Monday 24 September 2012
POLARiS ’12: Yamantaka // Sonic Titan, YT // ST
Like the three witches at the start of Macbeth, Yamantaka // Sonic Titan‘s Alaska B and Ruby Kato Attwood preside over a bubbling cauldron of boil, boil, toil and trouble that threatens to erupt into a drama of epic proportions. Macabre chemists that they are, the duo manage the damage expertly on YT // ST, taking what on paper sounds like an acrid recipe of noise and metal, pop and folk, eastern and western culture, and making it the trendiest cocktail this side of cosmopolitans. The trick is to knock back YT // ST like you’re shotgunning a beer: just punch a hole in the side of your head and let the music flow in without thinking or analyzing its contents.
YT // ST is a record that needs to be absorbed first before you can sort it out. I repeatedly shied away from the record when I first heard about based solely on the descriptions I was hearing: Japanese opera prog rock; “Noh”-wave noise pop; kabuki-kooky. It all seemed like a manga nightmare to me, and when I did tepidly dip my foot into their musical pool, the cold shivers “Queens” sent shooting up my spine were enough to turn me away completely. Still, it seemed like every day another endorsement of Yamantaka // Sonic Titan was crossing my desk, and therefore it kept crossing my mind that maybe there’s something there I’m not quite getting. I did major in drama and theatre arts at university, after all, so I can take a little over-the-top dramatic eastern culture inspired noise rock, right?
Turns out I can take it in spades. Once you give yourself over to YT // ST you’re in it for life. It’ll be the most intense half hour you’ll ever spend, but it’ll be one you revisit over and over again. It’s scant seven tracks all hang together by a barely there common thread, as sometimes tracks are juxtapositioned with one another in jarring and unsettling way. I’ve only ever seen clips of their live performance, but Alaska B and Ruby Kato Attwood have expertly rendered that sensory-overloaded experience in this soundtrack.
I thought it had become something of a musical cliché to take a traditional art form steeped in structure like nôh theatre and turn it on it’s head to make something “exciting and new”, which goes a long way to explaining my hesitation to even give Yamantaka // Sonic Titan a fighting chance in the first place. I’m certainly glad I did though. based on artistic merit alone, YT // ST is far out in front of the rest of the Polaris field, pretty much leaving half the pack still tying their shoes at the start line while the other half is in desperate pursuit to keep up. While not as meticulously executed as Fucked Up’s David Comes To Life, YT // ST excels in its sheer reckless abandon and willingness to take an extreme risk for the sake of its art. Fucked Up is Yamantaka // Sonic Titan’s closest competitor in this race, and I’m betting that at some stage of deciding tonight’s Polaris Music Prize winner, the jury are going to be tussling over these two albums. If I were a betting man, I’d say the odds are pretty good that one of these two records will come out on top tonight, and it wouldn’t surprise me if YT // ST usurps Fucked Up’s bid at being the first two-time Polaris winner.
Traditionally, I always reserved my post on Polaris Gala day for my predictions of what will go down in the jury room later that night, but since it’s only been 10 weeks since short lit announcement and prize day, I’ve had to devote my Monday posts to the short list review. While there won’t be a long-winded wrap up as to how I think deliberations will go (you;re welcome), rest assured, I’m sticking my neck out again this year to make a call on who gets the Prize. As much as I love the Handsome Furs album, I don’t think my fellow jurors who’ve been asked to the grand jury room are going to award Sound Kapital, nor are they going to make two-time winners out of Fucked Up. Kathleen Edwards, Feist, Grimes and Cold Specks all made a valiant try at being Polaris’ first female (or female-fronted artist) winner, but that honour is going to fall upon the wunderkind duo of Alaska B and Ruby Kato Attwood of Yamantaka // Sonic Titan, who’ll take the prize home for YT // ST. There I said it.
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