The burgeoning psychedelic rock scene from Japan continues to make huge waves throughout the world, seemingly on the verge of breaking out as many of the key figures of the subgenre have become cult stars within the Anglosphere. Kikagaku Moyo are psychedelia in one of the more traditional terms, an east-meets-west mesh of fuzzy acid rock with traditional raga melodies on an electric sitar- simultaneously defying genres but still unmistakably pysch.
The past couple of years have been incredibly kind to Tokyo quintet, following up last year’s Stone Garden EP with album number 4, Masana Temples, as they continue to grow their fanbase and gain momentum- judging from the significant number within the audience already clad in their shirts, it’s clear that every time the band visit Manchester, they receive a hero’s welcome (and judging from the band selling their own branded and designed rolling paper, it’s fair to say that Kikagaku Moyo have their key demographics and target market well-scouted)
Similarly cross-genred are support Inland Taipan, who advertise themselves as “Spaghetti Western Kraut Jazz”. The local quartet have, on paper, a rather unusual setup, guitar and drums bolstered by both a violin and viola. Gentle fingerpicked chords and cymbal splashes sit underneath the swelling of strings creating a cinematic tension- almost expecting the silhouette of Lee Van Cleef to appear through the haze. Singer Aisling Davis has tremendous range, not unlike Liz Fraser or even Björk with ethereal icyness, sailing above and beyond the dense soundscape- aided by heavy echo across the string section, allowing two to become an otherworldly orchestra.
The three instruments, plus Aisling‘s voice, would be rather fragile as individuals but the tribal drumming acts as an anchor point that everything can congeal around into a a trippy squall, Morricone by way of Can and 4AD Records, with twangy, clean guitar lines more likely to be found in country-western or even the rapid strumming of flamenco, is wrenched through mixed metre and stop-start rhythms while the strings wail above, never quiet resolving the harmonic tension they create.
Even when things quieten down somewhat, reducing down to the bare bones of vocals and guitar, there’s something beautifully off-kilter, something Lynchian about Inland Taipan, torch songs run though a blender, as if these moments exist purely as ruse, to draw the listener in, disarming them before the next string-led onslaught.
Caressed by a cloak of bright blue light and hidden behind thick smoke, Kikagaku Moyo start slowly, a mellow raga played on the sitar building in complexity as the twin guitars of Tomo Katsurada and Daoud Popal swirl into the fold as time seemingly slows down and third eyes open up. Extended jam sessions built on the trio of melody-makers playing off one another, but still as a collective, never feeling like a game of oneupmanship or an inter-band ego battle, while Kotsu Guy‘s rock-solid cylindrical basslines act as ballast to stop the five-piece taking off into the astral plane.
The band’s sound is steeped in the fuzzy tones of the late 1960s, with the occasional use of a clavichord keys combined with pornotastic wah-inflected riffs hurl the group into a funky, proto-disco 1970s.
There is a glacial coolness about Kikagaku Moyo– everything sounds and appears to be completely effortless on their part. Long, laid-back meditations that tumble out of the speakers into the fug like a sirensong emanating from a distant temple hidden away in the depths of some deep jungle, luring intrepid travellers in with the promise of enlightenment- and if Kikagaku Moyo cannot deliver that promise, at least they can point you in the right direction.
Their style is tight, despite the heaviness never losing their groove as glittering Farfisa organ (played by sitarist Ryu Kurosawa, surely the group’s MVP) adds a lounge-style depth, moving away from the more acid-folk, traditionally psychedelic routes. By contrast, when the band ramp up in intensity, like a spacecraft preparing to take off, engines fully engaged. The room begins to float free from the confines of gravity as time and space bend around the mind-melting sound filling this finite area to its absolute capacity, a soul-searching cosmic journey that leaves Kikagaku Moyo‘s loving audience entranced and enraptured, clamouring for more.