Kobayashi - Minus

TC 07/08/2009

Rating: 4.5/5

It was just recently on GIITTV that I reviewed Matt Searles' solo album “Disconcertion” and made the comment that I hadn't heard of his band. Well, on the back of that review, my friendly postman (and even friendlier Mr. Searles) promptly popped a pre-release copy of the band's album through my letterbox!

As a reviewer, you are often flooded with material to cast an opinion on, generally by artists you've never heard of before, with all too many bordering on the mundane. So when you do get to hear something of real merit, it can be difficult not to over eulogize, therefore I have tried to exercise a degree of caution here, because frankly I found this album to be inspiring.

Kobayashi are “four young men from the grimy London suburb of Croydon” (their words, not mine) who have been gigging together for three years and this is their debut album, which has taken a year to spawn and they are self-releasing very soon via iTunes. They crystallize well as a unit and it is evident that their engagement has been a happy one. The arrangements are often complex, but the instrumentation remains cohesive, yet individually discernable. Top that with some crisp production and an enticing package this certainly is. They have drawn on a spectrum of influences but none so much as to remove their own identity. If you can imagine Gomez in an incongruous spar with Muse then maybe you're getting close to what is on offer here.

The album opens with Dead Head, something of a departure from the rest of the material, with a funked up bass trip that clearly has a Flea persuasion. Throughout the album, James Rampton's bass playing is omnipresent, either cradling the gentler melodies or forcing through the more aggressive passages. Many of the songs have step-change movements and it's here that the band's instrumental prowess is best illustrated. The hub of much of the material though is Searles' vocals, which possess genuine passion, coupled with an ability to write not only intricate music but also some compelling lyrics.

The Beats Of Your Heart comes on like Tom Waits (a style also evident on Camera Obscurist) and has a bluesy feel to it before being plummeted into a chasm of corkscrewing sounds, punctuated by spasmodic drumbeats. Then there's Bipolarity, one of the stand out tracks, “On wings made of paper I flutter the maelstrom, a delicate shadow removes all the pigment and I'm gone”; Searles' quivering vocals deliver true feeling and then, as before, he is shunted sideways to make way for a landscaping bass-driven finale where the Muse leanings are most prevalent. Edgard Varese, the French composer, coined the expression music is organised sound and that somehow seems a fitting embellishment for Minus.

My Desire is Bowiesque pantomime, “it's a lava pool of mayhem with a view of all the pink gems and now the petrified insomniac with fears inside that he cannot turn back”, once again delivered with real panache and then the closing Camera Obscurist, a reflective and eerie number which evolves into a Stooges stampede before collapsing into a lost and lonesome strumming guitar into the fade, leaving the listener numb.

Without a doubt, this is one of the best albums I've had the pleasure to listen to in 2009. The band defies close classification and that, quite obtusely, may be their downfall. The industry is geared up for fodder and historical reproduction and, without the big wheels behind Kobayashi, they will struggle to gain attention. In a damp squib of a year for music, that would be a disgrace - “you join the long line of those who've let me down, I was wrong to suppose you'd come around”.

Kobayashi Myspace