Music

Maher Shalal Hash Baz: C'est La Derniere Chanson

Photo: Alison Davis

A new 177-track, two-CD album from the naive-savant Japanese composer Tori Kudo.


Maher Shalal Hash Baz

C'est La Derniere Chanson

Label: K
US Release Date: 2009-07-21
UK Release Date: Available as import
Artist website
Amazon
iTunes

Maher Shalal Hash Baz already have one must-hear album out this year, though you might have missed it. Gok, a collaboration with Scottish jazz musician Bill Wells, was a simple but hauntingly beautiful set of pieces that melded children's music, jazz, and improvisation. It was easier to relate to than C'est La Derniere Chanson, by my count Maher Shalal Hash Baz's 18th studio album over the past two decades. Tori Kudo, the guy at the centre of all this action, remains an enigmatic figure, half visionary, half batty. His philosophy of music, such as it can be understood from his recent work, is not so much to create music that's simplistic as that which is accessible. It used to be music for any amateur musician to play, mistakes and all. But things have shifted a little since 2007's excellent L'Autre Cap. That is, on both the Wells collaboration and here on C'est La Derniere Chanson, Kudo's music is becoming more coherent. Kudo collated a nine-member Japanese ensemble and rounded it out with local musicians for a performance in France to make this new album. There are less of the obvious performance errors, though there's still a charming out-of-tune, in-the-middle-of-a-rehearsal quality to the playing.

But on C'est La Derniere Chanson, Maher Shalal Hash Baz has something new to say. First of all, let's take stock. This is a double-CD release; it clocks in at one and a half hours; it has an astounding 177 tracks. Only a handful (20 or so) of these are over one minute in length, and only one is longer than three minutes. The vast majority are single musical phrases, perhaps repeated once or twice, with a few seconds of silence at the end. The Amazon product page describes these as "musical gestures", and that's right on. They're single ideas, all exposition without subsequent development, like the musical version of Italo Calvino's If On a Winter's Night a Traveler. They are the scraps that other musicians would leave on the studio floor, ones which Maher Shalal Hash Baz has carefully raked over and presented to us, confident in their own innate worth.

"More Errors", the longest piece, is built around a verse sung in Kudo's heavily accented (pretty much incomprehensible) English over a simple but effective horn melody. "Job", a fast-muttered Japanese litany, appropriating classic pop tropes as the refrain kicks in: "Please, please to understand / I never meant to hurt or hate you". The pieces are jumbles of ideas, reflected in the jumbled instrumental tonalities and reflecting, in turn, the jumbled experience of life. Now and then, from the bleat of horns or bassoons a nostalgic melody catches your attention (check out "Last Autumn 2007", or "After Landing", or "Air Conditioned II"). If only the best ideas lasted longer, or were developed, even to the minimal extent of those in L'Autre Cap. I know, it's part of the point. And listening to the album through, you don't hear individual pieces, but rather, these short, sedate phrases that are separate but together form a ruminative, raked-over whole.

C'est La Derniere Chanson may not have the completeness of vision of some of Maher Shalal Hash Baz's former work, but it's still rewarding, if you take the time to follow its wandering lead. I don't know if anyone's studying Tori Kudo, writing theses about him, but he deserves the analysis. My guess is his unorthodox approach and unique ideas about music will continue to inspire and baffle us for a long time.

7

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image