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Yamantaka // Sonic Titan - Yamantaka // Sonic Titan

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Artist: Yamantaka // Sonic Titan

Album: Yamantaka // Sonic Titan

Label: Psychic Handshake

Review date: May. 3, 2012

On its self-titled debut, Yamantaka // Sonic Titan overcome a great many possible obstacles. As a self-described "noh-wave" band known for their costumed, cardboard-set performances, who claim they "negotiate cultural clashes between dominant cultures and those whose traditions are oppressed," it would have been no surprise to find 30 minutes of “all concept and no delivery.” Rock history is littered with the corpses of bands whose sounds never matched their presentation.

Thankfully, YST — led by duo Alaska B and Ruby Kato Atwood — give us something to think about. While perhaps no mere album could match a description like "multidisciplinary hyper-orientalist cesspool of ‘east’ meets ‘west’ culture clash," it doesn’t mean that one can’t appreciate a mixing of influences that leads to a song like "A Star Over Pureland." The least-approachable track on the album, it’s also the most emotionally resonant. A seven-minute march through fields of riffage, feedback and harrowing vocals, it’s nonetheless not afraid to let moments of near-prettiness peep through. It’s an impressive piece whose straight-ahead structure doesn’t have the clever-seeming complexity that burdens some of the other songs.

Synth, rhythmic shifts and thick guitar are buoyed throughout by surprisingly melodic vocals and organ in a way that’s strongly reminiscent of The Mars Volta, for whom YST could easily open with these songs. The nearly-random intricacies of TMV don’t plague Yamantaka // Sonic Titan, but there’s a prog-rock grandiosity here that may be off-putting to some. The songs wear it well for the most part thanks to imaginative sonics and strong vocals (even when they’re obscured to the point of being sound effects). The conceptuality of the band’s mission doesn’t leak into the music in an overt way, but there’s the sense that a lot of thought has been put into the compositions. While that can lead to some overly-conceived structures, often it’s to their benefit.

Since high-concept lyrics are a danger to all, it’s perhaps all to the best that the vocals are often wordless, or at least rendered as such by the mix. That said, "Queens" is filled with impressionistic wordplay while the more playful "Hoshi Neko," sung in Japanese, offers "I want a cat / I’m turning into light" (if I’m catching the words correctly). It’s perhaps a little cuter than expected, given the tense music, but it works.

Regardless of the art-school pretentions offered up-front, Yamantaka // Sonic Titan deliver the goods. And if they can let go a bit and allow things to flow more naturally, there’s some hefty emotional punch and a flair for imagination that portends better things to come.

By Mason Jones

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