Review Summary: With the tact and skill of a post-rock vet, but the delightful moxy of a confident debut, this first effort from sgt. is a must-hear.
The trouble I sometimes get when reviewing great music is making it appear far more epic than it actually is. A lot of cutting and editing takes place in a professional review while in one of my ‘amateur’ ones, I’ll just simply edit ‘awesome’ to ‘good’, or ‘outstanding’ to ‘great’ and its ‘good’ to go (I should change ‘good’ to ‘borderline satisfactory at best’). I’ll try not to overemphasise how good sgt.’s ‘Perception of Casualty’ is… but it is pretty outstandingly awesome.
Sgt. are a little post rock band from Japan, consisting of only four members: drums, guitar, bass and violin (the instruments they play, not their street names). Despite their miniature-for-a-post-rock-band line-up, they are damn capable of making some wonderful noise, as such is the case on their 2005 mini album ‘Perception of Casualty’. After the 40 seconds or so of distortion on the introductory track, sgt. takes no time in pulling the punches with ‘銀河の車窓から’.
Quite simply put, this song was a massive breath of fresh air. To put it in slightly more complicated terms, it was as if someone were injecting pure oxygen into my veins while pouring the crispest water from heavens golden lakes down my throat. I’m doing it again, but I can’t edit away any of the quality I’m trying to put across. To do that would be unjust. The track really did blow me away, it begins in solid fashion, a wavering bass and steady drum beat give way to a simple guitar melody as some ambience sounds come in and introduce the star of the show, the spectacular violin. I can’t stress enough how beautifully this violin is played throughout the album, but on this track in particular it is stunning. The track twists and turns in a less than predictable fashion, in relies not on a build-up of volume to help it along, instead it takes the oft-ignored ‘scenic route’, exploring a variety of styles for each instrument, mingling with one another seamlessly, as if investigating each other. Towards the end, the volume does build, as does the intensity. But most importantly, the emotion that’s on display, especially in its climax, is breathtaking. Think of a less refined but more emotive ‘Neil on Impression’ climax. The guitar employs yet another new style and compliments the violin like a chameleon against its surroundings. But despite the increase of intensity from all other instruments, the violin is the instrument that tugs harder at the heartstrings than anything I’ve ever heard in a long time. The soul of the instrument becomes entwined with whatever living thing it can connect with, and all of a sudden, it’s gone and the track peters out. And this isn’t even the best track. Equal first.
‘春風’ is the album’s interlude so to speak, acting almost like a breather after the breathtaking ‘銀河の車窓から’. That’s not to say it is in any way dull. Yes, it lacks the intensity of all the other tracks, but, in a sort of twisted ‘Yndi Halda’ way, the near-perfect blend of ambience, guitar, violin and other quiet winter’s night instruments like the xylophone act together to bring your pulse level down and your lips curled up in preparation for the record’s most intense, but shortest real track, ‘moewe’. Taking it’s cue from ‘春風’ with brilliant timing, ‘moewe’ has all the eccentricity of ‘You.May.Die.In.The.Desert’ and ‘Magyar Posse’, but with less of the quirkiness. The drummer’s unique talents are showcased a little more here, while the violin takes the forefront again, but a little less obviously. The guitar rolls things along with its distortion and the bass line adds that extra bit of dimension that shouldn’t be ignored. The track end’s again, suddenly, just when you think the guitar might yet again switch style. The only fault I can find is that this track may be a little too predictable and a little too short.
OK. So this is the final track, the one that will leave me with my final perceptions. And what are those final perceptions? Faith that this is, and will continue to be, the best Japanese post-rock band since Mono. ‘………’ begins in a quite indescribable way, as it all seems to be improvised. The drums used here in the first 5 minute intro to the song are all improvised, but it’s unbelievable how amazing they are used. The focused scattering of noise, accompanied by a sinister bass-line feels like the telling of a story, they start quiet, get a little faster, a little louder, and begin being accompanied by all sorts of otherworldly noises, the intensity build and before you’ve realized it, you’ve been joined by a huge family of sounds and expressions all creating a static-like wall of sound, before crashing down on the high pitched caw of some ambience. Imagine ‘Gregor Samsa’ and ‘Up-c-Down-c’ locked in a sweaty studio to figure out their differences. The bass pulls the song along again, and in comes the violinist to show off her irresistible talents hand-in-hand with the guitarist who is particularly marvelous in this track. But what I love most about this song is it’s unpredictability, just as you think a crescendo is going to rip through after a dangerously infectious and powerfully emotive violin melody, a jazzy horn emerges with a groovy bass line, and let’s rip. Again, it appears totally improvised, and the violin begins to be drowned out by the rapid sax shredding. This ends up playing out the song, and the album, and before you know it, the whole thing’s done. It’s stunning, and if you’re a self-respecting post-rock fan, you owe it to yourself to hear it.
And what are you left with? Who knows until you hear it, but I was left with a renewed love for music, a sudden realization that there are so many unrecognized, but life-changing bands still out there, and the tightening awareness that we all do take music for granted. And pieces of my dropped jaw scattered all over the ground. The only gripe I had with it, and it is a minor gripe, is its lack of decrescendos at the end of songs, I just felt it took some of the shine away from the brilliance. I apologize if I went overboard again in this review, it has been edited (although quickly) before it’s been put up, and maybe I am being too generous, but that doesn’t change the stone-cold fact that this is an excellent record, a post-rock giant in the making, and a must-hear experience.
myspace.com/sgtofficial (to see their real names)