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Japanese band, Kikagaku Moyo, hits the East Coast

Atmospheric aptitude for psych soundscapes

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Members of the Tokyo-based psychedelic rock band Kikagaku Moyo — the name is Japanese for "geometric patterns" — have just finished playing their 20th show on their current North American Tour when I ring them to chat while they're in transit to their next gig. Go Kurosawa, the band's drummer, is disoriented, at first stating they're still in Louisiana (where they played a New Orleans set the night before) and then being corrected by a tour manager who informs him they've actually crossed over into Alabama. State lines run together as the band experiences a new terrain. Prior to this tour, they've only been to the states once and at that time they played mostly West Coast gigs. This go-round, the five-piece is hitting up the South and, for the first time, the rest of the East Coast. Kikagaku Moyo performs on Friday, Nov. 4 with Naked Gods and local avant-garde jazz duo Ghost Trees at Snug Harbor.

"I love the South actually. It's really cool. I like the people and I feel like they are much more friendly. You see people hugging, touching your arms and shoulders, they are really warm," says Kurosawa, one of the band's founding members along with guitarist Tomo Katsurada.

The two formed the band while they were students in Tokyo, though they initially had plans for it to be an arts collective with music being one of the many creative endeavors. That all changed when the band recruited additional members and began to hone in on music.

They released their debut, self-titled album, in 2013, which was followed up with an EP, Mammatus Clouds, and a sophomore album, Forest of Lost Children, in 2014. The band's third full-length album, House in the Tall Grass was released this year.

The album launches with "Green Sugar," the disc's first single. It's a transient track that kicks off with a clamor of noise and transitions into a refreshing mesh of calming bells and sitar melodies with harmonizing guitars and jingling drums. This track is Kurosawa's favorite to play live. "The last part of the song fades out ... we can play it however we feel like it," he says.

This visceral, somewhat instinctive approach to performing shines through on other tracks. It's given the band a chance to mold sets and soundscapes that vary from one show to the next. Though they've been known to play some softer, more melancholy sets, they've mostly been playing harder, punk-fused, psychedelic rock arrangements on this tour. That's partly because of the audience chemistry.

"We've done some quiet shows but most shows are more louder. The smaller venues have more punk rock energy. The audiences here are much more energetic," says Kurosawa. "They show how excited they are and it's really inspiring."

Kikagaku Moyo (Photo credit: Jamie Wdziekonski)
  • Kikagaku Moyo (Photo credit: Jamie Wdziekonski)

One of the band's softer, more ambient and meditative tracks is "Fata Morgana," a track inspired by Popol Vuh, an avant-garde German psychedelic rock band from the '70s, and a film by the same name that was shot in South America. The complexity of mirages are subdued in this sequence of light sounds that come together in a Sigur Ros kind of melodic experience. Kurosawa says this track is good for breaks between songs, as it adds an element of rest to the setlist. Other tracks like "Melted Crystal" also add to the softer, melodic soundscapes though drum rolls and bells give the track a solemn yet climatic approach. House in the Tall Grass was recorded during winter months in a remote part of Japan that was then covered in snow. The coldness seems to creep in on some of the music, going along with the song titles that are reminiscent of the season — "Old Snow, White Sun," "Cardigan Song," are two of the most noticable. Kurosawa admits that scenery plays a role in the band's music and hopes that the current tour across the states will lend to a collection of new ideas.

As for the band's psychedelic disposition, they have largely been inspired by bands in the West and Europe. In regards to Japan's psychedelic music scene, Kurosawa says "It's not big to be honest. The U.S. and Europe have a bigger scene," he says. "But in Japan there are some punk bands that are psychedelic without really knowing they are psychedelic."

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