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Artist: Onna

Album: Onna

Label: Holy Mountain

Review date: Sep. 17, 2009

The Japanese underground has an odd way of re-generating both its past and present, as though for every three or four major new artists that spring, almost unannounced, from its fertile grounds, some lucky label head will discover several previously unheralded performers, all with fascinating back story, connections to key musicians of their era, and so on. Case in point is Onna, whose main squeeze, Keizo Miyanish, is an illustrator/artist. His work graces the cover of this collection of mostly outtakes and live recordings, beautifully detailed drawings that expose the vicissitudes of bodies in ‘trouble,’ with folds and stretches of flesh lined like topographical maps.

Onna begins with the recently reissued, 1983 7” single, “Cortigiana Dal Velo”/“Enfolding Your Breasts….” Both songs are of their time – the ticking drum machine and surprisingly clean production are both giveaways, lending the single a surface sterility that doesn’t quite play to the songs’ benefit – but Miyanish’s noise guitar is in there, percolating under the surface, and his voice is frail, fey and consumptive, ringing out as a ghost, or other transitory presence, on his own song. “Were You To Become A Mother,” an outtake from the single sessions, works along similar lines.

After this, Onna becomes more interesting. Outtakes from the Katawa album, recently released on legendary Japanese label PSF, are gruffer, deeper, and far more lo-fi, which suits the simplicity of Miyanish’s writing. But even these pale in comparison to a stretch of live recordings from 1983, where Miyanish is joined by Michio Kurihara, now better known as a sometime member of Ghost, collaborator with Boris, and constant companion for Damon & Naomi. If Kurihara’s playing hasn’t quite reached the almost preternaturally flooring standard he set for himself in the 1990s, as the second coming of Quicksilver’s John Cippolina, the poise and agility in his playing here, where he unassumingly plots the simple, several-chord ruminations at the heart of Miyanish’s songs, is seriously gorgeous.

For his own part, here Miyanish sounds great, whether sigh-moaning his lyrics like a less dramatic/operatic Keiji Haino, or wrapping waves of distended noise guitar around Kurihara like a whirling dervish. There’s something almost gauche about the way the Japanese underground has been so thoroughly plundered for archival releases, but Onna can stay – the Miyanish/Kurihara recordings alone are far more than just historical curiosities.

By Jon Dale

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