Keiji Haino & Sitaar Tah! - Animamima (Archive/Important Records 2xCD)
I tell you. I'd bought this double-discker as soon as it was available from the fine folks at Archive based on their previous track record alone. I loaded it into my 3-disc changer (Jack Rose was the third if you're curious) and then promptly ignored it for a week, possibly longer. Sometimes you just need to wait for the right mood to spin a set featuring Keiji Haino alongside a 20-piece sitar orchestra (not to mention the appearance of Fuyuki Yamakawa on igil and throat singing). Well when I came home today from a particularly arduous day of work, I threw myself in the direction of my bed and decided, for some reason, that the time was now. Nevermind that I had a muted Entertainment Tonight playing on the TV, could barely keep my eyes open, and was suffocating due to the humidity. All conditions considered I must say that it was a particularly nice way to drift off on a puffy pink cloud of steam. That is until my alarm went off at 6pm (???) and the sounds of Grand Funk Railroad were piped in to the background of this hazy sitar drone experienza. "What the hell is going on?" I thought to myself, somewhere in between my pillow and dreamland. "Why is there a Grand Funk sample on a Haino album? How did they even get the clearance to put it on? And why???". Eventually the unmistakable shouting of the new Man in Black startled me awake and I promptly solved the Grand Funk quandary, resolving to bring the CDs downstairs with me and give em a listen in my computer chair so I'm assured to not doze off.
On first re-listen, the first disc is as heaven-spun as I recall it being. The most instantly remarkable thing about it for me is that I certainly am not able to detect 20 different sitars playing at once...if you told me there were five sitars on this disc I'd buy that. I'm chalking it up to the notion that there's a greater focus on unity than on divergence, whether it's from within the orchestra or how they work with what Haino and Yamakawa are doing. Which, if you ask me, is perfect. This project is gelling in the most major of fashions. Nobody's doing too much (even Haino who's on vocals, flute, electric tanbur, rhythm box, electric hurdy-gurdy and electric sruthi box is in alarmingly restrained form) but there's never too little either. Anyway disc number one (one track, 46 minutes) has a strong Eastern taste to it, probably because the focus lands a bit more on Sitaar Tah! here in comparison to the second disc. Haino outdoes himself with some flutist mastery, weaving all different kinds of fluttery harmonics around the orchestra's droning, sun-baked sitar strumminz. Yamakawa's contributions border on the sublime, adding just the perfect pint of low vocal intonations. Haino does a little bit of wailing about half an hour in, but it's not over-done to the point of being an irritant. Quite the opposite actually, his vocals splash even more colour into the proceedings.
The first half of disc number dos (one track, 51 minutes) is a blazer. Well as blazy as a sitar orchestra can get, anyway. This cut has got some mean undertones, like the build up to Scatman Crothers getting it in the chest in the Shining. Yamakawa seems to spend most of his time on the igil while Haino occupies himself with various noisemakers, blending in seemlessly with Sitaar Tah!. Around fifteen minutes in there's a shift and things slowly morph into a sound more akin to the first disc, slower-paced and droning with Yamakawa's throat singing taking on a bigger role. Kinda makes me think of that Young/Zazeela/MacLise/Conrad/Cale joint at times, or Rob Laufer's "Towards the Sunrise" (believe it or not!), or what bands like Hototogisu, Eyes and Arms of Smoke and Burning Star Core are shooting for nowadaze. It's the sound of frayed horsetail strings baptized in gas-o-leen. There's a third "movement" as the set nears its end, early morning hang-over music to drag yourself out of the bed to. Haino's makes another brief vocal appearance and then it all just buzzes out n' off.
Archive and Important have done us all a great service in releasing this 2004 live set (following up Haino's earlier Archive/Important jam "Reveal'd to None as Yet"), and let's face it - if you weren't immediately persuaded by hearing the words "Keiji Haino" and "20-piece sitar orchestra" together, how could anything I say ever sway you? But if you're debating, better make up your mind quick - one time pressing of 1000 copies and Archive's plum out.
Extra points for the fantastic die-cut packaging job, as is the custom when the Archive folk are involved.