Koenjihyakkei-Angherr Shisspa

2005; Skin Graft Records

Take a heaping scoop of Mr. Bungle, a dash of Emerson, Lake and Palmer and just the slightest hint of Steve Reich and what do you get? Something that is at least as crazy as that description sounds. But while Angherr Shisspa is indeed one of the most insane albums you're ever likely to hear, it's also far more than the sum of its parts, transcending its own inherent wackiness to become a wholly thought provoking and, at times, even beautiful piece of music.

First, a mild explanation in terms of what genre of music this. Koenjihyakkei play in a subgenre of progressive rock called Zeuhl. If you look the term up on Wikipedia you'll see that fewer than 30 bands across the world are active in the genre. Which is fitting, because Zeuhl is as hard to describe as it is elusive: Sung in a language of the band's own making(think Sigur Ros' "Hopelandic", but usually a bit more structured), Zeuhl essentially tries to capture the essence of what an album created by aliens would be like. This usually involves a lot of jazz instrumentation, quick tempo changes, prominent keyboards and a sense of absolute bewilderment on the part of the listener.

Don't be scared off by that description, however, as Angherr Shisspa is very listener friendly. The instrument work, while spastic, is incredibly complex and very tight, and it sustains interest even during Koenjihyakkei's lengthier pieces. You're as likely to hear a fuzz bass pop up as a flute or mellotron, but it never feels disjointed, as the band has extraordinary chemistry: As fast as the time signatures and styles change, you'll never feel jarred mid song.

What truly sets this band apart from others, however, is the vocals. To put it bluntly, I've never heard anything like them in the context of rock music. The women who sing are opera singers. I do not mean that they have an operatic, theatrical style, like Bruce Dickinson or Ronnie James Dio, I mean that they literally, actually sing opera. As in, these women wouldn't be out of place providing backing vocals for Pavarotti. They're immensely captivating and at points downright awe inspiring, and why they've chosen to use their talents to sing in an inscrutable nonsense language for a band that probably sells around 4 albums a year is completely beyond me.

But God bless them for it. We need more music like this: Smart, talented people taking unbelievable risks. When the drums suddenly completely flip out, or a bit of jazz improv steals the scene for a minute or so, or when, completely without warning, the keyboardist starts channeling Rick Wakeman, you may become confused, or even slightly uncomfortable. But here's the thing: It is impossible to be bored while listening to this music because, as I stated earlier, the vast, vast majority of you have never heard anything like this(I'm counting myself in this-I had no experience with zeuhl before this album). Maybe you've heard something crazier, maybe you've heard something more technically proficient, maybe you've heard something that's more fun, but I'll bet you've never heard anything that manages to be all three and make it seem so effortless.

Angherr Shisspa has all the makings of an unprecedented catastrophe: It could have turned pretentious, it could have taken itself too seriously, it could have chosen to be weird for weirdness' sake, it could have chosen to be relentlessly abrasive and drive away anyone who would've taken a chance on it...all of these things could have happened so easily. But Koenjihyakkei is too talented, too musically savvy and just too damn psyched to be doing what they do to let any of that stuff happen. Angherr Shisspa is like the fever dream of an 8 year old given a script by David Lynch and the animators of Studio Ghibli to make it come to life. It's condensed imagination brought to life by men and women who are masters of their craft.

I guess what I'm trying to say is: This album is the musical equivalent of Axe Cop. Be psyched, world. Be psyched that this is real, and that somebody made this. God knows none of us would have.


1 comment:

  1. Zeuhl= anything similar to Magma. They coined the term, after all.

    Your recent entries have been weirder than mine. Makes me wonder if we should switch columns.