Arguably, many movements in pop music have tried to bring the spiritual to the streets. Free jazz, reggae, some variants of krautrock and noise. None were more imaginative than Zeuhl, a French form of transcendent music created by and focused around the legendary band Magma. Magma’s founder, Chritisian Vander, even invented a language for the pilgrimage to the celestial, Konaian.
Koenjihyakkei have called themselves the Japanese Magma, and although it’s not totally accurate, it does make sense. Like Magma, they blend the symphonic and progressive with rock into a stunning stew. Hundred Sights of Koenji, their 1994 debut reissued here by Skin Graft, is a lush, heady brew bursting with ideas and risks and, yes, spiritual uplift. Founding member and drummer Tetsuya Yoshida (formerly of Ruins) re-recorded the drums for the reissue and remixed the entire set.
Yoshida’s hypnotic time keeping and a high-in-the-mix bass make the first two tracks, “Loos” and “Doi Doi,” most similar to Magma’s songs, though the latter features a slightly unhinged guitar solo at the end that implies that zeuhl is a jumping-off point. Occasionally the keyboard or guitar drive sections of tunes, but the rhythm section carries the weight. “Molavena” and “Yagonnah” blend in Japanese folk ryhthms and operatic vocals that combine dramatic female leads and understated male support. “Ozone Fall” and “Avedumma” incorporate prog rock and even glam touches. It becomes clear that any genre can be a vehicle for the transcendcent, if employed for that aim.
Hundred Sights of Koenji, despite its ambition and its manic genre-bending, is a consistently great and inspiring record. Koenjihyakkei have released four records total, but this remains their highest achievement.