Review Summary: The fun power electronics album!
Jun Konagaya, alias Grim, while a longstanding veteran in the Japanese power electronics scene, has only in recent years returned to the music that first made him notorious among the motley gaggle of sadomasochists who style themselves noise aficionados. Folk Music, an album whose title was only partly deceptive, marked itself among power electronics albums through primitive, industrial rhythms, ear-splitting textures, guttural, animalistic vocals and sudden turns to moody, hymnal keyboard music and the occasional folk sample. And, for the most part, after a twenty four year hiatus, Grim resumed with that formula only mildly altered, relentlessly churning out slabs of auditory violence year after year or so up to the present day. Cheerleader represents the latest development in Konagaya’s later career, and while all the elements of Folklore are still in some sense present, Cheerleader’s tack has taken a significantly different direction to that of its oppressively morbid forebear.
Underneath all the grind and churn of Cheerleader there is an undercurrent of exuberance, a mania that I liken to that of a hyperactive child in a new play space, picking up a toy and running wild with it for a few minutes before abruptly discarding it and moving on to the next one. Konagaya allows for little development throughout each individual track, the bulk of the song is often represented by a single rhythmic noise loop running itself out while Konagaya snarls indecipherable babble through a wall of distortion. Once his little blaring groove and manic howl have continued to his satisfaction, the track just sort of ends, often abruptly as Konagaya jumps to the next one. It’s a setup that’s formulaic and deceptively simple, though hardly rote, given the absolute extremity of sonic experience being offered and, to my surprise on listening, it works, on an immediate, primal level. Like Folk Music, this total primitivity of structure reduces each noise loop to a rhythmic groove, but here, the heightened rhythmic focus makes the whole thing digestible despite the blasts of atonality that are its individual elements. Many a time I found myself bobbing my head through a track; the siren howl and frantic beat of Mad Beach has even had me up and dancing on more than one occasion.
Where power electronics artists often seem to pride themselves on making their music a sadistic endurance test, Grim has refined his sense of texture and mood into something that almost resembles polish, if such a word could ever be applied to a style so devoted to flaunting all conventional ideas about what is desirable in texture or timbre. Folk Music was, albeit perhaps through technical limitation rather than artistic intent, fundamentally raw, murky, a drowning in industrial noise touched with longing for simple beauty. Cheerleader is sharp, honed and glittering in its attack; even its most fuzzed out blare comes through the speakers with pristine clarity. There were times, such as on NIXON when I got the amusing sense that Konagaya was taking his vocal cues from hip-hop, so rhythmically in tune were they to his "beats". This could perversely be described as Konagaya’s “pop” album, opposed to his earlier “folk”, if only in the loosest, most deranged understanding of the word. Perhaps through the wisdom of age, Grim’s violent pillaging of our sensory experience has become, in all its sadism and perversity, somehow friendlier, less overtly misanthropic. Rather than being a malevolent confrontation, Cheerleader feels more like a respite in a world that is primally enjoyable while being immune to any taint of commercial interest. Henry’s Song would seem to bear this out. Without giving too much away, as a closer it is a moment of beauty and melancholy that is startling in its emotional punch, while still remaining true to the atmosphere and ethos of Grim. This is still a power electronics album, and that genre’s fundamental devotion to all-out sensory assault continues unabated. As such, Cheerleader will make few year-end lists. But those willing to subject themselves to it may find themselves surprised at just how fun this gleeful little assault can be.