Atsuko Chiba – Trace

4 out of 5

Label: Mothland

Produced by: Matthew Cerantola (recorded by)

A beast of an album.

I’ve been listening to quite a bit of FACS lately, and as impressed as I am by that band’s evolution, there’s also the effect of making me revisit my 90 Day Men albums, and then I find I harbor not-so-secret wishes that that group had kept making weirdass post-rock / prog spacey albums. Meanwhile, Atsuko Chiba came sauntering onto the scene, and one-upped me on my wish, maintaining all that layered, low-end heavy goodness, and combining it with some slabs of actual rock that the 90 Dayers kind of left behind after their first full release.

Yes, within those genre parameters, this makes Trace’s opening instrumental – A Heretic of Arrogance – one of the best songs every written, not to mention having an awesome name. It swings between mighty thumps of bass and a skittering but steady drum beat and blurbles of keys and effects; it’s as hard-edged as Dysrhytmia but then as melodic as something some ISIS / Red Sparowes types might appreciate.

The transition to vocals and a chill guitar line on followup Pawn to a King, Pt. I feels a bit off at first, like a betrayal of Heretic’s angry atmosphere, but the warmth and immediacy of the production – and the way it clicks over into Paul Newman-esque pluckings on Pt. II – is a middleground that gives it shape.

This is the push and pull of the album: a new song will introduce some element somewhat discordant with what came before, but then as the song evolves, or as we go the next track, we’re given a further frame of reference. After eight tracks of that kind of journey, it can be a bit overwhelming, but circling back around to Heretic of Arrogance, you start to hear how the connective tissue is present in that track as well, you were just distracted by how hard it rocks.

Mogwai instrumental atmospherics; straight up 70s prog jams with a bit of Minus the Bear pop – sans the sappy lyrics – and that backbone of heavy duty post-rock. It’s never not grabbing. And throttling. And monstrous.