With their sophomore effort Vinonaamakasio, Finnish electronic rock quartet Shogun Kunitoki effectively turns a corner for the notion of instrumental rock music in this decade. They apply the experiments of Terry Riley to the kind of work that Don Caballero did in the ‘90s, albeit in a different medium (keyboards and synths, not guitars) and with a different result, but woth all of the important elements in place; namely, finding a new way to say a new thing using established approaches. Both bands play in unorthodox ways, and while I don’t see the drummer of Shogun Kunitoki taking any power tools to his snare in order to foster change within p-rock cycles, they do wrestle grandeur via crescendo away from the whole Mogwai/Explosions in the Sky/Godspeed camps, instead building intensity in their music, by weaving a small bank of sounds into a fortified maelstrom of melodic textures.
The centuries-old sound of church organ is the operative mode of dialect here, and part of Shogun’s immediate appeal is how well they integrate this bulky, wheezy, unwieldy tone into the language of progressive rock and electronic music. The decision to limit their lineup to synths, percussion and drums plays a large part in this; any further instrumentation would dilute their purity of process. Tones are allowed to develop, to act out, to blitter into nothing around the thick, warm base of analog electronic melody. The drums keep things from getting too complacent, as anyone who’s ever handled a synthesizer has been guilty of. Staccato key pegs bolster the rhythm, while deep bass beds predict a new shift in a theme’s development. Moving beyond the fascination of what such an instrument can do, these gentlemen have narrowed it down to what they want to achieve by these means – making reverent, churning, repetitive rock music that invites and excites the listener. Only one track outlasts the seven minute mark. Themes change frequently, but since the album flows together so well, it only adds to the excitement between listens. This is an album that’s very difficult to tire of.
Anyone who’s listened to enough music to understand a reference by name will no doubt hear a lift of the Silver Apples’ syncopated drumming in “Riddarholmen”, or the lengthy processionals of Savage Republic or This Heat within the blare of side-closers “Holvikirkko” and “Nebulus” (both album standouts, simply for finding ways to approach long-form psychedelia without working itself into a corner, much like the aforementioned artists did in their respective days and times). It’s a spinning, bombastic vortex of sound, enthralled by invention and its own dexterity. Shogun Kunitoki has learned how to control the chaos of analog synths’ atypical blank slates, and in essence, create a touchstone for instrumental music in the years looking forward.
(The vinyl version of Vinonaamakasio is a picture disk, with a sold-separate accessory: a strobe light that, when affixed to the turntable, animates the little colored dots on the record’s surface. If anyone wishes to send me this apparatus, I’d gladly accept it.)