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Tetuzi Akiyama - The Ancient Balance to Control Death

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Artist: Tetuzi Akiyama

Album: The Ancient Balance to Control Death

Label: Western Vinyl

Review date: Jul. 31, 2009

While guitarist Tetuzi Akiyama has been associated with what was once called the “onkyo” improvisational scene in Tokyo, his interest in idiomatic musics has been a consistent part of his personality. His output ranges from duos with lutanist Jozef van Wissem to cranium-clearing boogie-drone homages (which, in fairness, made a kind of sense given his blooz explorations on Relator). At this point, then, it seems like anything idiomatic to the guitar – or even non-idiomatic – might be fair game for Akiyama.

So I wasn’t 100 percent surprised to find that on The Ancient Balance to Control Death (released as part of Western Vinyl’s Portrait Series), Akiyama is playing his own kind of mutant folk song. In six short pieces (the whole EP lasts just over fifteen minutes), he fills your head with the unexpectedly charming combination of weirdly chiming alternate tunings and his odd, nervous multi-tracked vocals. This use of multiple tunings, combined with the very flinty high-strung sound, also conveys the feeling of mildly prepared guitar. In the eldritch arpeggios of tunes like “Close the Door” – not to mention the bugged-out vocal choruses – you get the sense that Akiyama has put in some serious time with Tim Buckley and has also tried improbably to combine Syd Barrett with Big Star. (There actually aren’t any hooks to speak of, with the possible exception of the slightly urgent chug of “It Shall Be Not Your Tremble”).

It’s a strange effect generated here. Even with audible detuning and dissonance – as on the simulated drunken chorus of “Remember” – there’s something weirdly familiar about Akiyama’s songs. Yet even with the more referential and direct pieces – like “Something from This Moment,” with its spaciousness and its effective use of harmonica – something about Akiyama’s obtuse sensibility renders the sound dark and wobbly. Perhaps it’s between these two effects that the title’s “ancient balance” is struck. And perhaps not. But even as Akiyama takes a razor blade to the very idea of folk music as confessional idiom, doing so with barely any melodies or riffs at all, he manages a music that’s evocative, druggy, and lonely all at once. Oh, and as for the lyrics? I found it best not to concentrate on the words and – as on the bizarre course of “The Sun was Covered” – just let the sounds fall around you like multi-colored broken glass.

By Jason Bivins

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