Merzbow – Yoshinotsune
Clu Clux Clam (2004)
I’m on a good run so far with this batch of Merzbow records I picked up in Japan. In fact, I’m going to put it out there that Yoshinotsune is easily the best of his stuff that I’ve heard so far, and will remain a firm favourite long into the future I’m sure.
While researching Yoshinotsune I stumbled across a website called Genji Press and discovered the title of this record directly references a 12th century samurai and cultural icon among the Japanese. This poor sod’s father was assassinated, his brother waged a war against him and he ended up murdering his wife before committing suicide. It’s a cheery tale that you can read more about here.
The Genji Press review does a fantastic job of detailing how the sounds on this record have been pulled from various sources of Japanese tradition, but what I want to talk about is tension. Just like Ikebukuro Dada, on Yoshinotsune Merzbow is a very focused individual and yet again it makes for some seriously great noise.
Ushiwaka Kurama Iri opens this trilogy of tracks with a dull sound like a herd of horses galloping in the distance. And if that’s not menacing enough, Akita then begins pounding a drum in 4/4 time which adds to the ancient war vibes. For a few minutes your ears are titillated with some oscillating scree, before a high-pitched whine creeps in, the sound haphazardly looped and all jagged around the edges. Things explode at the eleven-minute mark when a processed howl takes off and a collage of mechanical rattles creates an illusion that the tempo has increased to double-time.
The amount of thought behind this track makes it incredibly musical. Or maybe I’ve heard enough ‘noise’ now for the quality stuff to RESEMBLE music? Am I meant to have this reaction to a Merzbow record? Aren’t I meant to be disappointed that he isn’t peeling my skin off with white-hot walls of pure, blessed-out noise? Whatever.
On the whole, Yoshinotsune is like dance music missing some chromosomes. Ushiwaka Kurama Iri could easily be some distant, down-syndrome cousin of minimal techno. While the following track, Hachiman Taro No Uta revolves around a whooping synth bass that seems directly linked to the Jungle and Drum n’ bass movements.
And then there’s the closing track, Yoshino No Yamazakura. That’s where the face melting comes in. The title translates into something about cherry blossoms, and yet its impenetrable and abstract density is the audio equivalent of Yoshinotsune, the samurai warrior, killing his wife before taking his own life.
Yoshinotsune is an interesting Merzbow record for its cultural references, and also as an example of his powerful ability to manipulate noise into meaningful forms. If you’ve never heard Merzbow before, this is definitely the place to start. Only 500 copies were released but I’ve seen them floating around on ebay and Discogs, so get searching.