Posts Tagged ‘Masaki Batoh’

The Silence

Masaki Batoh’s output of late has been nothing short of admirable. Between a run of solo albums and his work with The Silence, the man’s pumping out multiple albums per year without the slightest dip in quality. Following up the absolutely crushing Metaphysical Feedback from last year, the band pushes into heavy pscyh Nirvana with Electric Meditations. The record follows its predecessor’s reliance on sax and flute to fill out the shifting landscapes, letting heavy walls of riff and tender folk sidle down psychedelic jazz tributaries. The title track straddles the blend especially well, shifting easily on its feet from electric sweat growl to hushed moments of reflection. The album begins with a similar crash to the gates in “Tsumi to Warai,” which wields sax like a battering ram before letting a snaking bass section writhe against the groove into the opening of the album.

They blister next through a psych-funk simmer, dousing the listener with humid flutes and a tangle of rhythm then wind through the wooded paths that bear the brush marks of his time with Ghost. They get lost in the abstract only to pull themselves from the void of twinkling improvisations and conquer once more. Then, just for good measure, they knock the lid off of a cover of Bo Diddly’s “I’m A Man,” sounding like an outtake from Two Bands And A Legend. The Silence has always seemed like Batoh’s well-oiled endgame — a perfect amassing of players that can finally form the sounds that have haunted his head for ages.

It’s the songwriter at his most varied, but the eclecticism fits together like a puzzle box that’s a portal to a realm of fascinating forms. The panoramas on Electric Meditations are vast and wondrous, and it almost seems like he’s been overlooked in the last few years because people expect spot-on psychedelia from a figure as storied as Batoh. It’s worth shouting, however, that the legend is still plugged into the lysergic portal and passing the visions onto us in records that delight, disorient, and divine some sort of deeper cosmic thrum. Don’t miss out on what Batoh’s been conjuring.



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The Silence – “Electric Meditations”

Masaki Batoh isn’t wasting any time these days, cranking out excellent solo records and new material from The Silence at a dazzling clip. The latter is back on the heels of their heavy hitter from last year and from the sounds of the nearly eight minute title track, “Electric Meditations,” it’s going to be just as ferocious. The song crawls in on a stomping riff before the band lays in with fat bleats of sax and Batoh laying down a faraway lyric over the top. It burns straight through — growling, groaning, and letting the listener get a nice sear on ‘em between the grit on that guitar and the bulbous sax blasts that permeate the song. The Silence has proven to be some of the ex-Ghost songwriter’s most intense material over the years and from the sounds of this one, that reputation isn’t going anywhere soon. The new record is out November 6th from Drag City.



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Masaki Batoh

With his return to the fold of psychedelic folk (with a turnoff into blues last year) Ghost’s Masaki Batoh has reestablished himself as a master of the craft. Not that I’d ever had any doubts about Masaki’s prowess, but its nice to hear him embracing the delicate vibrations that result in melancholy bouts of rarefied air once again. While his work with The Silence has seen him reconnect with legendary psych drummer Okano Futoshi (Acid Mothers Temple, Cosmic Invention) he shifts to yet another high profile name for this record, letting Hiroyuki Usui (Ghost, Fushitsusha) create a lilting, skittering backdrop to his verdant vignettes. Often Usui holds back, framing Batoh’s work in shifting winds of sound, but there are moments when the percussionist acts as a perfect foil for the songwriter, as on “Speculum” in which the two artists play off of one another with graceful elegance.

Largely Batoh has shirked the lonesomeness of Nowhere, at least in the studio, inviting other members of Ghost and The Silence into the sessions. Though, musically, this record still leans into the solitary winds that he explored on his last LP. Likewise there’s an embrace of fluidity in language, with not only English seeping into his repertoire, but Spanish and Latin this time as well. Batoh doesn’t cobble his influences haphazardly, though, and the language shifts and instrumentation (which ropes in flute, piano, lap steel, saxophone, contra bass) gives the album a tapestry quality that’s meditative, if not also rustic. With the exception of a dip into heavier pscyh on the closer, Smile Jesus Loves You feels like the hermetic album he’s been longing to make, even if there are friends nestled in his cave this time. The mountain winds, and sunrise hues are rampant, and ultimately quite welcome. If Nowhere whet your appetite for more haunted folk from the master, then this will help quench the ache.



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Masaki Batoh – “In The Hour of Serpent”

Nice surprise today to have a new track from Masaki Batoh. With a solo release just last year, I’d not have expected more from the ex-Ghost frontman, but he’s sprung out of the fertile ground that brought forth Nowhere for a less solitary follow-up. Where that record was huddled around Batoh’s isolated reflections, Smile Jesus Loves YOU is more about reaching out in collaboration. Featuring members of Ghost (including percussionist Hiroyuki Usui) and The Silence, the record aims for communal transcendence and seems to be nailing it quite completely. Opener, “In The Hour of Serpent” is a lilting cut, buoyed by sweet flute curls and bittersweet plucks. The new LP is out May 8th fro Drag City. Dig deep on that cut below. If the rest of the record is half as good as this, its gonna be another stunner.



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The Silence

Just a few months after his solid solo LP, Masaki Batoh is back on a progressive bent with his band The Silence. Metaphysical Feedback is the first record since the band’s 2016 LP Nine Suns, One Morning, an album that expanded their already dense prog/psych palette from their two albums previous. A frantic pace seemed to be the norm for The Silence in the past, with their first three albums all falling less than a year from each other’s release. A longer time to germinate gives Metaphysical Feedback a bit of distance from its predecessors. The cindered folk stance of Nowhere seeps into the corners of the album, perhaps playing to a bit of crossbred songwriting between the two, but as usual The Silence remains Batoh’s avenue to bite into the wires of ‘70s prog, free-jazz, psychedelia, and the further reaches of space while smashing the boundaries between all of them.

The bulk of Metaphysical Feedback does just that, where opener “Sarabande” filters in slow and serene before igniting the pool of gasoline that’s been collecting over its 8+ minutes on the way out, “Tautology” is a bop-fried scorcher on the constant edge of freakout territory, lacerated by sax and ozone crackle. They employ groove that pushes further toward funk and further from their German Progressive touches on “Okoku” and it fits perfectly into their mindset. A dark current of flute pushes from jazz to psych odyssey on several tracks, and the band often uses them a herald for sweeping sea change within a track – the darkly decadent “Yokushurui” being the prime example.

Post-Ghost, Batoh has proven that he can’t be penned in by expectations, and while his solo record might have returned to a few markers in his past, The Silence proves that he’s still pushing further towards the edges for his future. The band has quickly amassed a catalog of remarkable releases, but it quickly becomes clear that the extra time to develop their latest makes Metaphysical Feedback their fist truly essential release.



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Best of 2019 (so far)

It’s been a hell of a year so far and now it’s time to run down the albums that have stuck around the turntable the longest. For all the fraught emotions and everyday injustices, there’s still some bright spot of solace in music. That’s not a trade-off, but its something to keep you going. As usual, these are the best records that filter through the Raven aesthetic. I’ll be off next week on vacation so this 30-spot plus the ensuing two and a half hour mix will have to hold you for a week. Gonna take a break until the 2nd week of July. The second half of the year already has a few front runners, so enjoy these gems before the tail end of 2019 comes running atcha.

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Masaki Batoh on Pearls Before Swine – Balaklava

As I mentioned in the review a few days ago, the work of Masaki Batoh has a pretty strong foothold in the roots of RSTB. Ghost in particular is a personal favorite, but the guitarists’ work has touched on higher burning psychedelic forms with The Silence and Cosmic Invention, twisted through experimental norms in his solo work and resonated deeply in his works with collaborator Helena Espvall of Espers. The latest solo outing, though, has felt like a coming home to the psychedelic folk and blues that first gripped me. As such its great to have Batoh contribute to the ongoing Hidden Gems series and tackle a release that he feels might not always get the proper due it deserves. Check below as Masaki discusses finding Pearls Before Swine’s underground classic Balaklava and the impact its had on his own writing.

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Masaki Batoh

On his first solo album since 2012’s largely experimental Brain Pulse, Japanese legend Masaki Batoh returns to the roots of psych-folk that wrought Ghost all those years ago. Winding through the same serene mists that haunted Lama Rabi Rabi and the band’s eponymous debut, Nowhere is a picture of Batoh leaning into his strengths while embracing both Japanese and, for the first time, English lyrics. While this is his first solo record proper in a while, its hardly the first we’ve heard from Batoh’s camp in the last couple of years. Following three albums working the psychedelic edge with his outfit The Silence, Nowhere is also a return to the meditative pacing reverent calm for the songwriter, relying on circular fingerpicks and the humid creep of echo to replace anything as outwardly explosive as he’s been fond of recently.

Having been drawn to the work of Masaki Batoh through Ghost and later working back through Sweet and Honey and Cosmic Invention, this mode feels like a welcome homecoming for me. The songwriter’s long arched over into the mystic touches, feeling every bit as otherworldly as the Tolkien-referencing plucks of Bo Hansson or the ritualistic runs of Ash Ra Temple. On Nowhere, Batoh dips back into those modes, while also proving that he’s picked up new habits along the way. He picks at American blues on “Devil Got Me,” and skews towards a a tougher, almost ‘90s blooze approach on “Sundown,” but he manages to keep the album from feeling like a hodgepode. Its more like a journal of psychedelic damnation – a sketchbook of psych-folk-blues embattlement as divined by someone at his own crossroads. Maybe Batoh’s isn’t as famous as Robert Johnson, but it still feels elemental.



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Masaki Batoh – “Tower of The Silence”

Though he’s long popped up on contemporaries’ records, and issued a clutch of essentials along with The Silence, Masaki Batoh’s solo records have often leaned into a more experimental approach rather than bring to mind his days in Ghost (the one and only, imo), which, makes his upcoming LP, Nowhere so exciting. The album digs into the same haunted well that wrought so many lonesome, ominous essentials from his former band. “Tower of The Silence” is built on a tangle of fingerpicked guitar that buoys alternating moments of reverential silence and impending doom. Even counting in The Silence’s catalog, its one of the best pieces to emerge from Batoh’s catalog in quite some time, feeling like it must already exist within the harbinger hollows of Ghost’s psychedelic dioramas. If the piece is any inkling as to how the rest of Nowhere will play out, then fans are in for something of an essential. Check out the bone-dry video above and look out for the new album in February.



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Cosmic Invention – Help Your Satori Mind

There are long simmering reissues that have been achingly in need of a new day, obvious and picked over – the kind that require a contract negotiation to will into existence. Then, there are those that were just bubbling below the surface, ones which should have been obvious, but for some reason or another eluded the mind. The news that Cosmic Invention’s sole album was getting the vinyl treatment fell squarely in this second camp. While Ghost’s early catalog still remains elusively and tantalizingly out of print, this Masaki Batoh side project is given a well-deserved second life through Drag City. The band featured a stunning lineup of musicians, one which would be enviable in any Japanese Psych band before or after. The ranks included Michio Kurihara (White Heaven, The Stars), Chiyo Kamekawa (Fushitsusha, Yura Yura Teikoku), and Okano Futoshi (Acid Mothers Temple, The Silence) among others who have orbited Batoh’s works since.

Landing just a year after Ghost’s haunting psych-folk opus Lama Rabi Rabi, the record stands in stark contrast to that album’s dark restraint. It’s the beginning of a heavier sound for Ghost, played out as a standalone record hinged on molten solos and spectral noise. The band moves from AMT-styled barn burners to electric Miles freeforms with ease, proving that the assembled players were all hitting a seasoned prime during their time in Cosmic Invention. The record found its way out on the experimental label The Now Sound which issued previous records from Batoh and White Heaven along with the similarly Batoh affiliated Sweet & Honey.

While all the members here add to the psychedelic fortitude of the album, the record is really the outcome of opposing forces in Bathoh and Kurihara’s style. Batoh brings his well of haunted tenderness and Kurihara sets it all on fire with a heavy hand on the strings. What springs between those poles, however, is an album of darkness and light that’s rarely been matched. For fans of ‘90s Japanese Psych, this is a pickup on par with anything from the PSF archives and Drag City has done a nice job of it, even adding in a bonus cut. Though, for the life of me I can’t imagine why they redesigned the cover to look like a live bootleg but let’s not pick at small details. It’s a completely essential and utterly devastating record and it should find a place on your shelf as soon as possible.



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