By Tyler Hersko
Yamantaka // Sonic Titan describes their sound as “noh wave.” What that actually means is up for debate, but after a cursory listen to the band’s work, the mysterious genre seems like an apt descriptor.
A Canadian six-piece, Yamantaka // Sonic Titan is as much a visual arts juggernaut as they are a musical group. The collective fuses eastern pop with hard rock, electronica and ambient music to create nearly inscrutable, yet entirely memorable, soundscapes. Think the originality of Naked City and Mr. Bungle, but more relaxing than schizophrenic.
Yamantaka // Sonic Titan is enormous. Not necessarily in a commercial sense — though considering their eccentricity, they’re faring quite well — but in terms of scope, few bands compare. The group’s 2011 debut, “YT//ST,” was met with a great deal of surprise and confusion, but received almost universal praise.
Having enjoyed a level of immediate mainstream critical acclaim that most bands could only dream of, Yamantaka // Sonic Titan had their work cut out for them. While the band’s recently released sophomore album, cryptically titled “Uzu,” may not have quite the same impact as its predecessor, it’s still a thoroughly enjoyable and wholly unique listen.
The core, if you can really call it that, of the band’s sound is still very much present. Melodic pop rhythms are fluidly mixed with soothing electronica passages and the occasional hard rocking riff. While there are several extended instrumental periods, the distinctive, almost ethereal female vocals that characterized much of the band’s debut album are indeed present.
“Uzu” differs from its predecessor most obviously in its production values. While the overall sound is much cleaner, the comparably polished post-processing ultimately hampers the album’s attempts to convey a truly transcending soundscape. It hardly sounds overproduced, but it’s a shame to see one of the strongest aspects of the band’s music so needlessly constrained.
That said, it’s apparent that Yamantaka // Sonic Titan doesn’t rely on atmosphere as a crutch; these people know how to play their instruments, and they do a damn good job at it. Interesting and varied instrumentation is abound, and while the cleaner production values have their drawbacks, the vastly enhanced clarity of the vocals is much appreciated. When the riffs and melodies repeat themselves, it feels far from repetitious — indeed, it’s borderline hypnotic.
At its best, “Uzu” is all of these things. Unfortunately, the album’s somewhat disappointing middle songs do not quite hold up to its otherwise high standard. With the notable exception of “Windflower,” “Uzu’s” midsection falls short in one way or another. The wall of sound that defines the latter half of “Lamia” is rather disjointed, while the aggressive tone of “Hall of Mirrors” seems strangely out of place.
These may seem like minor quips, and in reality, they are. “Uzu” contains nary a legitimately weak moment, and at its absolute worst, it’s still an entertaining ride. And there truly are no other bands producing this kind of eclectic music.
With that in mind, it’s a shame that “Uzu” just doesn’t compare to the band’s brilliant debut. Production aside, there’s plenty of spirit here. But the album never matches the band’s earlier works, such as the unbridled beauty of “Queens,” or the raw metallic passion of “A Star Over Pureland.”
If this kind of music sounds interesting, then check out the band’s debut album. If you like what you hear, don’t let this review turn you off. “Uzu” may not be the improved follow-up to the band’s nearly masterful debut, but it’s still an incredibly solid album in its own right, and you could definitely do much worse.
Tyler Hersko can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.