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Monday, December 19, 2022

Two from Keiji Haino

By William Rossi

As a well-documented diehard Keiji Haino fan, this year he'd already delivered some great music: his transcendental solo hurdy gurdy album, his wonderful collaboration with jazz giant Peter Brötzmann, his album with Marteau Rouge and even some new projects, collaborations and archival material. To me however, his best music over the last few years has come out through his partnership with metal trio Sumac and long time collaborators Jim O'Rourke and Oren Ambarchi and, luckily for me, both these projects saw the release of a new album this year.

Keiji Haino + Sumac - Into This Juvenile Apocalypse Our Golden Blood to Pour Let Us Never (Thrill Jockey Records, 2022)

 This quartet with metal band Sumac has always been fantastic but it's undeniable that over their three releases the musicians have gotten to know each other progressively better; if on their debut they masked possible uncertainties and misunderstandings under copious amounts of distortion and on their sophomore they might have had a few stumbles before reaching the highest highs the band has ever committed to tape, here they act like a well oiled machine.

Recorded live at the Astoria Hotel in Vancouver during a short North America tour by Haino, Sumac join him on stage with full confidence in themselves and each other. Guitarist Aaron Turner greets the listener with his signature dissonant yet harmonious chords, with Haino's extremely distorted guitar leads playing counterpoint to the harmony; it's a moment, and a track, that showcases great chemistry to the point that some parts don't even sound improvised. The whole song is a slow push and pull between Haino and Turner with the drums and bass adding atmosphere and color more than keeping time. At times mysterious, at times feeling resolved, the music encompasses a wide emotional spectrum they weren't able to achieve often in their previous collaborations. The second track "A shredded coiled cable within this cable the sincerity could not be contained" changes pace with a thunderous bass and drums section setting the mood for Turner's ferocious vocals and Haino's guitar abuse. A piece for feedback lovers, with the two guitarists' equally distorted instruments fighting over the spotlight creating a wall of noise difficult to peer into but that is textured and rewarding to listen to.

The title track, while still aggressive, gives the listener more room to breathe and process the music: the guitars are more intelligible and the track is more of a slow, somber dirge, with all performers never overplaying and serving the music first and foremost, covering everything in layers and layers of sound. After about 6 minutes the thick mist from the guitars dissipates and a lumbering beast rises from the ashes, bassist Brian Cook painting its rise before settling into a repetitive, obsessive rhythm in lockstep with the drums, over which the guitars can unload the tension they've been building up until this point. On "Because the evidence of a fact is valued over the fact itself truth??? becomes fractured,” guitar drones create a bedrock for Haino's not-so-softly spoken musings as the band develops a living and breathing piece of music that manages to perfectly walk the tightrope of being devoted to creating an atmosphere while never being not completely engaging. Haino then treats the listener to a (for his standards) very musical and pretty solo, the music ebbs and flows, getting to a point of maximum tension and then shirking down again, leaving nothing but Haino's signature high-pitched siren call. A highlight for this album and their collaboration as a whole.

After that moment of calm the group goes in for the kill on “That fuzz pedal you planted in your throat, its screw has started to come loose Your next effects pedal is up to you do you have it ready?”: feedback, drummer Nick Yacyshyn's odd time signature start-and-stop playing, tons of distortion on bass, Turner and Haino taking turns on vocals in what seems to be a synthesis of every element each member brings to the table and the high level musicianship we got accustomed to over this album's duration.

Although I felt like the album had reached its apex with the previous song, there's still a short piece to go: an encore of sorts, slow and heavy, just to make sure the audience goes home with their ears ringing, maybe unnecessary but not unenjoyable and welcome nonetheless.

While their second album remains my personal favourite it's undeniable this is the most accomplished the band's music has ever been, with constant, very high highs that don't reach the level of its predecessor's but with nowhere near as many lows (if they can even be considered lows). Not as uniform as their first, not as adventurous as their second but a perfect summation of their work so far and an exciting jumping off point for wherever they may go next.

Released on vinyl, CD and digital by Thrill Jockey Records.

Keiji Haino/Jim O'Rourke/Oren Ambarchi - “caught in the Dilemma of Being Made to Choose” This Makes the Modesty Which Should Never Been Closed Off Itself Continue to Ask Itself: “ready or Not?” (Black Truffle, 2022) *****

The Haino/O'Rourke/Ambarchi trio is at its 11th release and it shows no signs of slowing down. Over the years it has taken many forms and tried countless avenues of exploration, sonically, instrumentally and conceptually, while still remaining mostly rooted in the classic rock guitar/bass/drums combo and consistently yielding fantastic results.
On this latest release they once again tried something different, deciding to open the record with a 23 minute piece, commissioned by New York’s Issue Project Room, that dips its toes in the world of the kind of modern classical music one would expect from Michael Pisaro or Graham Lambkin with Ambarchi on gongs and bells and O'Rourke on electronics providing the perfect backdrop for Haino's frenzied metal percussion and cymbals performance to shine and to set the emotional tempo of the piece, going from moments of panicked chaos to sections of somber gentleness. As always Haino's performance is mesmerizing, his approach to any instrument seeming to involve him completely becoming one with the sound the instrument emits and just living in that moment as deeply and for as long as possible. It reminds me of when I was a child and would sit at my sister's piano and play the same note over and over for 30 minutes straight just because I liked how it sounded so much and (to the extent a child's brain is capable of) somehow feeling that that particular sound in that specific moment wouldn't have existed had it not been for my interaction with the instrument. It is a demanding listen but if you try to get lost in the sound, its nuances and texture, the piece will be very rewarding.
The rest of the album showcases the band in its element: on stage at Tokyo’s Super Deluxe. The listener is welcomed by Haino behind the drum kit, O'Rourke on Hammond organ and Ambarchi on processed guitar. The trio is as commanding as ever: Haino's free flowing drumming against the primordial soup of organ and guitar is one of the best moments I've ever heard from them, striking in its directness and yet deeply complex. There are so many elements one could focus on (Amarchi's guitar's subtle but invaluable contributions to the sound palette always catch my ear) but they coalesce into something bigger than the sum of its parts, never unengaging and never uninspired. After a short interlude with Haino on vocals accompanied by O'Rourke's organ each member of the trio jumps to their instruments of choice and the most familiar configuration to fans of this project: Ambarchi on drums, O'Rourke on bass and Haino on his trusty guitar. If this is the iteration of the band you signed up for you won't be disappointed, as the last triptych of the record is completely dedicated to a long jam in their particular flavour of free improvisation. A long dialogue among musicians all in a state of grace, it gives me the same feeling that listening to Coltrane and his band live in Japan does. Everything flows naturally, from the wailing guitar solos, to the moments of quiet led by O'Rourke's chordal bass playing all held together and perfectly matched by Ambarchi's drumming, it's everything a lover of this trio is well familiar with and could ever ask for.

There's still surprises of course, like the beautiful balancing act between O'Rourke's Hammond organ and Haino's guitar on the last song or the pummeling interplay of the rhythm section on part two of the title track, but such a visceral and physical performance is hard to put into words. It is what I expected but it's not safe or predictable; it's just their familiar style I love so much. If Sister Ray meets Coltrane's version of My Favourite Things sounds good to you this album is something you'll keep coming back to.

Released on digital and vinyl by Black Truffle, with a gorgeous artwork by Lasse Marhaug.