This week I didn’t come across of any new albums of interest, so I thought I’d have a good look at one of the more underrated albums in Japanese rock, Yuu‘s Ten no Mikaku.
Hot on the heels of Shiina Ringo‘s creative peak album, Karuki Zamen Kuro no Hana, Go!Go!7188’s (a band I personally don’t even like) vocalist Yuu released her debut solo album- and like KZK, it molds traditional Japanese music, avant-garde experimentation and pop music together to bring a breathtaking and utterly compelling release. Hell, on some listens I find this album perhaps even better than Ringo’s album when it comes to getting this delicate mix right. Sometimes.
Production wise, Ten no Mikaku is almost impeccable. It’s opening track “Hachisu” really sets the mood with its use of traditional instrumentation. Yuu’s vocals are perfectly appropriate and damn it captures the listeners attention. You know you’ve found something special. And you really, really have.
Go!Go! fans needn’t feel too left behind by the sound here though. The hard rock that they made their name on is still blaringly present, though on this album, it feels more important, focused and harder hitting. Whether its because of the general context in which it plays as part of the album -or if it legitimately is actually heavier- is something I have yet to decide on- but, whatever it is, it rocks damn hard when it needs to. Shuumatsu, the second track is a great example of this, rocks really hard but never ever lets the heavy atmosphere created by the opening track dissipate.
When Yuu goes into the jazzier sections on this album, well…dare I say it… works better than any other J-rock artist using jazz in their material I’ve come across. It flows so naturally, sounds down and dirty and never ever ventures into cheesiness. The band is tight as hell, the drum work is jaw dropping. Yuu’s vocals sound perfect, the balance is amazing. Try to listen to Kuromatsu without being utterly blown away.
My absolute favourite track on here, Mitsugetsu would rival anything on KZK, easily. Hell it probably would fit right on that particular album. It’s the kind of sound that would attract any newcomer to Japanese music. It’s as catchy as it is downright creepy, and it’s impact lingers long after the track has finished. It’s use of exotic instrumentation and sampling never ever feels tacky, it is totally needed. Listen to Yuu’s vocals, infinitely seductive and downright perfect.
Other major highlights are the hard as fuck Goma Sumi with it’s pounding bass line and crushing chorus, the bone chilling Amonojaku with its perfect use of accordion and creepy layered vocals and of course, the beautiful power ballad closer that is Azuki. It’s as uplifting as it is crushing. And it all works so well.
The only negative I have with it is mainly nitpicking. Perhaps the track order could be tweaked to make it flow slightly better, but I honestly don’t know the exact point where the flow ever so slightly goes a bit off (perhaps Amai Mizu could have been placed elsewhere, I really love the track but feels a bit odd where it is???)- or maybe I’m just imagining it/being way too critical. Regardless, there are no dud tracks on this album. It’s so close to being perfect that it hurts.
Why it is never quite as revered as KZK is beyond me. I can’t imagine any fan of that album not being utterly amazed by Ten no Mikaku in equal measure. Why was there such a creative high in Japanese rock circa 2003/2004 (another album that could fit alongside these two is Togawa Fiction for example) that never really came back? Oh well. We will still have these amazing treasures to cherish forever.
9/10 Well worthy of anyone’s time, well worthy of a buy. Fingers crossed for a vinyl pressing in the future. It could happen, right?