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Shinsekai - Alice Through The Looking Glass CD (album) cover




Eclectic Prog

3.81 | 9 ratings

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4 stars ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS is very much the pet product of one man, Osaka based guitarist-composer Yu Shimoda, who seems to have thought: 'The time has come to do my own album in the styles of ALL my favourite prog bands, adding one or two distinctly oriental flavours'. ALICE may seem derivative, but it should be considered as homage to Shimoda's prog heroes, not as mere imitation. Moreover, it is so high-spirited, it really takes the listener to a better place. Japanese prog bands are not known for their sense of humour, but ALICE abounds in it. As far as I can tell, Shimoda enjoys a sense of the absurd similar to the Yellow Magic Orchestra's. An earlier reviewer has compared ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS to okonomiyaki, i.e. Osaka-style omelet or pancake. The nearest non-Japanese equivalent would be pizza capricciosa, I suppose... Shimoda has indeed employed a large number of guest musicians (all from bands I'd never heard of: Triton, Naikaku, Demetori etc.) with very specific aims in mind, and the result is nothing less than spectacular.

Take the following conceit: you intend to rewrite Focus's 'Hocus Pocus' (notorious for flautist Thijs van Leer's eerie yodelling) but instead of using a rock vocalist, you're inviting Japan's only true Swiss Alps Style Yodeller. (His name happens to be Kawakami, and he definitely sounds AND looks the part!) Or imagine you're reshaping Bruford's 'Five G' (calling it 'Five Q' in the process) while having one and the same artist (Masaru Teramae) replicate both Jeff Berlin's slap-bass AND a lead guitar solo that sounds just like Allan Holdsworth...

Shimoda managed both feats - but that's is just the start!

For my part, Shimoda's GREATEST touch of genius was employing the Suginami Junior Chorus, an energetic girl choir who sound as ladylike as the Northettes. (From those classic Hatfield and the North albums...) Since we're talking about a concept album (partly devoted to Lewis Carroll's "Through the Looking-Glass") this choir makes a triumphant appearance on the title track, and also in a delightfully 'heavy' Japanese adaptation of the well-known nonsense poem 'Jabberwocky', musically influenced by 'Hina Matsuri', a traditional folk song. The choir shines again on the equally absurd 'Turn Right On Sennichimae-Indian' (Sennichimae is Osaka's most famous thoroughfare, and the 'Indian' in question is an Indian restaurant), and on the catchy 'Hamatai' ('Rude Snapper', a kind of fish), which will get you singing along in no time to the unforgettable chorus: 'Bon bon bobbeeron, bobbeerobbeeron!'

All through the album you'll find delightfully (fake-)oriental tunes performed on synths and vibes (sometimes reminiscent of Kraftwerk, sometimes of Pierre Moerlen's Gong); guest solos on flute, violin and theremin; and then there's 'Fairy Tale' as well - a sweet pop song for female voice, with a charming Camel-style moog solo.

Toward the end, the album gets heavier: 'Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung' (pts. 1 & 2) consists of two wonderfully inspired freak-outs for lead guitar and drums, with extra accompaniment on ondes martenot (!) in part 2. (What is it with Japanese prog bands and German philosophy? Kenso, too, have a peculiar penchant for 'heavy' German song titles!) This fifteen-minute freak-out is followed by 'Music for the End of Life', a six-minute track which can only be described as Frippertronics. The album closes on a solemn mellotron performance of the Japanese national anthem.

"Alice through the Looking Glass" is charmingly illustrated by the manga artist Megumi Isakawa. It comes with full lyrics (in Japanese), colour photos of all musicians involved, and a 'CD extra' feature which includes full scores of all the tracks. I have no idea if the album is easy to get hold of, but I recommend it to all adventurous listeners.

fuxi | 4/5 |


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