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Hototogisu - Floating Japanese Oof! Gardens of the 21st Century

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Artist: Hototogisu

Album: Floating Japanese Oof! Gardens of the 21st Century

Label: Important

Review date: Nov. 24, 2010

The music Matthew Bower makes as Hototogisu is indecipherable. The discography alone is intimidating: more than 20 releases in the past decade, many of them double CDs (or more often than not, CD-Rs) or double LPs, many limited runs, many on small, obscure labels. A completist’s nightmare, for sure, but then being complete, being whole, is not what Hototogisu has ever been about. It’s about epic scale, overwhelming sonics, impenetrable density, and no release in the vast Hototogisu catalog is more massive, more disorienting — and possibly more legendary — than Floating Japanese Oof! Gardens of the 21st Century, initially a double CD-R, then a triple LP on De Stijl from 2005, now reissued as a double CD by Important.

Just start with that title. I mean … what? Where does someone even come up with something like that? How much free association do you have to do to arrive at such a preposterous combination? Does Bower even have an idea of what it means? My guess is he doesn’t, and nor should he, because despite the vertiginous layers of distortion he applies to create his claustrophobic arrangements, deliberateness and intent don’t belong in his methodology. Much of the two discs here sound as if Bower just set all his guitars, keyboards, chimes, bells, tapes and radios for perpetual motion, pushed record and left the room, then came back a few hours later to graft the results onto each other.

Whatever his methods here, Bower has hit on an approach to capturing ecstatic, electric musical intuition on record that is undeniable in its effect: avoid linearity, avoid climax, avoid development, thrust the listener into a swirl of sonic events and don’t give so much as a clue of where things are headed — or even where they begin. Fade-ins and fade-outs are unnecessary, weird drops in the volume and recording levels can show up randomly. It can sound live at times, like a studio construct at others. It could be a group or it could be just Bower posing himself a series of questions about the limitations of his tools: Why let that tinny keyboard phrase congeal into an actual melody when you can let it unfurl into a modal exploration of the infinite? Why can’t a drum machine be used to express texture and pure speed instead of always blocking out clear, rhythmical cycles? Why can’t placid moments have density and a heightened sense of activity, and the busiest moments seethe with clarity and detail? As motifs, riffs and passages seem to appear and reappear at different places in the album, one starts to experience a mesmerizing internal déjà vu, as the music folds back upon itself, even as it’s evolving somewhere new.

But when so much of Hototogisu has been about absolute, roaring abandonment to the present moment, why look back with an archival release like this? Probably because even Bower, in his incessant search for some kind of ecstatic release, feels proud of this one. And he should. What release he must have felt when he was in the flow of ideas that led to these hours of invention and neon-bright, celestial chatter. His more recent vision of Hototogisu (realized with Marcia Basset) might be more honed and more visceral, but the place he reached with these sides is full of rare wonder. No wonder he would want to return.

By Matthew Wuethrich

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