Maher Shalal Hash Baz: Faux Départ

You have to have a very high level of musicianship to sound good when you are busy trying to sound like an amateur.

Maher Shalal Hash Baz

Faux Départ

Label: Yik Yak
US Release Date: 2006-07-17
UK Release Date: Unavailable

The guy behind Maher Shalal Hash Baz is a fellow named Tori Kudo, a legend in certain circles of shambolicism. In his native Japan, he releases three-disc sets in limited editions and devoted followers snap them up and then he disappears for years. There is a tiny yet freaky cult for him here in the States, too, apparently.

But it is very hard to pull off "shambolic" as a musical style. You have to have a very high level of musicianship to sound good when you are busy trying to sound like an amateur; you also need to have amazing melodies if you want to sound like "I just made this up" without making people run screaming to shut off their stereos.

When this style works, it works deadly good. A lot of Elephant 6 bands had it locked -- the first Circulatory System album is still one of the best things ever recorded in this country, and about half the output of Olivia Tremor Control fits that category too. (The other half, not so much.) But when it is bad, it is dull and dingy, and just plain boring.

That's where I'm at with this album. It was originally only available at gigs to superfans, who were already in the cult. To them, these intentionally tossed-off pieces must sound like manna from shaggy heaven. Many of the pieces manage to sound like a junior high school jazz band, except with occasional electric guitar and tuneless pop singing in Japanese. There is a certain wild appeal in all this -- can they pull it off? Occasionally, they do. The eight-minute "A Will" has a method to its madness and a real sense of drama, and things get crazy about halfway through the title song, with cop-show horns and twangy guitars playing free jazz over an actual hook.

But the rest is a mess. There is another long song here hiding behind a lot of tiny snippets (thirteen of the 22 tracks are less than a minute long) but it just doesn't add up; if you are going to do free jazz, it needs to be a lot better than this. Tunes like "Sea and Seagulls" ride one little riff harder than it needs to be ridden, and the fake-country "Honey" makes a mistake by bludgeoning every single beat with a farting euphonium.

In fact, it is only on the live track appendix that one can hear any appeal in this band outside its miniscule circle. These two tracks, recorded in Portland and Seattle, give off some sparks. But it's too little and too late for this reviewer, and for people who want their musicians to actually sound like musicians.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

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

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