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Jennifer Gentle and Kawabata Makoto - The Wrong Cage

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Artist: Jennifer Gentle and Kawabata Makoto

Album: The Wrong Cage

Label: A Silent Place

Review date: May. 21, 2008

Although this collaboration between Italian psych-pop band Jennifer Gentle and mercurial, collabo-prone Acid Mothers Temple guitarist Kawabata Makoto sounds pretty much like you’d expect, the The Wrong Cage can’t quite be reduced to the sum of its parts. It can be a rich, rewarding document for listeners on either side of the pop/free psych divide represented by the two groups. Separating Makoto’s and Marco Fasolo’s guitar (the latter being the sole JG member to carry over into the present) into right and left stereo channels is both a solution that keeps their distinct guitar tones from getting muddy – Makoto’s guitar is light and no heat, and Fasolo’s rhythmic, spare playing sounds woody by comparison – but can just as easily stand for the album as a whole. Its best moments are the ones that don’t quite belong to either group. So even though The Wrong Cage never quite arrives at a meaningful destination, its meanderings are more than just enjoyable.

As their discographies prove, the hairy freak-outs that the album’s four tracks build towards are really more AMT’s thing, but these tracks begin with and never fully ditch Jennifer Gentle’s skewed tunefulness. A reissue of the 2002 live recording that immediately preceded the band’s signing to Sub Pop, The Wrong Cage features an early five-piece incarnation performing extended jams based on tracks from I Am You Are and Funny Creatures Game, its first two releases on the Sillyboy Entertainment label. It holds up to the most compelling music either band's yet made, in part because the middle ground that seems to come naturally to the groups is a novelty for both.

As far out as the 13-minute track “Couple in Bed by A Green Flashing Light” gets, Alessio Gastaldello’s drumming reins in even Makoto’s fiercest thrashing. Makoto contributes a solo piece as well, the six-minute sarongi improvisation “Man from Mu.” It lends a harsh kind of scrape ‘n’ squeal that wouldn’t be out of place next to one of Keiji Haino’s hurdy gurdy pieces; sandwiched between album opener “Bring Them” and “Couple in bed,” it’s a well-timed breather from those tracks’ unrelenting build.

Despite its uniqueness – it's the lo-fidelity recording perfectly captures a side of the band that’s largely been ditched in favor of a slightly sinister psych whimsy – it doesn't transcend or give the illusion of doing so. Which isn’t to say it doesn’t have its transportive moments. But a certain lack of ambition ultimately makes it a stronger and more lasting record; here’s an album that requires serious application, but whose pleasures mostly float on the surface of the music, and aren’t easily retrieved in memory.

It's tempting to claim here that psychedelic music has gone from the communal to the individual, from something enjoyed in a utopian, subversive togetherness to a kind of ritual, isolated investigation, and that The Wrong Cage overcomes through its obvious focus and dedication to ripping it up. But the unsavory historical events that put the death drive lurking behind Aquarian age spirituality into public consciousness prevents us from laying blame at the feet of the musicians responsible for psych pabulum. Then again, this is a band who derive their name from Syd Barrett, one of the earliest and most complete acid casualties, and who recorded their most recent record in an estate in foggy northern Italy infamous for its owner’s rifle suicide. But whatever we take its historical meaning to be, this is a work of solid, and durably satisfying competence. And sometimes that’s just enough.

By Brandon Bussolini

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