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Posted: November 10th, 2006, by Maxwell Williams

Now, I’m a fucking huge Maher Shalal Hash Baz fan, so forgive me if I nerd out about their new record L’Autre Cap for a minute. Tori Kudo and his shambolic followers make perfectly visceral, charmingly elemental folk-pop that literally falters at every step, jingles and bounces just enough to stay alive, pauses for a minute to let you catch the breath you never lost, then falls apart while staying the single most cohesive idea in pop music today – the desire to stay naïve about music, yet create something so beautiful it hurts to listen to. It’s cute and sad; it’s minimalist, yet complex beyond belief. And the true test? It never grows old, and never will.

I’ve been paying attention to Maher since their days with the legendary Org Records in early ’90s Japan. And while Jagjaguwar snapped up Org-mate Nagisa Ni Te, Maher opted for the more community-based Scottish label Geographic, where they released their sprawling epic, the 41-track Blues du Jour, easily one of my favorite records of all time. Alas, I cheat when I say “sprawling epic.” Everything Maher does is sprawling and epic. L’Autre Cap is no exception. Over 27 tracks, there are parts where the music is basically non-existent. There are jumpy pop numbers that evoke a broken marching band as sung by a lost weekend-era Harry Nilsson were he from Tokyo. There are doomsaying instrumental dirges. There are actual blues riffs. There are randomly blown horns offset by Tuvan throat singing. By the 19th song, where a swirling crescendo finishes “Dove,” you half believe the record doesn’t exist because there’s no way so many musical ideas can be pushed into a record that sounds so distinctive and unique, yet so much like one band.

The thing that ties it all together – other than the perfectly imperfect and spontaneous musicianship – is Kudo’s voice. Not his actual singing voice, though his not-quite-fluent-English warble is inviting like a friendly practicing foreigner. No, it’s his vaguely holy, heartfelt parables. But the crazy thing is, sometimes you can’t even hear what he’s saying. But you think you do, so you make up your own stories. “I might project you,” he sings, “as a chaste virgin.” But he might’ve said protect. Then he breaks into Japanese.

Recorded for K Records in Olympia, Washington with Old Time Relijun’s Arrington de Dionyso (the aforementioned throat singer) and Tori Kudo’s American counterpart Calvin Johnson, L’Autre Cap is a perfect invocation for Maher into the DIY world of the American Northwest. Basically L’Autre Cap picks up where Blues du Jour left off, which is just fine with me. This record makes me happy.

– Maxwell Williams

K Records

Maxwell Williams

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