases seemed like interminable half-baked jams that had swooping and burbling synths piled on to make them "trippy."  Of course, Kawabata has a singular knack for twisting seemingly uninspired pseudo-krautock jams into kaleidoscopic supernovas of weirdness, so I could never completely dismiss them.  Regardless, it's been a while since I've last checked in and Lord of the Underground... shows me little has changed (for better or worse).     

The opening track ("Eleking the Clay") begins rather deceptively with some droning organ before launching into something that resembles a crazed Turkish folk music ensemble that has been handed electric instruments and dosed with LSD.  The galloping central riff is rather intricate and cool, but the song's frenetic tempo and absurd hooting vocals make it extremely hard to take seriously.  However, the song gradually becomes less and less of a ridiculous caricature of some vague ethnic folk tradition and instead becomes increasingly purposeful and impressive as Kawabata's studio tweaking steers it into a lysergic black hole. The main riff remains relatively unchanged, but all hell breaks loose around it as a spacey analog synth solo unfolds. The tempo continues to increase until even the backbone riff collapses and only a wake of sculpted chaos is left.

Unfortunately, that incandescent flameout is followed by "The Sorcerer's Stone of the Magi," which is decidedly not the band's finest hour (or best song title).  Written by bassist Atsushi Tsuyama, this piece is conspicuously different from the rest of the album in being minimal, acoustic, and folky.  However, it still features the Mothers' omnipresent electronic ambiance, which sounds anachronistic and tacked-on in this context.  Alien8 described this track as "a gentle piece of outsider folk," and that may be so, but its formlessness and mumbled, warbling vocals consistently confounded my repeated attempts to enjoy it. It is mercifully brief though.

The final track is the album's namesake and presumed centerpiece and it covers a lot of territory over the course of its 25 minutes.  It begins with some heavily reverbed guitar noodling, sitar, and wordless vocal whooping, growling, and laughing...and, of course, the inescapable trippy swooping electronics.  After more than three minutes, the bass and drums finally cohere into a languid groove, which provide a solid foundation for the...ahem...lengthy kazoo solo that follows.  Gradually, the drums pick up the pace a bit and the lead guitar becomes more pronounced (there's still more kazoo though).  Notably, by the time the song reaches even this minimal degree of progression, roughly ten minutes have elapsed.  Thankfully, the next 15 minutes is devoted to a somewhat inspired freak-out: the drums continue to speed up, the bass gets louder and busier, layers of electronics and wah-wah guitars are piled on, and Kawabata artfully mixes it all into some characteristically explosive mind-bending chaos.  There are some spectacular moments lurking within the resultant maximalist maelstrom, but this track could have been an unqualified brilliant success if some liberal editing had been undertaken.

Amusingly, my first reaction to this album was exasperation and visceral hatred, but after listening to it several more times, I have decided that it is not a bad album at all when taken on its own merits.  Perhaps even good, as I suspect I would've been very impressed if this had been the first AMT album I had ever heard.  That said, Lord of the Underground absolutely cannot withstand close, sober scrutiny and suffers greatly from predictability and a meandering lack of focus when compared to the Mothers' previous works.  Of course, Kawabata's stated artistic intention is merely to create "extreme trip music" and he has done so rather decisively here. I just wish he would surprise me a bit more often.
 
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Review of the Day

Murcof, "Utopia"
Leaf
This gap-filler disc from Murcof is Leaf's way to buy time and keep the name fresh before the release of the next proper Murcof album, but it's no less inspired, all the same. Beginning with a 10 minute epic of film score orchestration and minimal techno thump, Utopia establishes early on that Murcof is dealing with a larger scope and a more developed tone than many of his contemporaries. Jan Jelenik's clicky, jazz-spliced remix of "Maiz" is the perfect groovy counterpoint to the album's creeping, moody opener. Sutekh gives "Memoria" a tweaked techno workout with plenty of glitches and squiggles that pop out over the monotone bassline and piano chord. "Utano" blends dark cello and brass timbres with twinkling electronic percussion for a while, then drops out the techno trappings for a more experimental approach to the cinematic loops and swells that other artists tend to leave in the background. It's refreshing for someone working with beats not to make the beats the primary focus for a change, and Murcof is able to bend and arrange sounds with a composer's rather than dj's ear. The remaining remixes are mostly placid and unremarkable; not an affront to the source material but certainly not as clever as they'd like to be or as necessary. "Una," the second to last of the un-remixed tracks takes symphonic and operatic fragments and glues them to a stuttering dsp-laden beat that is just short of club-friendly, but not so overblown as to draw unneccessary attention to itself. The "Colleen Mix" of "Muim" could easily figure in a Chris Nolen film as its all backwards pianos and heavy string passages that conjure up the grimy noir of "Memento" and the slick isolation of "Insomnia" equally. The remixes are all solid, sometimes taking an ambient detour that's welcome amidst the electrobeats, but Murcof's originals clearly stand out as the best tracks here. If nothing else, Utopia performs its role by making a case for watching for the forthcoming album and possibly for picking up the back catalog. 

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