Formed in 1999 by guitarists Pirako Kurenai and Kageo, Suishou no Fune has pursued a pretty singular cause in their nine years. Working a rich vein that picks up the Velvet Underground’s influence right where Les Rallizes Denudes left it, these two play slow-motion ballads, plying thick, droning guitars with hefty doses of feedback and distortion. That much of the material on their handful of releases has been captured live in concert is hardly surprising; after all, these lengthy, languid pieces are truly of the moment, tumbling forth with a voluminous presence that was obviously created to fill voids both spiritual and physical.
Though recorded in the studio, there’s hardly a thin or underworked moment throughout both discs of Suishou no Fune’s Prayer for Chibi, their latest long player (and a sprawling, two-disc behemoth of an album at that). Created as a memorial to their dearly departed cat, Prayer is tonally split across its two discs; the first focuses on gauzy, almost transparent guitar tones and textures, while the second digs much deeper to unearth more harrowing performances. In keeping with the theme of memorial, it’s almost as if the first half focuses on remembrance, allowing the second half to confront the void of loss head-on.
While unmistakably possessed by the same demons that can make Fushitsusha such a harrowing experience, there’s still a certain levity to Prayer for Chibi’s front half that grants each track an almost indisputable weightlessness. Here, the guitars are diffuse, stretching out into gauzy streams of consciousness that mesh with the lofting, intertwined vocals of Kurenai and Kageo. While the idea of corporeal transience plays out again and again in the lyrics, the sounds that accompany them make for some of the sweetest moments the band has ever committed to tape. The mammoth “Prayer” opens the album by shaking off shackled percussion, gradually granting a slow blues the freedom to roam across the stratosphere. Later, “Till We Meet Again” plots a similar course, matching simple, melodic guitar lines against a backdrop of steadily darkening drone.
Dealing in altogether different shades, Prayer for Chibi’s second disc opens on far more tempestuous ground, with the leads of “Resurrection Night” launching headlong into a constantly encroaching din. It’s a stark contrast to the almost genteel nature of grief explored earlier, and one that cuts to the core with an ever-sharpening blade. Most harrowing of all here is undoubtedly “The Stars Know All,” and eviscerated blues that pitches notes and chords into the black against forlorn vocals, breaking only for some hard strums towards the close of the piece.
Out of the whole of Japan’s modern wave of psychedelic acts, none choose to explore the exquisite possibilities of the endless bummer with as much intensity as Suishou no Fune. Even still, while their material pursues an almost unmatched heaviness in both tone and aesthetic execution, Prayer for Chibi shows the band developing into a formidably spare ensemble, one that’s capable of highlighting the sheer transformational power of grief and loss. More so than any of their other releases to date, Prayer for Chibi finds the band confidently leaving behind solid ground for all that the sky above has to offer, for better and for worse.
By Michael Crumsho