Review Summary: Essential.
World’s End Girlfriend is just one dude, named Katsuhiko Maeda, who never does interviews, whose website is cryptic and tough as hell to navigate, whose profile was “omitted by the artist’s intention” on the English version of his label’s (Noble) site, etc. Obviously, the whole project has a sense of mystery and pretention, and is obviously an attempt to disentangle from the increasingly cluttered and tedious post-rock scene. The whole obscurity thing doesn’t quite succeed--it seems a little forced--but then there’s the music. Maeda’s albums don’t completely secede from post-rock standards, but Hurtbreak Wonderland
is a hell of a lot more radical and interesting than mostly everything else that’s post-rock-related out there.
Granted, Hurtbreak Wonderland
is a lot to take in, possibly more than some could handle. It’s a ridiculous 79 minutes long, spanning ten tracks ranging from minute-long introductions to thirteen-minute long epics, all without vocals or hooks, and light in terms of dramatic crescendos. However, Hurtbreak
’s anything but boring or light: Maeda’s arrangements are layered and crowded, fitting a variety of instruments--from cellos to guitar, piano to drum machine, harp to saxophones--quite nicely into your average ten-minute pieces. These instruments don’t create a swirl to lose yourself in, instead bouncing off one another, clashing, leaving the listener in anticipation for those brief moments where everything just works seamlessly, when the industrial-ish sounds of “Dance for Borderline Miscanthus” ceases into the haunting, discreet beauty of “River Was Filled With Stories”.
Moments like those crowd Hurtbreak Wonderland
, but Maeda never lets this become anything near predictable. Hurtbreak
bounces back and forth from track to track, from the jarring “Birthday Resistance” to the enveloping “100 Years of Choke”, each of which time to blossom, like every song here. When they finally do come in bloom, these songs become truly astonishing. Case in point is “100 Years of Choke”, which is the longest song and hews the most to post rock standards, starting off despairingly with some dark synths and a nostalgic guitar line, and taking twelve minutes to reach a massive peak of raucous drum-machine rhythms, ear-rattling glitches, squawking saxophone solos, and pounding guitar riffs, encountering a whole slew of instruments and rhythms along the way. “Grass Ark” and “Bless Yourself Bleed” travel similar journeys, each never sitting down for long, always pushing the listener down one transcendent road after another before eventually becoming so multifaceted that repeat listens become necessary.
This technique is what makes Hurtbreak
such a anomaly, a mixture of modern classical, post-rock, and breakbeat, forming something that’s unfamiliar, but not completely: anyone familiar with the above genres will find something to love. “The Octuple Personality and Eleven Crows” fits all of the above into one long-named package, and is the best of the album at doing so: suavely maneuvering ambience that never overstays its welcome to a meandering violin section to the final coda, which will completely assure you that the song, and Hurtbreak Wonderland
, is completely worth the effort; this all while glitches, pops, and occasional bursts of noise gleefully disrupt the beauty. It’s the kind of track that becomes a daily listen, the kind of track you pray to show up on shuffle when you sit back and let your iPod run.
ends with the sweeping “River Was Filled With Stories”, which concludes such an exhausting work calmly, soothingly, perfectly. It’s a much more restrained track than anything else here, and shows how much ground some strings and a warm guitar line can cover. And thus closes what could be a perfect album, but it’s a bit too complicated to tell: Hurtbreak Wonderland
’s more or less the exact definition of “overdoing it”. Save a few select tracks, almost every square inch of Hurtbreak
is overstuffed, almost to the point of being overwhelming. Despite this, Hurtbreak
is still an awe-inspiring experience unlike any other, perfect to lose yourself in. All other post-rock bands, take notes, because this little Japanese dude’s been making better music than you for years.