Friday 3 February 2023

Atsuko Chiba - Water, It Feels Like It's Growing (2023)

Country: Canada
Style: Psychedelic Rock
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 13 Jan 2023
Sites: Facebook | Instagram | YouTube

Hailing from Montréal, Québec, are a neatly uncategorisable band who veer between psychedelic rock, post-rock and progressive rock, with occasional incorporation of other sounds. There's plenty of old school epic psychedelic Pink Floyd on the opening Sunbath, but it ends up reminding of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, with repetitive, almost ritual vocals, a comparison that carries into the next song, So Much For, which takes one of those side trips into another genre, namely funk. It must be said that King Gizzard are notorious genre-hoppers too, so it's no real shock to hear them so much here.

I like those openers, but Atsuko Chiba grabbed me on Shook (I'm Often) and underlined how damn good they are on Seeds. The former arrives in glorious fashion and I wish I could explain what they might be doing. I think the sound is generated by keyboards, but it could be in collaboration with a guitar. It arrives more reminiscent of Vangelis than the Floyd but it wavers as if it's alive, a swarm of sentient buzzing jellyfish floating through space, with the voice of Karim Lakhdar (I presume) a fascinated passer by, courtesy of an effect on his vocal that's a nod towards space rock.

There are precious few vocals on Shook (I'm Often) but they're repeated and help to lull us into the song's groove. Seeds has more in the way of lyrics, but it's also a longer song, heading towards the eight mark. That disembodied echo is still there as it begins, over a pulsing synth backdrop, and it all builds wonderfully. There isn't actually a heck of a lot happening during the long instrumental section in the second half, but I haven't been so rivetted by a piece of music in a long while. It's an enticing, hypnotic, psychedelic dream and it wraps up with some wild strings, just like the Kronos Quartet were recording next door and they stepped in to provide the finalé.

As if they couldn't figure out how to follow Seeds, but didn't want to end the album on that note, it would be fair to call Link almost conventional in response, its title probably representative of what it does here. It's much more of a song than the prior pair and it's angry, the persistent bass of David Palumbo leading us ever forward but the vocals of Lakhdar (again, I presume) raging at us in a post-punk fashion. This is heavy Talking Heads, a more antagonistic Cake. And it's done in two and a half minutes, because the rant is over.

It's the title track that wraps up the album, the longest song by a whole second. It's certainly not a return to Seeds, turning up the psychedelia and adding a trippy narrative section in the middle. It plays well and it's a decent closer for the album, but it feels like it's trying a bit hard, while Shook and Seeds seem to have grown more organically into their eventual shape. I found that, even while I was enjoying the title track, I was throwing my mind out and back to revisit those earlier pieces.

I should probably mention that Atsuko Chiba is the protagonist of a science fiction anime feature called Paprika, which I haven't seen but clearly should, because it's a Satashi Kon and I've enjoyed Perfect Blue for decades. She's a psychologist who enters people's dreams through use of a device called the DC Mini, as the alter ego of the title. And that rather sounds like the closing track. This is a chaotic song and it might help to imagine Paprika helping us to make sense of it.

This is my first Atsuko Chiba album and I fully intend to track down the prior two, Jinn in 2013 and Trace in 2019, to see where this sound came from. All I know at this point is what I heard here, plus the fact that they're a five band with two guitarists who play synths and a third doing the same in reverse. Their sonic backdrop is also aided by a string quartet and a brass section, though they're rarely obvious, weaving their contributions into the existing sound seamlessly.

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