Rice Field Silently Riping in the Night emerges from patient introspection, but its charm is immediately accessible.
The Japanese underground isn’t just about extreme noise. Although the first project undertaken by Reiko Omura and Tori Kudo was in fact called Noise, the duo, who has since married, moved away from its shaggy early ‘80s din to more enchanting if unconventional melodies. With a constant low-level hiss suggesting a field recording, Reiko Kudo’s second solo album, Rice Field Silently Riping in the Night, was originally released in 2000 and is now reissued by Tal. It sounds like you’re listening in on someone’s tuneful dreams.
The album was recorded on rural Shikoku Island in the Kudos’ home studio. Reiko Kudo’s modest, haunting vocal has a fragile beauty. Her husband, along with Saya and Takashi Ueno (who make gentle psych-folk in Tenniscoats) accompanies her with music that’s at once gorgeous and occasionally off-kilter.
“Kaihatsu-San” starts the record with a gentle voice-and-guitar ballad that recalls early Everything but the Girl. But the Kudos have something more experimental in mind. A surprising electric guitar solo is taken at a struggling tempo before breaking out in a whammy, while female background singers sigh and a faraway piano plays. It’s as if Robert Quine dropped in his solo from Richard Hell’s “Love Comes in Spurts” in the middle of a Blossom Dearie song. This is gorgeous and dryly humorous stuff, modestly arranged and completely confident.
Tori Kudo’s trumpet echoes in the distance on the closer “Rose,” one of a number of titles that signal conventional beauty but take it in a different direction. This is peaceful music augmented by startling figures that would seem to break that peace, but instead of interrupting the mood, incongruous asides like that broken guitar solo enhance it.
The slapping bass of “My Brother” suggests another comparison: the minimalism of Young Marble Giants, but with a more avant garde bent. It’s finished in under a minute and a half, which makes it the shortest track on a concise album whose 11 songs clock in at just 25 minutes. If that makes these sound like demos, so be it. Somewhat longer tracks like “Mihoku,” at just under three minutes, give Kudo more time to sustain the halting atmosphere she delicately builds. “Lily,” an epic at 4:39, builds more slowly with quietly slashing strings, Kudo’s voice coming in for a tender, melancholy counterpoint. She has been known to quote from the bible in concert, so a track called “Son of Man” seems to apply their distinct aesthetic to inspirational music.
The Kudos also collaborate in Maher Shalal Hash Baz, which plays with similar naif-pop sensibilities in a larger group. In a 2011 interview with The Quietus, Reiko Kudo explained, “I live in a quiet place, not in a big city. I listen to the birds singing, the sound of cars passing. Neither of us actually play or listen to music that much, we listen to what is happening around us.” If that’s what it takes to make such beautiful music, we should all listen a lot more. Rice Field Silently Riping in the Night emerges from patient introspection, but its charm is immediately accessible.