Kawabata Makoto – Astro Love & Infinite Kisses

3 out of 5

Label: VHF

Produced by: Kawabata Makoto (?)

Three long-form drone works from Makoto, effecting dissonance in layering – instruments existing in their own universes – and sticking perhaps too fastidiously to that principle for a lack of a sense of evolution in its tracks.

That doesn’t sound too glowing, but it’s an approach that mostly works on Astro Love’s three tracks. But it also tops out at about the 20-minute mark, and lead-in LP Dos Nurages is one whole song across two sides – i.e. 40 minutes of one instance of this. It’s also a fairly notable roadblock for immersion because it’s the least complex of the three songs, essentially featuring just a plucked guitar and some type of organ / shimmery haze of noise. Now, that guitar is quite layered itself, with at least two playing at most points, going over the same series of notes but slightly off from one another, and then another counter-plucked rhythm popping up now and again; and the haze is a heavy wall of the effect, however many elements were needed to produce its reverb, as it fades in and out and shifts up and down throughout the song. Occasionally one half of these two takes a “lead,” but again, they’re not playing off of one another at all – it’s two separate rooms in which you can overhear the other. The ominous undertone to it can be nervy, making the song gripping at first…. but 20 minutes keeps being about the point where I check out, no matter how set my expectations are for the song, or how I’m listening to it – speakers, headphones. I do think the latter helps, but the track almost seems purposefully recorded rather flat to further emphasize the distance between guitar and organ.

The next two songs are somewhat similar in structure, but benefit either from having more instruments in the mix (or perhaps more disruptive sounds), or by being more immediate… and by staying below the 20-minute mark. It’s easier to sustain interest the whole while, and the comparatively deeper production styles allows for better immersion.

The title track feels like the standout, bringing back the guitar plucking style of the opener and some more sound walls, but these are now quite forefronted, and propped up against a more rhythmic, strumming guitar, and other building elements. The “build” is kind of misleading, since it essentially hits a point and then just continues from there, but the richness of the sound gives us more bits and pieces to follow on the journey. It takes the mystery of Dos Nurages and adds an oddly triumphant sensibility to it; it’s an incredibly stirring track.

Closer Woman From Dream Island has tamboura, and some manipulated effects, is perhaps even more minimal than Dos Nurages, but the instruments and how they’re employed feels more direct, and accessible. While Dos Nurages gains interest by being completely ambivalent to the listener, Woman From Dream Island isn’t as isolated – you can imagine Makoto sitting before you, in a trance, playing this out. It also blossoms: the tamboura is eventually overtaken by a very cleanly played guitar, the most “active” plucking we’ve yet heard, with the track concluding by just centering on this crisp sound; a very pleasant, dreamy ending.

Note: for the vinyl version of Astro Love, Dos Nurages uses a point in the track when the organ (or whatever) overtakes the guitar as its transition point. It works very well – it’s not an abrupt cut (there might a slight fade applied) – though the digital version, which is all one track, works equally well, and I was hard-pressed to identify the same point in the single-song version where it’s split on the LP. I suppose one could argue that the physical process of flipping the LP sides helps to mix up the flow a bit, but I think the overall gist of the review still stands.