Atsuko Chiba / A masterpiece of past, present, and future sounds

I cannot think of a more exciting way to kick off writing in 2023 than with a review of the new album by the deliciously complex Canadian band Atsuko Chiba. I was fortunate to have seen them last year, opening for King Buffalo. I, like everyone else in attendance, was gobsmacked by the vivid and changing soundscapes in their live show.

Atsuko Chiba – Water, It Feels Like It’s Growing (Mothland)

Release Date: 20 January 2023

Words: Sunil Singh

I spoke to David Palumbo, one of the five members of the band, at length before and after the Velvet Underground show. He told me that their new album, Water, It Feels Like It’s Growing, would be coming out in January. Ever since that time, I have thought about that release. Finally, just a few days ago, I got access to the new album.

Hypnotic, transcending, meditative, and emotionally heavy are the first words that come to mind. Let’s go through each song with those short but powerful reflections.

Sunbath

Not sure why, but the first thing I thought of here was Phototropic by Kyuss, as that song also communicates the power of light and being influenced by it. While the songs, musically, are different, the emotional takeaway through the build-up structure is almost identical. Sunbath begins slowly, yet confidently, with familiar nods to Jane’s Addiction. An almost trance-like state is achieved.

The song continues to swell as some Middle Eastern instrumentation begins to, oh so subtly, fill in. And then, almost seamlessly, the song shifts into an almost Hawkwind mode, drifting with the totality of the song so far, before crashing back down to earth in some Californian desert at dusk. A breezy lightness escorts the song out. One song in, and I already have way too many things to unpack from Atsuko Chiba.

So Much For

A continuation of the previous song would have been a disappointment. Atsuko Chiba is not in the business of disappointing listeners. This song has a light funk start that gives way to a blender mix of Perry Farell musings and Zach Dela Rocha rantings.

It then hustles towards a finish of what feels like some soundtrack to a futuristic British spy thriller with an ending of vocals that are markedly different from how the song began. If this song was longer, I could easily file this under Jane’s Addiction’s masterpiece, “Three Days”. Instead, it will be filed under where it should be: Atsuko Chiba.

Shook (I’m Often)

I love the mood of this song. It grabs you right away. But describing this mood right away isn’t easy. And, with this band, any delay in fully processing what you are listening to is to be expected. Shook sits somewhere between Manchester shoegazer of the early ’90s, with a slight Ride feeling, and Yes–but Yes from the future.

I don’t know if that makes sense to anyone but me, but that is the complexity of reactions that I manifested. I can only imagine all the different terrains other listeners might conjure up.

Seeds

If the 1972 sci-fi classic Silent Running was given a reboot, then this song would replace Joan Baez’s Rejoice In The Sun. Seeds feel like a rebirth of something, both small and big. It’s the first song where I found myself reaching for the label post-rock. There are some timeless nods to Pink Floyd from the Wish You Were Here album, occasionally being tangential to Breathe from Dark Side of Moon with the lyrics, “Long you live and high you fly…”

The vocals are gorgeous, playing off the machine-like dominance that cycles in and out of the song. In the end, it still sounds undeniably human.

Link

Maybe it’s the Pink Floyd feel of the previous song, but Link feels like it could fit on some post-modern treatment of Animals. There is an urgency to the song. Because Atsuko Chiba dabbles in post-rock, the semi-chaotic nature of this song could easily be the soundtrack to a final boss battle in one of those Japanese RPG games.

But, because the song just abruptly ends, we are left wondering if we won. Not sure that was the intention here, but I love the ‘cliffhanging’ aspect that was instilled here.

Water, It Feels Like It’s Growing

The title song and at the end of the album. Big expectations must be considered when these album conditions happen. It definitely starts off as a closer, as the energy feels reflective of everything that has been played so far, connected to various parts of the album.

There is even a bluesy section, stretched out with some bread-and-butter prog-rock leanings. The song is centred by light instrumentals and vocals that are a combination of spoken word and modern crooning. After which, the song begins to lift and ascend into the clouds, glowing brighter and brighter until it disappears from our eyes. The album ends abruptly, and what remains is only us.

For me the ending is conclusive in its sudden change from sound to silence. There is a lingering feeling of both connectedness and disconnectedness, all the while hopeful we remain humanly connected through the power of music.

What a thoroughly exhilarating journey Atsuko Chiba has created with this masterpiece of past, present, and future sounds.

Sleeve Notes

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