Mmm… Japanesy [Anathallo]
What if a band decided to incorporate Japanese folklore into their album’s lyrics and went so far as to actually sing at times in ancient Japanese? What if that same band did it with 7 diverse members playing flowing brass, cornucopia percussion, clean electric-guitar textures, plinking bells, and their own vocal chords?
Well, I guess you’d try to to find the greek word for “renew” and call them Anathallo.
I know there is nothing new under the sun, but it’s hard to listen to Floating World and hear something integral to the music that is in its essence familiar within a modern musical context. Even though most of the album is in English, you can’t help but find yourself connecting to some mystical Japanese aesthetic as you listen to the 14 track album that employs child-like choruses, mature-guitar lines, brain-boggling percussive punches, and narrative verses that beg you to do research.
The striking thing about Anathallo’s sound is how it is almost more visual than audible. The words along with the sporadic musical themes and variations are akin to a a Marry Poppins ride in a painting of fall leaves on a Japanese countryside. Not only that, but the stories told within hold substance in and of themselves while adhering to the broader theme of the album. It’s a wonderful cohesion that smells of hope, redemption, fear, and innocence.
Four tracks on the album are based on the Japanese folk tale Hanasakajijii, the tale of a young couple that adopts a magical dog that digs up treasure in their yard. Their jealous neighbor eventually steals the dog and the treasure only to find that the dogs up only trash as if to mirror the heart of the owner. The enraged neighbor kills the dog and burns it and it’s ashes are eventually found by the young couple and serve to renew their land and revive their dead tree.
The style of the the narrative poem is quite unique:
I, of wicked deeds, snarling mouth,
Wandered away. Wandered by.
I passed your house, had seen a mountain.
The riches. A metal taste in my mouth for
The riches. Asked a question, took the dog
To the yard, and where he snarled
I dug, pulling out the bites of snakes!
And slugs and bugs and slugs and bugs
And slugs and blah!
I dug, pulling out the broken rake.
Tar, shingles, knives with duller blades.
I took the wood,
Split it into two,
Made a bed for him.
Laid it in a line.
I dug, I rubbed,
A spark! A flame!
A sun born, waiting for the body.
Turn the embers, glowing.
And I could feel the eyes that hang
Above the fence,
Between the cracks.
The knowledge of the death, the death,
Uncovered where I buried it.
But he just kept pulling it out…
So I killed him.
Matt Joynt’s ability to express the narrative in first-person and really get across the emotion and moral of the folk-tale is astounding. He uses sharp jutted phrases that move the action forward and give a sense of the madness and greed of the jealous neighbor that we are all able to identify with. This poem, like so many on this album, connects today’s world with the ancient Japanese world with recognition of weakness in mankind and a need for redemption.
Anathallo’s newest Album Canopy Glow doesn’t have the same visual and folk-lore aspects as it’s predecessor, but it retains Anathallo’s ethereal sound while venturing into new subjects. It is definitely worth your time, even if it doesn’t shatter your musical world like only Floating World can.