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Shogun Kunitoki - Tasankokaiku

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Artist: Shogun Kunitoki

Album: Tasankokaiku

Label: Fonal

Review date: Jun. 18, 2006

At the dinner party of Western music, the organ occupies an awkward place between Gregorian chant and adult contemporary. The organ tries to eat its duck confit soup, but Philip Glass and Beethoven keep arguing about countermelody and Charlemagne Palestine is drunk again, won’t stop talking about Schlingen-Blangen, when he played a 500-year, no, a 1,000-year-old church organ for an audience of thousands in the middle of Germany.

The organ is one of the few instruments in the lineage of Western music that denotes a real place – a church. Despite recent attempts to steal the organ from the Christians, it still belongs there. Shogun Kunitoki, for the most part, keeps it there, puts a drummer on the pulpit, and churns out sweaty sermons with a diction and exactitude few preachers could match. In this way, the organ gets to see the world without ever leaving home. Simply put, Shogun Kunitoki’s music concentrates on the rhythmic aspects of the organ, concocting a thick stew of skittish delays, buzzing bass notes, and whistling reeds; occasional kraut-rock beats propel the concoction out of the pot and toward the skies. The sound is spacious, even overwhelming, but always peaceable. In this formulation, space is not about dread, but possibility; the music must guide us toward the light, even if this means never pulling the ground out from under to reveal what lurks below. Kraftwerk is an obvious point of reference, but the Nutcracker suite isn’t far off, either. “1918-1926” is equally indebted to both, transforming Germanic electro primitivism into a romantically rendered bildungsroman fraught with life size toys that battle and ballet.

When reverie gives way to road trip, as on “Leivonen,” Tasankokaiku edges toward a calculated fly-on-the-wall-of-the-universe grandiosity, unabated awe at the spaciousness of all that, um, space. The mother ship teeters a little too close to that regal piece of earth where, every few years, Philip Glass and Godfrey Regio meet, exchange sidelong glances, and figure out a thing or two about the complex, seemingly absurd, yet ultimately sacred relation between human existence and the natural world. Interlocking melodies produce spectral rhythms, perfect glissandos tell you how to read them, countermelodies kick in as the Third World cityscape abruptly takes the place of some crystalline scene of a volcano erupting.

The insistence on syncopation, too, can get a little exhausting – why are we orbiting so fast if we’re only going to end up where we were? The answer comes with “Daniel,” which offers the glory of betrayal and thrust and narrative – the Gospel of Judas visited upon the wretched instrument in question, or, simply, the rocker of the bunch. Coming out of the barrel like a cross on a bunker buster, the giddy exaltation of dueling organs bringing grace to soul of Neu!’s drummer can only lead to one thing: revelation. Making like The Who’s “Baba O’Reilly,” “Daniel” sweepingly subsuming the religious with the epic and the lyric until they’re all the same heavenly creature.

By Alexander Provan

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