Hototogisu Floating Japanese Oof! Gardens of the 21st Century

[Important; 2010]

Styles: psychedelic, drone, noise, quasi-communal improvisation
Others: Sunroof!, Total, Skullflower, Popol Vuh, Windy & Carl, Double Leopards

Untying the knots that make up the layers of improvised drone and stoned art-tomfoolery can be a rather painstaking process, and if one is so inclined, the discographies of the more “visible” figures in this arm of modern psychedelia can be rather daunting. Take Matthew Bower, who has worked since the early 80s under such monikers as Skullflower, Sunroof!, Hototogisu, and Total, as well as sitting in with the Vibracathedral Orchestra. One could easily lose count of their ducats trying to scare up the various CD-Rs, cassettes, vinyl, and discs that the English-born Bower has participated in, even merely over the past decade. Hototogisu was started in 2000 as a solo project, in which Bower layered keyboards, guitar feedback, chimes, various percussion, whistles, violin, harmonium, and melodica into a stunning, cottony drift of audio collage. In 2001, Marcia Bassett of New York’s Double Leopards joined, and Hototogisu has continued as a duo over the course of nearly 20 albums in 10 years.

Floating Japanese Oof! Gardens of the 21st Century is the third Hototogisu disc and the last one to feature only Bower (though Bassett did the cover art). Following a brief run as a double CD-R, the set was then issued in 2004 as a triple LP in an edition of 300 copies by Minneapolis’ De Stijl label, following up the even more micro-pressed Cuckoo Cloudland and billed as a hitherto unknown 1970s Japanese psychedelic outfit (à la Taj Mahal Travellers and Takehisa Kosugi). This double-disc release presents prime, early Hototogisu to an otherwise unsuspecting general populace. Part of the impetus behind the project’s aesthetic, at least early on, was a somewhat chopped-and-screwed take on atmospheric, droning masses. Bower and De Stijl honcho Clint Simonson took the material and re-edited it, cutting bits out and rearranging them to fit “evenly” across six sides. Therefore, where the soundscape begins and ends becomes somewhat irrelevant; one is thrust in medias res from the beginning and teased into a colorful head space, only to be jarred by a rough edit between sections, ragged phasing, or a gaping pause.

That being said, once brought into Bower’s environment, it appears communal and immediate, synthesized and strummed electricity at once dovetailing and contrapuntal, drum machines and bells feeding into the surrounding landscape. The organic feel of Hototogisu’s music could easily be arrived at by the blissed-out workmanship of two or more individuals, and it’s a testament to Bower’s compositional skill that the set’s 12 parts feel like the improvisations of an ensemble. Unlike earlier projects or, for that matter, follow-ups like Chimärendämmerung (De Stijl, 2006), the fields that Bower creates are cottony paths that meander and sometimes surge toward dawning brightness. Pastoral scenes of bubbling tape whir, field recordings, organ drone, and sawing strings capture uplift à la Popol Vuh or Windy & Carl. Once the breaks and occasional futzing are gotten past (or at least winkingly accepted), Floating Japanese Oof! is a compelling and quirky addition to the vast catalog of homemade psych.

Links: Important

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