Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Hypnotic Underworld - Ghost (#6, 2004)

I forget what's coming up on the Top 10, but 2004 must have been banner year for me to put Hypnotic Underworld at #6. (All rankings are always approximate and fluid from week to week - in my mind!) This is a phenomenal album, very musical - and I need to get more Ghost. Wish I'd heard they played in Texas last year, because I would've been there!

Hypnotic Underworld overlay
Ghost includes guitar samurai Michio Kurihara, who featured on Boris' Rainbow (#6, 2007), which is how I learned about them. But Masaki Batoh is the main guy. He seems mysterious, maybe a little reclusive, serious, maybe a little mystical. Guess what... they're Japanese!

The first four tracks make up the title suite. And the first part is the most floating and spacious on the album, "God Took a Picture of His Illness on the Ground" [edit]. The record is split between some open jams and some regular song, but if you're new to this psychedelic jazzy instrumental rock exploration, "Hypnotic Underworld, Part 2" might be the place to start out...

"Escaped and Lost Down in Medina" from Hypnotic Underworld (2010)

Parts 3 and 4 are differenter still, with the intensity rising and track lengths shortening quickly. "Aramaic Barbarous Dawn" [live] separates heavy and triumphant, whereas "Leave the World!" blisters for 20 seconds. But maybe an increasingly wound-up and rocking 4-part suite isn't your thing. Hypnotic Underworld offers a huge variety of flavors, while somehow all sounding like the same group.

"Hazy Paradise" from Hypnotic Underworld (2010)

This is a cover of the B-side to this 1970 Dutch-prog single. The sound on this one exceeds the song itself. Everything seems really low, but very clear. The guitar, the reverbed drums, I think there's organ, synth and maybe harpsichord. Or maybe that's the bouzouki. This is the kind of soaring, shredding psych lead guitar that Kurihara is known for.

Hypnotic Underworld gatefold
Or maybe you prefer the Japanese Serge Gainsbourg. "Kiseichukan Nite" features a drifting ambient background, with an Eastern whistle, hand-drums, water drops in the Zen garden. All setting the stage for a Japanese spoken-word vocal, with audible page-turning. "Melodie?" I'd like to see Ghost cover that!

Uh oh, no video for "Piper." Let's see if I make one before posting. The whistle continues for the intro and slower, folky parts of this one. In English: "once I was piper..." The rock breakdown transition really reminds me of something specific, '60s beat band or '70s hard rock or the like. I cannot remember what song it is, though. Another mind-bending solo from Kurihara. He's not always there - but when he steps up, he really unleashes it. (Fine, I made a video - now someone tell me what rock song I'm thinking of!)

"Ganagmanag" from Hypnotic Underworld (2010)

This is probably my favorite tune on the album. Although the structured songs probably take it up to greatness, I really dig even more their loose 'n' jazzy vibe. They are truly the yin and yang of Ghost. Again the quiet balance of the moving parts into something both minimal and almost orchestral is quite a work of art. And followed by a few more of the songs. "Feed" takes its time, but builds up gradually with twining guitar and piano crescendos. "Holy High" mixes a fast Celtic jig with synth cycles, and mostly keeps moving at a breakneck pace.

"Dominoes / Celebration for the Gray Days"

The first part is a Syd Barrett song. Here's an excerpt from a Batoh article where he discusses the covers. I actually prefer the latter's creepy organ drone and ethereal vocals - like most everything else, it's pretty different than everything else. And it ends like a war.

Just a couple more notes. Ghost live in Austin 2009. And self-titled debut album (1990) in five parts: part 1 / part 2 / part 3 / part 4 / part 5.

Hypnotic Underworld

Genre - Jazz-Prog Psychedelia
Official/Myspace - myspace.com/ghostjapanpsych
All Music Guide - Ghost
Location - Toyko, Japan

Review - Dusted Magazine
Download - Drag City, iTunes
Purchase - Drag City Records

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