Japancakes

Japancakes

Belmondo: Bliss Out Vol. 19

Darla

This ain’t gonna be everyone’s cup of tea, now. Japancakes build their instrumentals in the studio by repeating basic melodies over and over; any variations are due to the haiku-like improvisational skill and attention span of their six musicians. Their 2001 album The Sleepy Strange was quite perfectly titled, so it’s kind of a surprise to see this record named for a famed French tough-guy actor.

Fortunately for their fans, but unfortunately for others who think Japancakes are boring and minor, this album doesn’t sound anything like Jean-Paul Belmondo. It’s achingly slow, Zenfully repetitive, navel-gazingly introspective, and tenderly beautiful. Six songs in 44 minutes means they have time to really stretch it out, and it turns out to be a great idea for them. You might get frustrated at the four-bar repeats in “Handguns & Firearms” by about the eight-minute mark, but when it tops a quarter of an hour and just keeps going, you’ll either be entranced (I was) or asleep.

For me, this group swims because of Heather McIntosh’s world-beating cello work, but John Neff’s pedal steel playing is central too. “Always Stuck With Leaving” shows them off in a sort of ambient “Free Bird” mode, and it’s lovely; “Duluth 7.5” is all of that, plus The Czars, but divided by the fact that it sounds like the part of the Tortoise album that you fast-forward past.

So this is nice, but you might hate it. Oh, and dock five points for the artwork, which is ugly and pointless and misleading and self-defeating.

Darla Records: http://www.darla.com

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