Published on April 20th, 2015 | by The Beige Baron


Album Review: “Tsubouchi” by Sundays & Cybele

Originally from Hokkaido, and now residing in Tokyo, Sundays & Cybele coalesced in 2004 around multi-instrumentalist Kazuo Tsubouchi.

After a couple of self-released CD-Rs, the band issued a their first proper full-length album on Osaka label Gyuune Cassette in 2008, followed by Sundays & Cybele II on Sound of Elegance in 2010.

A dense, swirling cloud of melancholic psychedelia with explosive purple-and-crimson-streaked guitar effects, Sundays & Cybele II cemented the band’s position in the local indie scene. Tsubouchi, with his bohemian style, black clothes, and sunglasses, seems to be taking his cues from Haino and Mizutani, but this guy has the chops–as well as a singular, original vision–to back it up. When he lets it rip on guitar and keyboard–and Jesus, this guy’s voice is heavenly–the music very narrowly approaches the utter transcendence of both those legends of the art-rock scene.

Sundays & Cybele went on to release Gypsy House on CD in 2012 on their own label Attalea Princeps, which was released on vinyl through up-and-coming Tokyo label GuruGuru Brain this year. A sprawling, multi-layered excursion into ’70s psych, the band again took a stride forward with their songwriting, at times exploring the fringes of prog while keeping their trademark melodic vocal and keyboards.

The band is also representative of the Japanese “live feel” style of recording, where the musicians play together in the studio, and adding overdubs where necessary, to capture a greater sense of intimacy than, say, a major-label release where the glittering, perfectly manufactured fuzz ends up sounding impersonal and generic.

a4034463507_2As much as I enjoy Gypsy House, Sundays & Cybele II is the record I reach for most often. So when my copy of the band’s latest album Tsubouchi landed in the mail, I was eager for a new slab of raw, pulsating psych.

However, the latest album is a more restrained and reflective listen, stylistically closer to folk than the noise or garage informing their early output, and while it is different from what I expected, it’s nonetheless a strong record that unfurls itself more with each listen.

According to Tsubouchi, the record is “influenced by Sci-Fi novels and the current political situation in Japan… which is dystopia.”

Actually, this record is more like a solo project.

“There were no big changes on how we recorded or what we used for the recording,” Tsubouchi told BNU. “I was into cyber-punk at the time, so maybe that influenced how it sounded. I pretty much did the whole process by myself, including mastering the album Tsubouchi.

“Actually, this record is more like a solo project.”

Was Tsubouchi listening to a lot of folk around the time of recording the new album?

“Well, it’s not necessarily that we were listening to lots of music at the time, but I remember I was listening to a track called Reach for Dead by Boards of Canada repeatedly. Also, I was listening to Jake Holmes’s A Letter to Katherine December and Starsailor by Tim Buckley.

“Of course, I love folk music. On our tracks 灰色の天使(死刑囚) and Sleeping Days I was inspired by female folk singers like Bridget St. John or Linda Perhacs for those two tracks.”

Tsubouchi opens with the driving snare and bass groove of Medicine Man (Cybernetic Animism), a spidery guitar lead dancing around Tsubouchi’s staccato vocal delivery and layers of percussion.

Album standout R.U.I.N. is three-and-a-half minutes of beautifully tuneful Hammond organ and cruising ride cymbal walking under a floating, melancholy melody, an obligatory reverbed-out wah-wah solo kicking in towards the end of the track.

Marginal Man continues the mournful rock vibe before灰色の天使(死刑囚) (55 Ghost) kicks in, seemingly like a second movement to the opening track with layered percussion and guitar and its unusual half-chanted vocals.

It’s tasteful monochrome to wild explosions of saturated, kaleidoscopic color

As Tsubouchi indicated, Working Days is love letter to melodic ’70s folk that’s finding a home in another generation of music lovers as they scour flea markets and thrift shops in search of vinyl to spin on their new turntables. Its soothing acoustic guitar and pattering bongos remind you of rain on windows on a day heavy with memory.

The gentleness continues for much of second half of the album, with the exception of the raucous 7 Mornings. Closer Paradice Lost (Inside 0 = Outside 0) brings the album full circle, again like a kind of coda to opener Medicine Man, but with a nearly four-minute wandering jazz-flavored outro.

Tsubouchi, then, seems to fill out three movements of a larger work comprising Medicine Man灰色の天使(死刑囚) (55 Ghost), and Paradice Lost with sweet and introspective folk odes and two or three psych-rock outings.

The record fits comfortably into the band’s back catalog, providing another view into Kazuo Tsubouchi’s world—perhaps, like the cover photo, it’s a tasteful monochrome portrait as opposed to the wild kaleidoscopic explosions of color seen the band’s earlier work.

As a final note, the CD itself is beautifully packaged with black-and-white photos and lyrics in a multi-leaf booklet. Purchased via bandcamp, you naturally also get a digital download of the album in your choice of format.

Tsubouchi is out now via bandcamp (download $5, CD and download $21).

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Groping for trouts in a peculiar river.

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