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Kikagaku Moyo’s Homecoming

The band’s final album perfectly encapsulates their brand of psychedelic transcendence

David Meir Grossman
July 08, 2022

As Semisonic once wisely noted, every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end. That’s just how life works. An ending, even or especially one that you were not involved in, can have wide-ranging effects that you could have never foreseen.

For example, if the musical collective Kikagaku Moyo had not decided that, after 10 years of putting out fascinating music, they were calling it quits after one last album, you might have heard of them. First based out of their native Japan, and then the Netherlands, the band describes its sound as blending “classical Indian music, Krautrock, traditional folk, ’70s rock, and acid-tinged psych.” Throw all those wildly varying influences into a pot together and it’s hard to figure out what’s what, which is precisely the point.

Kikagaku Moyo are not sonic maximalists or endless jammers. They’re chefs, or better yet, musicians, who know when to push forward and when to pull back. Their newest and seemingly last release, Kumoyo Island, opens with a groove that’s impossible to get out of your head. “Monaka” is a reference to a Japanese sandwich treat, and the song’s melody takes influence from minyo folk music, “mona-kana-kana-no, mona-kana-naka-naka,” before spinning into Ryu Kurosawa’s sitar.

The next song, “Dancing Blue,” starts with a rubbery, dancing guitar, and drums keeping a tight beat. These songs are meant for listeners to get lost in, with patterns rising and falling like the tides of the ocean lapping up at an island’s beach. Admittingly, this feat is made somewhat easier if you don’t know the language.

Luckily, Kikagaku Moyo experiment with language as well. “Meu Mar,” a cover of the Brazilian singer Erasmos Carlos, is a song about the deep desire to live somewhere near the sea, with the company of a dog and the splash of coconut water. The song’s original Portuguese lyrics were translated into English, then to Japanese, and are performed as if they are riding on a puffy cloud in a dream.

The band retreated from Amsterdam back to Tokyo and found some personal freedom in the restrictions wrought from COVID lockdowns. Going back to Amsterdam wasn’t an option, and neither was going on tour. They spent all their time in Shitamachi, Tokyo’s old, working-class downtown. From sweets to abstraction, the sounds of coming home resonate on Kumoyo Island. On “Yayoi, Iayoi,” near the album’s end, lyrics came from assembled verses picked out of books in Tokyo’s secondhand stores. The guitar is driving, shredding and noodling into a head-nodding groove.

This is actually the perfect time to discover Kikagaku Moyo’s particular brand of psychedelic transcendence. With a vibrant energy exploring the nature of homecoming, the band is going on tour. Let their ending be your beginning.

David Meir Grossman is a writer living in Brooklyn. His Twitter feed is @davidgross_man.