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Richard Pinhas & Merzbow - Keio Line


An intriguing collaboration between French guitarist Pinhas and the legendary Japanese noise artist Masami Akita, this is a double CD (and 3 vinyl LP) that stretches out over nearly 2 hours of music. Pinhas started his career with French rock group Heldon, and was one of the first to mix pure electronics with conventional rock music, but has never managed to shrug over the fact that he has aped his style directly from Robert Fripp. Indeed it’s difficult not to hear the direct comparisons with Frippertronics material, but in this instance the collaboration with Merzbow has brought out something in the best of both of them, especially with the latter.

Those who are familiar with Merzbow’s more lacerating music will be aware of its sheer intensity at times, but this partnership, constructed over 2 days after both artists had performed together in Tokyo in late 2007, and named after the Japanese subway line that both of them took to Merzbow’s studio, showcases a different side to Akita, and for want of a better word, something ultimately a bit more musical. He’s eschewed the recent rhythm experiments that punctuated the “Merz” series, preferring to stay distant. The first track, “Tokyo Electric Guerilla” builds and swoops over a period of 18 minutes, Pinhas’s fragile guitar lines mutating ever so gently over a warping sonic pulse that reaches a dramatic climax, both artists never truly dominating. Unlike Aidan Baker and Tim Hecker’s latest collaboration, this doesn’t sound like a competition, and it’s a feeling that corresponds over the rest of the album. It would be hard to imagine an artist like Merzbow not dominating procedings purely because of the singularity of the sound that he produces, but here the musicality of Pinhas’ guitar work, which shines most on the 26 minute epic “Shibuya AKS” pushes him to the best of his ability, producing all sorts of sonic delight that show a new side, at least to me.

The second disc doesn’t have the same level of quality, but still manages to provide some moments of excellence, not least in the swooing miasma of “Merzdon/Heldow Kills Animals Killers” where Akita’s noise provides some hypnotic counterpoint to the washes of guitar loops.

Like many works of this nature, its freeform experimentation and immediacy means that much of the sound is unsculptured and thus the length of both works could have been shortened a little, yet there’s a tender beauty across both discs that reaps rewards with repeated listening. All 6 compositions have some wonderful melodic moments that shimmer in and out of the music, and it never reaches the hypnotic intensity of other drone music, preferring to stay musical until the last track “Fuck the Power (and Fuck Global Players)”, where Merzbow is let off the leash gets his chance to “wig out” in his own inimitable style.

Toby Frith


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