Their name may translate to "geometric patterns" but it is their sound that truly shatters any expectation of formula or repetition — part of the reason Kikagaku Moyo is one of the top modern psychedelic bands in the world right now.
Is it that easy, however, to confine them to just one genre? Tokyo's finest can be described as krautrock, Indian raga, and most recently on their new singles "Gypsy Davey" and "Mushi No Uta," traditional folk dipped in psychedelia.
Originally a Scottish border ballad, "Gypsy Davey" was arranged and popularized by Sandy Denny's band, Fotheringay in 1970. With roots dating back hundreds of years, it tells the tale of a lavished, rich woman running away with the attractive, enticing gypsies.
The enchanting folk voice you hear leading vocals on "Gypsy Davey" is that of musician, photographer and community organizer from East London, Kandice Holmes (aka Bells).
Beginning with bending sitar notes and a steady kick drum, Holmes' vocals welcome us into her world as the breakables splash us into the rhythmic, thumping bass line. Holmes recounts this known folktale between echoing, wavey guitars and a psychedelic sitar solo — driving the much-desired merge of psychedelic and folk music that has yet to be explored to it's fullest.
Harmonizing the final few bars, Holmes reaches her peak vocal range singing "well it's fare thee well my dearest dear, it's fare thee well forever // and if the two of you don't return with me, I swear you'll see me never," wrapping up the track and smashing through the climax ending on a crash cymbal.
Kikagaku Moyo formed in 2012 consisting of five members: Go Kurasawa (drums, vocals), Tomo Katsurada (guitar, vocals), Kotsu Guy (bass), Ryu Kurasawa (sitar), and Daoud (guitar). Through two EPs and four LPs, they have continued to perfect a sound that is reaching success not just back home but in much of North America as well.
"Why fear world music? If people like cool music they really don't care where the music is coming from. You like the sound and you can connect," says Go, who with Katsurada formed Guruguru Brain, an Amsterdam-based record label focusing on underground music in Asia. This global appeal is likely the reason behind Sub Pop recruiting the Japanese group for their revamped "singles club" session for these releases.
Both singles "Gypsy Davey" and "Mushi No Uta" were recorded at Wilton Way Studio in London in 2019 and something should be said of the extremely fitting album art for the double-single done by Hailee Va, embodying the exact pallet of colors and textures Kikagaku Moyo represents.
"Mushi No Uta" provides a completely different vibe. With light fingerpicking on guitar leading us through most of the introduction along with beautiful Japanese vocals acting as a lullaby, it unexpectedly breaks through with an atmospheric soundscape taking us to another world for just a moment.
The initial thundering strum flings the doors wide open to an alternate dimension similar to that of select tracks from Bon Iver's self-titled album. This metallic yet warm hallucinogenic trance feels like waking up from a sleep that you have no recollection of falling into. The alarm clock? A gushing waterfall made to engulf your senses.
Faint whistling and squealing wabble through the ear-to-ear panning wonderfully. Through a masterful job of mixing and production, we are slowly guided back to the beautiful fingerpicking which leads into a separate line of light plucking on what appears to be the sitar finding ourselves back to reality from a Kikagaku Moyo led meditation.
Despite their mainstream success, which includes over 100 shows in 2019 alone and nearing 300,000 monthly listeners on Spotify, this has not changed their method of free-form expression and experimentation. "Improvisation is essential for us," says Go.
As long as Kikagaku Moyo continues their hypnotic, flared pant, ambiguous rock and roll, we should be happy to have them shattering genre norms and having a damn good time doing it.