With any luck, Kikagaku Moyo will become a household name.
“Pleasant” is an incredibly measured word to use to describe the sound of a band. It’s what you say when someone asks you to listen to their favorite album, and you’re too polite to let them know that it bored you to tears. But for some, a “pleasant” album is not just welcome, but essential – in a world where everyone wants to make music that asks its listeners to pore over the album in search of new meaning and beauty, it’s helpful to occasionally take a step back, breathe deep and enjoy something that doesn’t push your boundaries, but instead chooses to make one that exists comfortably – and, yes, “pleasantly” – within your boundaries.
Japan’s Kikagaku Moyo have gained a lot of love via word-of-mouth for their brand of psychedelic rock, their slowly-unfurling live shows and their fantastic fashion sense. All of these factors give the band a feeling of having stepped out of a paisley-walled time machine, ready for the coolest cocktail party you’ve ever attended. On their fourth album, Masana Temples, “lush” is the name of the game, with producer Bruno Pernadas lending a suave, infectious slickness to this batch of songs.
The problem with the pleasantness of Masana Temples – and with “pleasant” albums in general – is that it takes far longer for anything to stick. The lack of stickiness doesn’t make itself evident at first, though. After the sitar-centric “Entrances” opens the record, the monstrous, ever-shifting “Dripping Sun” really gets things off the ground, with several songs in one: a guitar-heavy one, a low-key and gentle one, and then a combination of both at once. Before going back to a shredder for the last minute-and-a-half, “Dripping Sun” earns its near-eight minute length with preternatural style. From there, though, things get a little more uneven; songs like “Nazo Nazo” and the short “Amayadori” require multiple listens before you’re able to overcome your urge to say, “Which one was that, again?” when looking at the tracklist. Others, like closer “Blanket Song,” feel designed for different albums entirely.
Some, though, leave their marks immediately – and it’s not solely the ones that come on strong with face-melting guitar theatrics, like “Fluffy Kosmisch.” Halfway through, “Majupose” provides an oasis of coolness, with a warm, muffled bassline at the forefront, propelled by the same engine that fueled the loungey-coolness of Cibo Matto’s Stereotype A. That same bass drives “Orange Peel,” a track that is dreamlike enough to require multiple listens, but in the best possible way: with singer Go Kurosawa’s echoed vocals gliding along the song’s surface, it’s easy to fall into a state of bliss without even trying. This, really, is the best and worst part of Masana Temples: the moods it creates are cozy as hell, practically begging you to get lost in them.
The core problem with the band’s aesthetic is that, as a result, the record functions more like a collection of moods, rather than a cohesive album. One might argue that this is the “point” of psych rock – that it’s more about atmosphere than pure songwriting skills – but this fact makes it difficult to really sink your teeth in at times. A shake-up in sequencing could fix this issue; the sprawling “Gatherings” is a fitting end to an album. Instead, they end with “Blanket Song,” which robs that triumphant ending with a gorgeous but sedate three-minute coda that features little more than fingerpicked guitar and Kurosawa’s gentle coos. It’s hard to say where this song would fit, though – even as a comedown track, the song’s placement feels like a ruined climax.
With any luck, Kikagaku Moyo will become a household name – and not just for those in-the-know. Masana Temples never quite plays it safe, but it still feels like the work of a band aware that they’ve got the potential to be on the cusp of widespread adoration by psych-rock nerds, guitar-noodling aficionados and too-cool cocktail party planners alike. After just four albums, they can be forgiven for not making songs that grab you by the shoulders – once they’ve lured everybody under the dripping sun into their web, they can start to really shake things up.