Maher Shalal Hash Baz, an experimental rock group from Japan headed by Tori Kudo, has a new LP “Hello NewYork” out on OSR Tapes. OSR Tapes is slated to cease operation this year, and this album is among their last releases.
Maher Shalal Hash Baz is a biblical name from Isaiah 8:3, meaning “hasten for spoil, hurry for plunder,” which The Lord requested as an inscription on “a large tablet in common characters.” (This, according to my copy of The New Oxford Annotated Bible.) Band leader Tori Kudo has discussed this and more elsewhere ( http://noise.as/html/kudo.html ). The band has been around since the 90s, but I come to this album as an outsider. I sat down and listened to it without having heard anything else of theirs.
Musically, the album bounces between rock vernaculars but maintains a cohesive spirit and sound—cheerful without ever being saccharine, with an edge of experimentalism, and a sense of collaboration. Indeed, “Hello NewYork” lists 19 musicians in its credits, and its population is tangible in the listening experience. The album feels free and spirited, like going on a walk and following your ears to a festival downtown.
“That’s All I Would Get” feels like the onset of a pleasant intoxication on a summertime stroll. As I was listening, I wasn’t sure if it was just me, or if the song gradually unwinds into slower and slower tempos. Glass percussion tinkles—as you listen to this album you don’t forget it’s a recording of something that happened in a room. It doesn’t feel claustrophobic or contained; on the contrary, it feels sunny and spacious.
“Dulce Juana,” a cover of The Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane” begins with convivial clapping. Jolly brass playing enters and then escalates in intensity and overtakes the former. There is a great sense of motion through all of this.
In “Haarp,” vocalists Arrington de Dionyso and Christina Schneider sing back and forth like a philosophical dialectic, in the most lyrically meaty track of the album, with exchanges like the following:
“I will make politics cultural”
“You cannot know the time provided”
“Your son has already known it”
“You cannot read a person’s mind.”
There is raw intellectual energy in these enigmatic statements, and this music seems to house it perfectly. The song ends abruptly, a harmonic door to nowhere, which yields into an afterthought of frenetic guitar playing. The energy of the song is physical too, and it swirls and is suspended. The next track, “Shiogamori,” opens with languid wailing like a drunken parade.
“Hello NewYork” is a lo-fi recording—it was recorded live in a room, on tape. Some lo-fi recordings aim to capture the allure of a live music-making experience; others, basement tapes, capture the allure of something private and DIY. In “Hello NewYork,” the lo-fi recording doesn’t point to a scene or reference a cult of personality. Instead, it portrays a spirit of experimentation that beckons listeners to listen more closely, not for technical wizardry but for the same thing that’s inspiring the musicians to play. Considering the way this record floats from one rock idiom to another, lingering in various locations, this album seems to be as much about rock music itself as anything else.
Other artists slap effects on their instruments to build an atmospheric sound or engineer shifts in emotion. In this album, you can sense the human participation behind the sounds. You can sense the bodies in space that are inherent in music, which are elsewhere obfuscated at times by technological choices or marketing pretense.
I have often found my own musical urges sidelined by pointless internal debates on whether my technical and songwriting abilities are good enough. Maybe the questions should be—can the music I make assemble people in a room? Can it host conversations? Does it contain multitudes? There’s something profoundly heartening about listening to an album like this, one that seems to affirm creativity and humanity without a hint of anything grandiose. Hasten, hurry—listen.
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“Hello NewYork” is available to stream or download (https://osr-tapes.bandcamp.com/album/hello-newyork-lp-cd-osr60 ); or to buy on vinyl or CD (http://osr-tapes.com/ ).