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PoiL Ueda — PoiL Ueda
(Dur et Doux DD-054, 2022, DL)

by Jon Davis, Published 2023-03-01

PoiL Ueda Cover art

It is often said that there’s nothing new under the sun. I would propose that the existence of PoiL Ueda refutes that rule. While the factors that go into this music have been around for some time — and in the case of satsuma-biwa, since 17th Century Japan — they have never to my knowledge been combined in anything like this way. The other side of the music is PoiL, French masters of complex avant-rock, with all that goes into that (20th Century European Classical, 70s progressive rock, and so on). Over the last 50+ years, musicians have come up with many different ways to combine traditional music with rock, involving many different traditions along the way: Fairport Convention and others mixed British folk music with rock; ska and reggae have blended in Caribbean rhythms; many groups have tackled sounds from India and the Arab world; and of course there are also many artists who have fused rock with pre-20th Century European Classical music. Junko Ueda is a well-known exponent of the satsuma-biwa tradition of Japan, which dates back to the samurai of the 17th Century and involves the biwa stringed lute and dramatic storytelling vocals. This music is inherently dramatic as it relates tales of historic deeds, and (to a Western ear) sounds inherently avant-garde, with unusual structures and microtonal singing. Given this starting point, a successful fusion could probably be made by simply adding electric guitar, bass, keyboards, and drums to the traditional pieces. That is part of what’s going on here, but PoiL’s contributions are more fully integrated into the arrangements than that, resulting in a thoroughly fascinating New Thing. You’ll hear some moments of stark acoustic clarity featuring biwa and voice, and you’ll also hear some intense, crashing, off-kilter rock rhythms that sound like a nightmare version of Magma, though with less repetition. There are many variations along the way, including dreamy hypnotic grooves, drones that gradually build in scope, and chaotic bursts of percussive energy. PoiL Ueda is something that must be heard to have a chance of understanding, and my efforts at description seem feeble compared to the glorious burst of creativity found in these 31 minutes.

Filed under: New releases, 2022 releases

Related artist(s): PoiL, Guilhem Meier / LFant, Junko Ueda

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