Published on March 25th, 2016 | by The Beige Baron0
Review: qujaku [The Piqnic] | ZyouK
Considering the obstacles of self-funded touring, language barrier, and corporate disinterest in the promotion of rock music to foreign listeners (as well as resistance to streaming—CDs still make plenty of cash for big labels, tough luck about overseas shipping), it’s a miracle any Japanese act can break through to a western audience.
A few have: Boris, Boredoms, Acid Mothers, Bo Ningen, Melt Banana, and Eternal Elysium come to mind; Church of Misery and Shonen Knife have followings. Kikagaku Moyo is gathering steam… but even the hardest working are seldom in a position to tour as regularly as their foreign fans would like.
There are many original local bands a step away from the stage at Glastonbury, or from landing a distribution deal with an established overseas label. But for most, it seems always out of reach.
So it’s exciting to discover a band that seems to have drive and ambition to match their talent, and the courage to not accept the status quo.
With their latest album ZyouK, first for So I Buried… (Bo Ningen’s one-time label), Hamamatsu-based qujaku (formerly The Piqnic, name changed after this album release) is already taking on the world. Fresh from a tour of the UK that attracted praise from The Guardian, numerous radio stations, and some well-respected music blogs, the young four-piece shows every indication of making it far.
There’s a sense of forces being in opposition on this record, a yin and yang
The “dark shoegaze” of ZyouK shifts from the more derivative western influences felt on the band’s first self-released CDs, and instead draws on the Japanese musical aesthetic—“stillness within motion”, the band says.
At it’s best, the music on this album bears this out—such as on the instantly likeable opener ArA, which combines the dissonant angularity of avant garde and post-punk with blossoming and cinematic grandeur. Though comparisons to mid-period Wire, Interpol, and Sigor Ros will be made — guitarist Shuya shares the same gorgeous vocal quality as the latter band’s Jonsi — there is a unique energy in their music, perhaps moving into similar indefinable waters as legendary compatriots Downy.
Qujaku’s ability to segue from disorienting, percussive chill to orchestral blooms of guitar, keyboard, and vocals define this album, particularly on the motorik standout Hebi.
There’s a sense of forces being in opposition on this record, a yin and yang, each struggling for supremacy, yet each nothing without the other. Dark squalls and nervous stabs of guitar wrestle with melodic optimism: these moments, when in balance, are highlights, as heard on title track ZyouK.
On M-S, these forces are unevenly matched, the nine minutes of heavy gloom leading to the soaring climax feels long, but will probably end up being one of my favorites on the record for this very reason.
The influence of electronica is also felt throughout; a tense, spidery guitar line underlines a drum ‘n’ bass groove on Krs, lyrics mumbled with the hypnotic cadence of a Shinto prayer.
Si and Hinato add brooding post-rock atmosphere, the latter showcasing bassist Hiromi’s vocals, while O is a suitably poignant closer for what is—when dark and light are in harmony—a cinematic and powerfully impressive debut record.
FFO: Downy, Sigur Ros, The Horrors, Muse, Mogwai, My Bloody Valentine