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Viking's Choice: Japanese Prog-Rock, Heavy Shoegaze, Demented Dancehall

Koenjihyakkei's 2005 album <em>Angherr Shisspa</em>, just recently reissued,<em> </em>makes progressive music simultaneously challenging and fun.<em> </em>
Courtesy of the artist
Koenjihyakkei's 2005 album Angherr Shisspa, just recently reissued, makes progressive music simultaneously challenging and fun.

Listen to this playlist on Spotify or Apple Music.

Between recent columns on Aquarius Records and the Nurse With Wound List, Viking's Choice has been uncharacteristically nostalgic lately, specifically for the music discovered while I was a DJ and music director for the student-run WUOG, from 2001-2006. After my punk/emo/hardcore years of high school, college was where I grew exponentially as a listener. In short, that's when it all got weird.

Koenjihyakkei's 2005 album Angherr Shisspa, which just received a nice-looking reissuevia Skin Graft Records, hit exactly when the ellipsoidal prog-rock of King Crimson, Magma and Soft Machine all clicked into place for me. Led by the outrageously prolific Japanese drummer/composer Tatsuya Yoshida, Koenjihyakkei took punk and prog-rock to the opera house for an immaculately arranged mosh pit. Just listen to that opening cut, a seven-minute thrill ride of distorted funk-bass and Thelonious Monk-style piano poundage, as woodwinds and a chorus of voices engage a death-defying high-wire act over hyperactive drums at a fast, power-chord pace.

Angherr Shisspa is a bonkers display of instrumental and vocal prowess, but for all its alien energy, doesn't feel like homework. "Grahbem Jorgazz," in its freak-jazz circus mania, sounds like it could soundtrack an underground level of Super Mario Bros. "Fettim Paillu" opens as an aria before putting a little skronk stank on it. The title track pits a mournful melody against pumped-up synths in a way that feels contemporaneous to the electro-euphoria that Dan Deacon was beginning to woodshed around that time. Koenjihyakkei actively made this nutzoid music simultaneously challenging and fun.

While this week's Bandcamp picks — and accompanying playlist — don't have much to do with Japanese prog-rock, there is a sense of finding the hook within wild sound. (Note: Some of these tracks can only be found on Bandcamp.)

Gong Gong Gong, "Ride Your Horse"

Depending on your ear, the Beijing-based guitar-and-bass duo could sound like The Feelies' stuttering post-punk, Bo Diddley's rock and roll boogie or Tinariwen's droning desert blues. But this unplaceable sound and drummer-less format encourages Gong Gong Gong's reckless and razor-sharp rhythms to reshape rock and roll.

Lacing, "92"

Lacing may obscure Joe Davenport's voice under a cirrostratus cloud of noise, but a sweet, cooing melody bursts through the oh-so-heavy shoegaze. The Chattanooga band flexes that sense of tunefulness in a surprisingly varied series of remixes for "92," everything from droopy dubstep to New Order-esque pop.

Serpent Column, "Ausweg"

With labyrinthine thrash patterns embroidered with blood and ghosts, Serpent Column's pitch-black metal chaos reveals forceful melodies twisted into the tableau. Just completely knocked back by Mirror in Darkness.

Hikes, "Extra Mile (feat. The Kraken Quartet)"

Mathy music with an elastic groove that's got me in my feels. Yeah, this Austin band features some guitar-tappin' wizardry and a rubbery rhythm section on par with toe and Tera Melos, but has got a big dang heart pumping full of blood. (Also, killer use of marimba.)

Yao Bobby & Simon Grab, "Djole"

Absolutely demented dancehall built on Swiss noisemaker Simon Grab's oscillating feedback riddims and the raw, rumbling rhymes of the Togo-based rapper Yao Bobby.

Blut Aus Nord, "Nomos Nebuleam"

Yet another transformation for the French band that makes a habit of pushing the corners of black metal, this time throwing some anthemic power behind Gothic cathedral-sized awe.

Mára, "A New Young Birth II"

Based on lullabies sung by Mamiffer's Faith Coloccia to her newborn son, these sketchbook loops hum with the sweet tenderness of new life and the anxious terror of parenthood.

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Lars Gotrich
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