Maher Shalal Hash Baz - "Job" (C'est La Derniere Chanson)
A lot has been written about Tori Kudo’s savant-pop ensemble Maher Shalal Hash Baz over the last decade, since the patronage of the Pastels brought them out of their self-willed obscurity. Most of this writing has focused on Kudo as an architect of error, someone who honors his mistakes as hidden intentions. But here’s a thing – Kudo’s a deeply deliberate, almost archly conceptual artist. And the body of work he’s building, which has reached what seems like an apex of ornery behaviour with C’est La Derničre Chanson, has all the richness of conceptual art when at the height of its most rigorous, self-analytical period.
So if you’re hoping for more of the rough-edged guitar pop of L’Autre Cap, or the bucolic beauty of “Unknown Happiness”, you’d be best off indulging history. C’est La Derničre Chanson features 177 songs, most of which struggle to break the 15 second barrier. Much like Maher Shalal Hash Baz’s last epic, the triple CD Return To Rock Mass, here Kudo indulges his ideas as though he can’t bear to flesh anything out, as though the kernel of the song – some melodic idea, arrangement, set of instruments, or conceptual conceit – is all that matters. Certainly, if you’ve been force-fed the prolix indulgences of most pop music, this aspect of Maher music can feel positively liberating. But it also has a weird way of grating a little on the patience – you sometimes beg for the best of the ideas, like “And They Will Certainly Themselves Out” or “Landing Cards”, to be more fleshed out, indulged just a little.
This approach does throw more attention on Kudo’s most thoroughly constructed songs-as-songs, and there’s a number of great ones here – the country-ish lament of “Touring,” the stumbling melancholy of “Je…,” or the chiming guitar and parping brass of “Last Autumn 2007,” which falls apart and back together again as though a swarm of bees suddenly descended on the players. (Maher music is forever going to be distinguished by its ‘parping brass,’ thanks to the omnipresence of the euphonium in the line-up.) You can still hear the brilliantly out-of-time, cutting guitar that Kudo’s perfected, half-way between Syd Barrett and Mayo Thompson, full of stubby-fingered lines, cat-scratching solos and sudden streams of rough-shod rhythm guitar that lollops with all the perfect insouciance of Sterling Morrison.
Like a lot of recent Maher related releases (the Tori & Reiko Kudo live recordings Light [SIWA] and From Now On [PSF], for example), C’est La Derničre Chanson is a record I love conditionally. You need to have the time to digest its flood of ideas, and the discipline to not end up infuriated with the way Kudo treats his melodies like passing pages in flipbooks. But interestingly, C’est La Derničre Chanson feels a lot less about ‘error’ than usual, more about the capture of ideas as they pass through the player’s hands and instruments. Once, Kudo was a master of mistakes. Now he’s an architect of exhaustion.