The first song on OBANIKESHI, “Polyhedra“, is only 13 seconds long and it shakes the listener out of complacency. An airy blast of robotic, lightning-fast notes, it acts almost like a brief corporate jingle from another galaxy, announcing with typical audacity the odd nature of the 12 tracks to come. OBANIKESHI is the latest effort from famed Japanese artist Ryu Yoshizawa, and his second album under the name Koaosaeme (his first, 2017’s Sonorant, is also available via Orange Milk Records).
With a “day job” as a producer – most notably a studio and live sound engineer for Ryuichi Sakamoto – Yoshizawa uses the Koaosaeme moniker for projects where he can completely cut loose without the confines of an employer. Thankfully, the folks at Orange Milk live for this kind of forward-thinking, unconventional music. Not so much traditional song structure by any means, the work of Koaosaeme is that of highly atonal and complex sound design, resulting in otherworldly vocal tracks, the blips and burps of computer sounds, and a variety of synthetic noise that sounds not unlike technology gone awry.
Make no mistake: despite the synthetic, lyric-free trappings, Yoshizawa’s Koaosaeme does not make for an easy, relaxing, new age environment. Far from it. On OBANIKESHI – as on Sonorant – the emphasis is on strange, atonal, positively jittery soundscapes. Taking cues from 20th century classical composers like Gyorgy Ligeti and Krzysztof Penderecki, in addition to the sound collages of early Mothers of Invention albums as well as recent Japanese artists such as Foodman, DJWWWW, and Seiho, Yoshizawa concentrates on utter mania. After the amuse bouche of “Polyhedra”, he digs deeper with “Azimuth”, where random chords and techno stabs mix with disembodied choruses and random sound effects. Nothing is off the table.
Once the listener accepts the fact that it’s a challenging listen, OBANIKESHI is also revealed as a work of sheer playfulness. “Meat Texture” is – as you can imagine by the title – a somewhat grotesque experience, with sludge-like effects competing with dramatic synth chords and orchestral groans. On “Point”, robotic squeals pepper the track like a deeply malfunctioning Star Wars droid. Additionally, a lot of the sound effects on the album have an almost cartoonish ugliness that can be found on Frank Zappa’s latter-day Synclavier works. Fans of Zappa’s weirder instrumental output will probably find plenty to appreciate here.
Occasionally, relatively “traditional” arrangements come out of the woodwork. “X/Z” actually contains something resembling the pulse of a dance beat – albeit a highly industrial one. That might have to do with the fact that “X/Z” is actually a collaboration with fellow Orange Milk artist El Murki. There are other collaborations here as well, including “Ellissi” and “Synched”, featuring Aylu and atnr, respectively. But these follow along the same lines as the noise-infested freakouts of the rest of the album.
Once it’s established that OBANIKESHI is a deeply strange collection, it’s hard to ignore not only the amount of work that goes into these intense, densely-packed collages but also the sonic fidelity with which they’re executed. For all its ugliness, the album sounds absolutely pristine. Yoshizawa’s work with Sakamoto, Yukhiro Takahashi, and others has allowed him to refine his skills as a sound designer consistently, and with his Orange Milk releases, he can make music purely on his terms. OBANIKESHI is the sound of a madman unleashed, and if you’ve got the stomach for it, the ride is not unlike a state-of-the-art rollercoaster: thrilling, entertaining, and more than a little scary.