n their website, Helsinki-based Shogun Kunitoki exuberantly proclaims that that the band “demonstrates the way forward by looking backward.” It’s certainly a dashing statement to make, but it’s also a guarded one, as the band is careful not to make unwarranted claims. On Tasankokaiku, the band’s second release for Finland’s Fonal Records, the group flirts with sounds lifted from classic minimalism and krautrock, movements which can sometimes appear impenetrable and have produced a number of overly serious pretenders. But rather than attempting to take an academic’s approach to, for example, early Philip Glass or Can, Shogun Kunitoki mines the aesthetic elements of these inspirations and molds them into a majestic, towering experience.
It’s refreshing to hear something that recognizes the importance of minimalism, but can adequately temper the serious and intellectual nature of the underlying structure. That’s what Tasankokaiku does perfectly: it pays tribute to the movement’s metronomic organ-grinding and harmonic chordances without really having much to do with real minimalism. An obvious reference point is Glass’s “Music in Similar Motion”; another is Terry Riley. But Shogun Kunitoki takes those sounds and playfully re-appropriates them.
The organ takes center stage here—or, at least, an analog synthesizer that sounds like an organ. When the opening “Montezuma” places a repeating synthesizer bit solo for the first eight measures, it seems that a Glass-esque organ romp is in the works. Then the full band comes in at about a minute and a quarter, with a live, Krautrock-inspired rhythm section. The synth is crafty, though, and immediately charges back to the forefront with a relentless attack of triplets. It’s a theme that runs throughout Tasankokaiku. The band has made sure to give the organ sounds their own voice and it’s evident in a number of spots, like the decay in the opening notes of “Tropiikin Kuuma Huuma” and the live playing on the energetic “Daniel.”
The songs’ regular and ascending natures ultimately sound more like pop structures, building to conclusions and then dissipating quickly at the end of each track into the heavy reverb. The group claims that it “demonstrates the way forward by looking backward,” but it would be just as accurate to say that they’re demonstrating the past as it could have been.
If there’s an overarching reason that Tasankokaiku is one of the best Fonal Records releases this year, it’s because the band has reconciled their austere influences with a clear, uncluttered sense of purpose. Despite working within the strictures of a genre that directly negates instant gratification, Shogun Kunitoki’s exuberant and lyrical arrangements showcase a clear way out. A way forward, so to speak.