Archive for the ‘Japan indie rock’ Category

The Knives of Summer

Wednesday, March 4th, 2015
Knives of Summer

Knives of Summer

Knives of Summer, 3) – Recently, my friend Jack in Japan sent me this gorgeous CD that he’d been working on for the past three years, a solo project that he’s written, and plays guitar, drums, and sings on. It’s a stunning piece of work, with a 20-page illustrated lyrics booklet, a picture-CD and illustrated inlay card that are full of images of threesomeness (three rulers forming a triangle, three mushrooms for the lyrics to a song about mushroom consumption, and other cool song-related concepts). He’s made 500 of them and is giving them away to friends and strangers, with an inlay card encouraging people to share it on! The project is about threesomes, trilogies, and possible also the trinity (need to think of triplets of threes). As arty as it is visually, the music is also arty in its concepts, following three stories of threesomes (counted down in descending order – “Three” is the first song, “Two” comes around the middle, and “One” is the closing song), as is hinted at in the opening page where three newspaper clippings tell of three sad adventures/misadventures, each involving three people and some sort of calamity. There’s a foreword that the musical author of the project, here called Carver Lee (as he is in the musical credits) is telling his own story at the expense of his musical collaborators, who are part of the trilogy of adventurers and not just friends and sessionists. It’s full of funky misspellings like “Kool-Aide” and “Nanuray”. Carver claims it’s a true story that took place in 1994 – the story goes deeper and deeper.

The music is intense and very rich, a collection of short-his songs largely dominated by Jack/Carver’s acoustic guitar accompaniment, but also with sound effects, field sounds, outside dialogue, occasional percussion and drumming by Jack, and other groovy effects. With very few instrumental bits, the main emphasis of the vocals is on narration and some singing, making it less a piece of theatrical music (which would be nearly all singing), than a musical play or a Roger Waters-style concept album (think Radio KAOS – and with 3′s many layers of voice/voice effects over an unfolding story, this is probably the most obvious comparison); indeed, the liner notes credit Waters as one of three musicians – along with Lyndsay Buckingham and Mark Linkous – who provided inspiration. There are also three main musicians credited to the project, with three voice actors, but also nine guest musicians (3 x 3, perhaps?) on certain songs – including three who played in Tripod Jimmy – who contribute bass, vocals, electric guitar, electric solos, acoustic solos, percussion and key pads.

The lyrics are the main item of the project, and they are often very poetic, talking about “Mushrooms in a basket, a harvest for three/ Sneaky little trespassers in a field behind the trees”; where does someone come up with an image like “sneaky little trespassers”… or, heck, you could ask the same for the cool band title Knives of Summer? The project is full of such lush imagery, but they’re not the only link to poetry – the opening song, “3″ is written in some sort of pentameter with a complex rhyme scheme on words that sound like “three”. All throughout the tale, there are references to partying and drug use, pastoral images of summer love, friends hanging out, idle days of youth, romance and emotional intensity, ageing and family tensions, fighting, violence, emotional immaturity, and so many other themes besides.

The opening song “Three”, starts the fun with a spare palate of spooky talking-singing and some deep guitar that characterises many of the songs on the project – it builds up to become more and more musical, eventually with four or five layers of guitar and droning sound effects. Wow! Lyrically, it sets the stage for our three protagonists to meet and become emotionally involved. “Let Me In” introduces Knives of Summer’s musical collaborators on bass and electric guitar, with the song flying trippy and droney, and builds up themes of drug hallucination, fumbling and crashing with weird noise. “Tourniquet Rules” is a gorgeous, standout piece with an opening mood similar to “Three” that builds in a memorable bit of female vocals on an intriguing lyric: “Tourniquet rules, twists in time/together we share the ties that bind”. With its subtle noise effects, this is one spooky song! “The Treehouse” tells the story that is related in a newspaper article on the first page of the booklet about a “death by misadventure” involving a treehouse and a noose. It proceeds, spooky as hell and is full of crazy musical ideas. Here we get a cameo from Shane Inwood, shouting voice and rock guitar, with more mood and sound. Crazy! “Ricky Eats The Rest” keeps the tension alive with spooky sounds that drone like a heartbeat, and then rocks out with a loud David Gilmour-esque guitar solo by Gabe Whyel, who played with Jack in the early 1990s in Jack Slam, a band once described as “Japan’s first (and hopefully last!) Grunge band”. “Mother” is a short, vocal-and-acoustic guitar track that gives an interesting version of the history of the world and its holy wars. “The Walk” brings in a bit of drum and percussion, perhaps for the first time on the album, a song that starts mellow, but builds up quickly with some quiet intensity, and a nice cricket chirp beat rises 30 seconds into the song that sounds at once familiar and also alien in the recording; there’s a nice acoustic instrumental part to the second half of the song, perhaps the longest on the recording, that’s punctuated by a bit of scene-setting chatter that makes you feel like you’re taking in a cool movie (perhaps Terrence Mallick’s Badlands?). “Two” is some sort of woody love song, also voice and guitar strums with by a bit of keyboard. “The River i) the romance, ii) mother goes to hell, iii) carla freaks”, with its complicated title and three distinct parts is (nearly) the longest song on the album, at 4:33. It’s set next to a river, with the sound or burbling and people playing in the water as it hums along with gorgeous acoustic guitar and lazy singing, working its way up slowly faster, with electronics, beat, then full rock drumming, and some new sounds and moods as the pastoral scene gets dark (which is hinted at in the introduction – “I will save the dark stuff for part two”), and ends with some cool keyboard sounds!
“Soliloquy” is the first part of what (in the lyrics book) is called “Ricky’s Redemption”, and takes us back to the treehouse, full of dark images and tense drama, alternated with jangling sounds and fuzzy keyboard, scary rumbles and beautiful female vocals contrasting the narration of a dead person (or is he?). “The Play” continues the action and the drama and weirdness, twisting what we thought happened to our protagonists, and upping the pace of the music to some cool zooming action as we feel the tension of the accidental hanging and get some strange Jane’s Addiction harmony moods. David Notter provides a frantic acoustic guitar solo in the reprise to the song, which includes also Casey Virock’s peculiar multi-tracked pluckings and funk guitar – moody insanity here, augmented by organ and voices, all very nice. “All In Blood” is probably the biggest song on the recording, with dramatic situations, broad guitar, warbling choruses and harmonies, drum, guitar multilayers from Shane and Matthew Solberg, with a bit of jamming in the second half of the song. Fun! “Three, pt. 2″ starts off with spooky, psychedelic moods augmented by what sounds like a theremin, akin perhaps to moments of early Rush musical discoveries, and then a return to the Carver Lee on voice and acoustic guitar as the treehouse adventure continues: two injured boys and the woman they love, “we’re guided by a fickle mistress, and love is all we need. Our fate contains a tender heart. There’s room in there for three.” Great! Faith, love and pain, another trinity!! Musically, the song has a lovely groove and is awash with a sweet, pastoral flow. “Warrior Returns” feels tenser, with a droning electronic beat, tense drums, and… strings?! Another, bigger, not-so-pastoral world here of President Heston and Gulf War veterans. “Message to Aunt Jenny” is just that, a message recording machine playback of family mechanics and the infirmity of old age. Nice mellow guitar keeps it going, and there’s a gorgeous solo here from Fuyuki Hiroyoshi to end it off. “One” (which will never be mistaken for the song of the same name by Metallica or U2) starts off with beautiful female singing, and it almost feels like another band’s song in some ways before Carver’s voice comes in, and big drums and another Fuyuki Hiroyoshi takes the song to its end. “Track 17″ is a bit of an out-take that starts in silence, then wanders into some music and a short dialogue sketch.

This is the kind of recording that is a lot of fun to listen and re-listen to while fondling and flipping through the booklet, following along the lyrics, and just trying to figure out what the heck is going on. The music lilts and moves you along with a nice acoustic groove and strange, twisted Sonic Youth movements that rise, darkly, right out of nowhere. The production is excellent and it just sounds fantastic. An amazing feat for everyone involved in the Knives of Summer, but especially its conceptualist Carver Lee!