The pairing of French guitar and synth genius Richard Pinhas and Japanese noise progenitor Masami Akita (aka Merzbow) might seem unlikely on the surface. Pinhas, founder and musical director of the avant/progressive terror ensemble Heldon
, and later a solo artist of considerable reach and ambition, has been messing about with electronics and textured, layered, often melodic synth and guitar noise for nearly 40 years. Merzbow is a ruined machinist, a musician who doesn't play music, but rather attacks sound and even attempts to destroy it with machines and technologies of his own design that he bends, breaks, shatters, and ultimately destroys with a sonic violence that blurs the line between "noise" and "industrial" musics. He's recorded and appeared on literally hundreds of records -- and released his own 50-CD box set of all new material! Keio Line
is the double-CD/triple-LP collaboration between this unlikely pairing. It is clearly led by Pinhas, as his guitar is featured pretty much front and center throughout. But this absolutely isn't
Merzbow-lite either. While the former's method of using the Frippertronics method of layering delayed and looped sounds -- albeit textured and sound designed to the hilt -- creates waves of near melodic ambience, it's all done at maximum volume. Merzbow's destroyed machine sounds, and their violence and aggression, may underscore the guitar lines a bit, but they wreak just as much havoc, albeit a harmonically tuned one. "Tokyo Electric Guerilla," the opening track on disc one (that name-checks and updates Heldon's debut album from 1974), proves that this is not remotely a punishing exercise in endurance, but a listening experience unlike anything either man has recorded before. Waves of guitar lines and controlled feedback come from the ether, from a well of dissonance to become harmonic constructs that Akita simply builds up with waves of airplane roars; collapsing buildings of sonic freak-out held in check by the guitars. This doesn't mean all is melodic, however, just that all is listenable. Check the final track on disc two, "Fuck the Power (And Fuck Global Players)," where power chords, harmonically layered and stacked, push directly into Merzbow's power electronics. Waves of paranoid, bruised organs and pianos are piled precariously atop synthesizers, junglist beats, and skeletal melodic moments, with the waves of whirling air pierced with hypersonics that cut the string sounds into shards, underscoring its meaning. Together they comprise an elegy as well as a victory song. This is the sound of rebellion, of chaos, and trashed beauty all rolled into one as a new genesis, forming a new aesthetic from the ruins. Keio Line
is one of the most engaging electronic records issued in 2008, and one of the most satisfying albums released by either man. One can only hope that Pinhas continues his resurgence to the public scene, and Akita uses collaborations like this (his date with Boris
in 2007 was killer as well), and musical textures and dynamics more in his own music in the future.