Reissued for the first time in America, Guitar's two best albums are strongest when they deliver what listeners tune in for.
Michael Lückner has got to be sick, sick, sick to death of reading about My Bloody Valentine in the reviews of his works as Guitar, the half-German (Lückner), half-Japanese (female vocalist Akayo Akashiba) dreamy pop unit, but I can’t resist. The reason My Bloody Valentine turned so many heads, at least on a subconscious level, was because they were, finally, a hardcore version of femininity, despite being a group comprised mostly of males. Rather than donning the guise of men’s music and its brutally imposed structures, it was music that drifted. It used loud noise to create and commune, rather than destroy and alienate. The cover of Loveless was defiantly pink and practically nothing else, a vivid color palette as anti-macho as could be imagined. That image contained within it all the extremity of a pair of tight jeans with a semen stain on it, but moving toward the polar opposite in both sentiment and sensitivity.
Guitar’s music is profoundly feminine as well, but listeners would be remiss to think that Lückner and Akashiba are after the same extremes just because they sometimes employ stacks of swirling feedback-laced guitars. Guitar’s abstract and amorphous borders are not the result of a monolith of sonic obliteration. They have gentle curves in their feedback loops, and often play ornate, delicate melodies as brittle as a glass menagerie alongside the loud stuff.
It’s an eastern influence, one might say. One can hear Japan -- both the island and the band -- all over this music (in fact, Lückner recorded his album Tokyo entirely on traditional Japanese instruments, and they show up often elsewhere in his work). The piano- or keyboard-led tracks are often plaintive, at times even maudlin, teetering on the line between Sylvian’s “Forbidden Colours”, Japan’s “Ghosts”, and the unsettlingly similar-sounding soft rock of the same period time that can now be heard in dentist’s offices around the U.S. This interstition between the bane of guilty saccharine pleasure and the respites of emulation from acceptable holding points (Japan, My Bloody Valentine) is Guitar’s preferred habitat, and it’s a nice place to visit (some rooms being quite more comfortable than others).
Clairecords, in collaboration with Tonevendor.com, the online store specializing in what I once referred to in a previous Guitar review as the “cult of Kevin Shields”, has just re-released two of Guitar’s albums for the first time in America. Their titles evoke both ocean (salt water) and sky, honey and kisses, exhausting just about enough ethereal girly cliché that might clue you in to what music you’re in store for. However, language is probably not the strong suit for this German and Japanese duo who sometimes sing in English, and they can forgiven their transgressions for every moment the music on the somewhat somberly downtempo Saltykisses and the slightly superior beach breeze of Honeysky allows you to just sink into it.
Honeysky’s first track, aptly named “Escape”, illustrates this point nicely. “Stop thinking of the future / I don’t do tomorrows today / …Escape / New life is necessary to be reborn”, Akashiba sings, her pronunciation of “necessary” so alien it sounds like “accessory”. The song bounces along like a stone carelessly skipping across the water, Koto and a overemphasized plink noise keeping rhythm on a track with no concern for temporality.
Though Guitar often peaks far higher than it troughs on its quieter material (check out the Mojave 3-ish countrified twang of “Jodelei” on Saltykisses), who are we kidding -- it’s those gigantic swaths of eternal loops that are the reason to turn these albums on. It’s those blissful Bowery-Electric-style blissful euphonious drones packeted onto relentless trance-inducing drum breaks (see “Love Is Slow”, “Free”, “Saltyme”) that take a hold of you, with Akashiba dulcetly singing whatever above them. Everything in between these tracks, as good as it gets, always seems like down time.
It makes for uneven listening, and the down time assessment, though true, is probably unfair to some of the non-shoegazey material, which can be quite good (check the robo-tripping instrumental, Beta Band-via-Bibio, acoustic slow-mo of “Lake Slow”). Generally, structure is of little concern for Guitar, but, when done right, it should be of little concern for Guitar listeners too. Honeysky winds up being the slightly better album not only because it contains more sunbaked scorchers, but also because it bears the longest songs. When caught in a great Guitar loop, seven minutes sounds only all-too-brief.
Saltykisses does have a few wonderful moments though. Besides the aforementioned “Jodelei”, there’s “At the Seaside”, a stretched-out tonescape propelled by an Ulrich Schnauss-esque motorik. “While My Insect Gently Weeps” also makes up for the misguided cacophony of “Strangewaves” with an odd experimental collection of processed animal noises and avant-garde piano. “I Dream the Sand” is the rare backwards-masked song that sounds better after its reversed treatment.
Both albums find Guitar at the peak of their abilities, unable to commune the diversity of their stylistic endeavors to produce a defiantly holistic statement, but completely capable of sweeping you up in feminine splendor.