Nagisa Ni Te
urrah for music sung in foreign tongues. Without the meaning of the lyrics to worry about, a listener can focus on the musical quality inherent in language. And not merely the melody carried by the voice, but the lulling hiss of its fricatives, the liquid clarity of its vowels, and the natural rhythm of its phonology. Detached from semantics, language becomes units of pure sound that convey emotion like any musical instrument—by operating in frequencies rather than images.
Japanese sounds particularly great sung. Its precise consonant-vowel-consonant-vowel structure divides the words into syllables as regular as bars in music. So Nagisa Ni Te, the Japanese psych-rock group comprised principally of Masako Takeda and Shinji Shibayama, started with a few extra points on my scorecard, simply because the of the smooth, confident Japanese gracing the album’s four tracks and forty minutes.
Shibayama possesses a clear-if-unspectacular tenor with just the right amount of quaver to reveal vulnerability without getting all sappy, and Takeda shares the higher registers with J-pop divas and over-cute indie novelty acts here in the States, but she isn’t content to drip sugar syrup over the mic. Rather she takes on a full-fledged rock n’ roll sneer on “Anxiety” that might cause anime fans to abandon their dreams of passive Asian schoolgirls. She calms down on “Me, On the Beach” but she still brings that same self-assurance to each note. With these two vocalists at the heart of Dream Sounds, Nagisa Ni Te would have to seriously screw up the musical end of things to ruin this release.
Luckily, they don’t. Takeda and Co. have been at the psych rock game for many years now, and it shows. They know exactly when to unleash the bombastic, fuzzy electric guitar to propel a sunny-day strummer to psych rock heaven. They know just the right melodies to tease out images of shaggy-haired surfer kids with effects pedals. They know how to use the mellotron so that space meets rock. And they love Neil Young.
Unfortunately, the instrumentation is a little too consistent and too connected to its forbearers for the album to truly stand out. But this doesn’t condemn Nagisa Ni Te; in fact, I get the impression that they’re perfectly happy to channel the spirit of a hundred sun-drenched Crazy Horse concerts.
If so, they should be happy. They capture the subdued, spiritual tone of Young quite well. Opener “True World” pairs Takeda’s shy drumming with a couple mellow electric guitars and a shimmering organ to conjure the sandy backdrop for Shibayama’s pleading croon. The song screams out for an under-the-stars fireside reprise. The melody lopes along so languidly that I can already see girls’ heads slipping sleepily onto their fellas’ shoulders, the thin blanket draped over their bodies glowing orange in the flickering light.
But on “Anxiety” insistent multi-tracked drumming and the nimble bass of Eiji Tanaka shakes everyone awake again, just in time for them to be reminded by some serious reverb that Nagisa Ni Te is still a psych outfit. Here Nagisa Ni Te rocks out with unexpected intensity, but the song ends quickly, leaving the listener hoping for the band to flex their rock muscles a bit more.
But they resist. “Me, On the Beach” returns to the lazy mood of “True World.” Here Takeda sings rather than Shibayama, and a tambourine replaces the organ of the opener, but unfortunately little else separates the two tracks, until a ferocious final minute of fuzzy guitar attack erases the bad taste of a mostly forgettable six minutes.
The closer “True Sun” puts our campers back to sleep for good, for better or worse. Most any twenty-minute rock epic stretches the limits of an attention span, so Nagisa Ni Te can be credited for holding mine for at least fifteen of those. On “True Sun” the band unloads every instrument from the van. Teardrop guitars echo over a hissing bed of mellotron and CS-30 synth while a distant cymbal roll and yet ANOTHER electric guitar amp up towards an extended crescendo that never quite arrives. The remaining fifteen minutes of the song repeats that basic structure with the notable addition of the Singing Shibayama. The songs is compelling enough to listen through, but most eyes will be drooping a bit by the time it’s done. And again I suspect that’s what the band wants.
So in the end, Dream Sounds is hard to criticize, even though I have the nagging urge to do so. Nagisa Ni Te are sincere and talented, but they don’t challenge themselves much on this release. And while I can’t fault them for that, I shouldn’t praise them too much either.
Reviewed by: Bryan Berge
Reviewed on: 2005-03-30