A Sonic Gauntlet
East and West have duked it out, reconciled, and seem to be getting along pretty well. The mediators? Yamantaka // Sonic Titan. Uzu, the Montreal duo’s second album, is a high-powered collision of musical and cultural backgrounds. Expansive, dreamy and expertly done, Uzu is worth a listen, and a look (seriously, just go gaze at the cover art for awhile). It falls flat at points, but it also snarls, croons and flat out entrances – YT//ST have created a truly unusual monster.
YT//ST have never shied away from mushing seemingly incongruous pieces together. Scale doesn’t seem to bother them either; Uzu is replete with names of mythological figures from Greek and Japanese traditions. And, at its best, the album follows through on those lofty promises. YT//ST shine when they throw caution to the four winds. A common pitfall for such ambitious bands is a tendency to throw too much into a song. With such a wide range of material to work with, it’s easy to wind up with sonic clutter. YT//ST avoids all that, thank god, and it’s their most ambitious, risky tracks that you’ll find yourself lining up for repeat.
Two album constants help keep everything in check. The first thing most folks will notice after a couple of songs into Uzu is the authoritative percussion work. Despite all the background noise-– and there is plenty of it-– potent drum lines keep songs and listeners on the right track. The Yin to Uzu’s rhythmic Yang come in the form of J-pop inspired vocals. Ruby Kato Attwood’s voice comes in crystal clear and generally free of any heavy distortion. There’s plenty of sonic variety on the album, but at its heart you’ll find the vocal and percussion tracks twining right ‘round one another. And they’re gorgeous together.
It takes a song before we see them together, though. Album opener “Atalanta” is a strange first taste of Uzu. The song sounds like a church choir soloist taking her turn, accompanied only by a piano. It’s haunting, it’s surprising and “Whalesong,” the second track, blows past it like a bullet through toilet paper. A furious, menacing drumbeat kicks the song off, and it doesn’t look back. It’s YT//ST at their best-– “Whalesong” takes the soaring vocals and virtuoso musicianship of power metal and runs them through their own peculiar filter, giving us something that rises, falls, and mesmerizes throughout.
YT//ST are experts at running the musical gamut that their few low points come when they stick with a good thing for a little too long. “Lamia,” the follow-up to “Whalesong,” is a superb song in its own right, but comes across as little more than an outro for the bigger, braver preceding track. The rhythmic shifts in “Hall of Mirrors” might not be appreciated by listeners searching for a running musical groove, but they keep the album unpredictable and, honestly, a lot more fun.
A final gem shows up right before the end of the album. “One,” the penultimate track, is a glorious jumble of everything YT//ST have done before it. Even at their most chaotic, the band still creates incredible music. Noh theatre tinges from the previous song “Bring Me the Hand of Bloody Benzaiten,” providing the backdrop for wailed vocals and an ever-building finale that delivers on everything the band has spent the rest of the album hinting at.