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Koenjihyakkei - Viva Koenji!!

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Artist: Koenjihyakkei

Album: Viva Koenji!!

Label: Skin Graft

Review date: Jan. 12, 2007

Yoshida Tatsuya’s never been short on side projects outside of his venerable Ruins, though aural evidence of these extracurricular activities has never been easy for Western listeners to acquire, with very few discs available outside of his native Japan, and import prices, as usual, daunting for the curious without cash to burn. Luckily, Skin Graft (Ruins’ American home) picked up on the problem, and released Koenjihyakkei’s fourth album, Angherr Shisspa. The disc garnered somewhat scattered praise; even Ruins fans weren’t always sure what to make of its sound, with Yoshida’s signature brand of tightly wound prog uncoiled amidst operatic vocals and a whirl of bright cosmic futurism. Viva Koenji!!, the group’s second release, now issued in the US for the first time, may feature a slightly more conventional (at least in Yoshida’s world) version of the band, but while there are obvious ties between the music therein and Tatsuya’s work with Ruins, Koenjihyakkei is in a galaxy of their own, a band with a very distinct voice.

All difference aside, however, those who come to Viva Koenji!! primarily fans of (and familiar with) Yoshida’s work with Ruins will have plenty to aid in the assimilation of the album. In large parts, a number of his musical ingredients are similar to those which have informed his sound for years: segments of hyperspeed prog, interspersed with breakneck turns, unexpected breakdowns, and distinctive vocals sung in a language of undetermined imaginary origin. But whereas Ruins, at this point in the game, seem in need of a minor reinvention, Koenjihyakkei offer enough of a departure from Ruins’ rubric to soothe the ire of anyone clamoring for something new from the mind of Yoshida, even if this music is a decade old. Yoshida’s love affair with classic French prog is in its most noticeable form here, full of epic songwriting, jazzy flourishes, and a heavy reliance on soaring ensemble vocals. But while tracks like “Graddinoba Revoss” might work the zeuhl angle faithfully, almost to a fault, Viva Koenji!! isn’t about the ghosts of prog past, instead it’s an unquestionably modern creation, a vibrant update on a classic sound easily believable as being 10 days old rather than 10 years.

Those who’ve found Yoshida in a rut recently would do well to rediscover the drummer’s compositional voice in Koenjihyakkei. Whether Skin Graft will continue to release Koenjihyakkei’s material is still to be seen, but even if a follow-up to Angherr Shisspa isn’t imminent, the label could do far worse than to continue to unearth previously unavailable artifacts from Koenjihyakkei’s past.

By Adam Strohm

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