I am not sure how it happened, but the release of this album completely passed me by. The first I knew of it was when I saw it in a record shop last week. Because I don’t buy anything without hearing it these days I quickly scurried to a cafe and had a listen to the album online, and bolted back even more quickly to buy it. So, yes, it was an immediate thumbs up from me on the initial listen, but what’s it like now I’ve really had tie to sit dow with it?
Well I think that it might just be their best, certainly most consistent, album to date. It helps, I think, that I like Pink Floyd… actually I used to hate Pink Floyd when I was a punk in the late 1970s… but I’ve come to see them as the ground breaking band that they really are… hell I even like ‘Division Bell’ a lot.
Actually this is something of a false statement now, because while an initial listen of ‘On The Grass’ definitely suggests that it is in debt to that great band there is actually much more going on here than the opening couple of tracks suggest. Indeed, the opener ‘Young Soul’ has that ‘Dark Side of the Moon’/ ‘Wish You Were Here’ feel to it, laid back yet full of meaning. As I said, when I first heard it I immediately took to it, but now find myself forgetting about ‘the Floyd’ a little bit more with every listen as the song takes on a life of its own. I find this, like most of the album in fact, to be a really soothing track to listen to… it does not demand too much and yet it is also worms its way into your brain making it impossible to just have on in the background. This segues into ‘Arms #1’ kind of like how ‘Breathe’ moves into ‘In The Air’, a more freaky track that turns your head in knots before ‘Arms #2’ kicks in and we start to move into different territory.
In a sense this sounds much more like ‘Sundays and Cybele’ of old, this is their fourth album. That wonderful mix of Western and Japanese Psych heavily weighted towards the ’70s but with a vocal which, while in Japanese, has a feel of French Chanson to it. For me it is a cracking mix of styles… and the guitar break here is worth the entrance fee alone, never mind the rest.
‘The End Of Summer’ begins with a piano intro that is very reminiscent of ‘The Great Gig In The Sky’ but this soon takes off into another direction all together, the common thread being that of melancholy… as the title suggests. I think it’s fair to say that my favourite temporal mood in music is that moment when we move into Autumn, and for me this song captures that perfectly.
Side Two of the vinyl version of this album starts with ‘Unbalanced’. It’s a great bit of track placement as it wipes away the melancholy of Side One and really burns its way through the mood like a flamethrower through a cigarette paper… wow the band just let rip with searing guitars and a pounding rhythm section… one of my tracks of the year.
After that ‘Burning Flag’ takes it down a notch, but there is still an intensity to this number that is gives me the shivers, there is more fuzz and the whole thing is much more veiled than ‘Unbalanced’. This really does need to be listened to as an album because it creates an atmosphere that takes you away from reality with every track drawing you farther into a slightly eccentric freaked-out world which just feels freer and more laid back.
‘City of Bubble’ is different again, feeling upbeat and alive. There’s the smell of the sea here, of light sunny days and a sense of what went before. If you like it feels like the flip side of ‘The End of Summer’ with the memories taking over from the melancholy… which is there in the background but somehow contained. It certainly makes me feel up!
This positive vibe continues with ‘Spine of Cloud’ which is almost anthemic in its approach, lighters out and lets really belt this one out, something that continues into final track ‘Incarnation’. Together these feel like the same track in what is a glorious ending to this fabulous LP.
Sundays and Cybele are something of a unique band in the way they bring together disparate Japanese and Western music forms. While much of the focus seems to have been on how much this album sounds like Pink Floyd, that really is only a small fragment of what is going on here. If Floyd is the hook that gets you in, great, but be prepared for something altogether more esoteric and diverse… this is a wonderful marrying together of sounds into tracks that are authentically and expertly played so as to take the listener deep into the emotion of the music. For me the predominant mood is that of melancholy, yet there is plenty else going on here to make ‘On The Grass’ as satisfying listen whether you’re on it or not.
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