By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
"La Le Lo," the first track on Acid Mothers Temple's umpteenth release, Mantra of Love (Alien8), lasts as long as an episode of Friends (if you count commercials, and if you're not thinking of the one-hour finale, which, try as I might, I still do). What then, we must ask, is the moral? After half an hour of slow-build burn, an arc that in the last two minutes ebbs agreeably into nothingness, what have we relearned about the world? Thing is, guitarist-slash-fuzzy visionary Kawabata Makoto and his Japanese collective have never stuck to scripts, but they've scripted stunts, and this two-track full-length is stunt 101: Bring the noize and its counterpoise by blending the accidental, Occidental, and guitarded. It's obscure like that.
Here's a thought. Don't worry, it's not about the album: You may have read in Harper's the leaked Pentagon document, "An Abrupt Climate-Change Scenario and Its Implications for United States National Security." It's a worst-case prediction that in about 15 years Europe will get as cold as Siberia, "aggressive" battles over resources will be fought the world over, and "Once again, war will 'define human life.'" It doesn't mention Japan (we do fight China in Saudi Arabia, long story), but as an island nation on the wrong end of history's apocalyptic advances in warfare and dependent on other nations' natural reserves, the Land of the Rising Sun is clouded by man's hubris. Don't even get me started on Yu-Gi-Oh.
Let's moralize. Acid Mothers Temple are neo-hippies of a sort; they've got long hair and a diffuse commune known as the "Soul Collective"--enough said. Still, their pastorals embrace much more than the average tree-hugger does. The destructive slices of the life cycle figure as grandly as the regenerative, idyllic, and health-food-chain ersatz. Most Japanese noiseniks knowingly charm this hydra: The Boredoms dam their tsumanis in favor of burbling brooks, Melt Banana scream hardcore or murmur furiously, even Puffy Ami Yumi clamor for their pop catchiness. The Mothers nurture the signified-spiritual (Temple) and chimerical-chemical (Acid); in other words, they're like two-tab tripping in an otherwise "unspoiled" forest--sometimes punishingly heavy, other times unbearably light, always insinuating and resonant.
This is thanks in large part to Makoto's subtle, schizo guitar stylings. He's got a way of making you hear every individual string even when he's chopping at the neck; the rhythm instruments and synths and organs trail off his multiplicity of leads. Mantra of Love, a quieter contemplation of connection than many of their works (especially 2002's Electric Heavyland, their most ear-splitting disc and arguably their best), privileges Cotton Casino's incantatory lady vocals. This is, after all, a mantra. Interesting, then, that on "La Le Lo" she sounds, to these American ears, conflicted about whatever it is she's invoking: "No nah nah no nooooooo," she breathes, easily but ominously, as the hive of instrumentation buzzes around her.
But those notes aren't made for American ears, exactly. More than anything, or so it's billed, the album is inspired by music of the Occident--what some dictionaries define as the Land of the Setting Sun, and what my highly circumscribed geo-historical knowledge defines as certain parts of Europe, maybe "the Orient" as well. Its tongue, according to some website, is the "international" language. Now, this requires some sorting. We started with the Pentagon report, which is anybody's worst nightmare, but especially a hippie's. This led us to man's hubris, and its particular threat to the Land of the Rising Sun. And now we find Acid Mothers Temple going self-consciously global, chasing the sun as it sets, speaking in international tongues. The answers are blowing in the wind, but by 2010, the world's thermohaline circulation system may begin to collapse. How many years can a mountain exist before it's washed to the sea? That's no longer a rhetorical question.
"L'Ambition dans le Miroir" flutters in the eye of a storm for 15 minutes. The deep cut opens with what sounds like wind chimes and Steve Miller Band synth sputters; then the guitar starts curling, lilting in three-dimensional reverb; finally, an acidic lick leads into Casino's swooping, sing-songy lament. Nothing stops or starts, only slips in and out, then finally, just out, in a thrum of feedback. I am for some reason reminded of Manifest Destiny, a mural by Alexis Rockman at the Brooklyn Museum. It shows the borough's waterfront under water, sometime in the future: buildings and bridges and one submarine drowned, skeletal, covered with scum and sand and shot through with eerie light. Meanwhile, animals (barnacles, birds, weird-ass fish, and one huge jellyfish thing) swim, dive--thrive. So...we're all done? Teach a man how to fish, and he'll eat until there's no fish left? What kind of fucking moral is that? I'm not sure; call me in five years.