Michio Kurihara "Sunset Notes"
I’ve never officially awarded anything a “Ten” before, and for the first time, I’m tempted to do just that. Guitar-samurai Michio Kurihara’s first name-branded effort, “Sunset Notes,” probably deserves the first down, but I’m holding back purely on the premise of Murphy’s Law. Should I award this truly stunning record top honors, the next “Sgt. Peppers” will come out next week, change the world, and I’ll be forced to convince my editor we need an 11-star scale. So Mr. Kurihara, if you’re out there, and if someone’s translating, know these nine stars fall short of communicating the inspirational effect your album has had on at least one soul. Listening to “Sunset Notes,” I’m moved to sing, dance, become teary-eyed, call my mother, and make amends with sworn enemies. It’s honest, it’s majestic, it’s inspiring, and it rocks with unbridled conviction. It’s probably a perfect work of art. Unfortunately, it’s not likely to change the world, but if it did—if the world truly followed suit—we’d have achieved a state of keen, utopian bliss.
Lending his instrumental sorcery to such notables as Ghost, The Stars, White Heaven, and Marble Sheep, Kurihara has built a reputation as Japan’s prime minister of brain blistering guitar accompaniment. Now, at long last, he casts his own name onto the marquee, conjuring a mature and masterful statement with which to announce his role as a sonic director. It’s an album that accurately summarizes a signature sound, without ever straying near triteness. Present are the blinding lights he’s known to borrow from the cosmos, but equally registering is the humility of a servant to songcraft. Nothing here sounds forced, or as if its composer might have a point to prove (not even in the context of “I’m more than just a guitar player”). What’s here is the passion and dedication of a team member—this time, he just happens to be quarterback.
Part psychedelic journey, part compositional showcase, “Sunset Notes” pivots upon a handful of stylistic touchstones that range from abstract aural painting, anthemic hippie hymns, gently crafted jazz waltzes, and dizzying, damaged surf rock. Compositionally, much of the work herein might be likened to Spanish guitarist Ibon Errazkin’s invigorating themes of repetition, but shaded with Kurihara’s own profound grasp of color. One also can’t help but to note two tracks featuring the lovely vocal stylings of Ms. Aso Ais (also featured on Pedal records), during which “Sunset Notes” frolics within wistful psych-pop not unlike the delicately unfolding blossoms of Nagisa Ni Te.
The appropriately tagged opener, “Time to Go,” literally leaps from the gate, galloping through a series of slithering triplets seasoned with sprinkles of shimmering ambience. Seemingly a simple, good-time rocker, you’ll notice, leaning in closer, how the piece actually sounds like a battle cry or a sound of alarm. Following is the album’s most idiosyncratic piece, and winner of the ”Sunset Notes” What the Fuck Award. “Do Deep Sea Fish Dream of Electric Moles was accurately described by a friend as some kind of acid-fried, patriotic anthem--no, really! It actually sounds like a national anthem of some sort, but dripping with Kurihara’s masterful aural prose, rich, textural, and vivid. Two songs in, be assured, you’ve already gotten your money’s worth.
“Pendulum on a G-String-The Last Cicada,” however, towers the highest of all. Ringing a stylistic bell, Kurihara’s endlessly resonating, lovingly played notes hover over a repetitive one-chord stomp like bumblebees in a clover patch. Cleverly conceived quiet interludes within the track allow you to surface for air, but you really just don’t want to. Instead, the effect is like waking up from a dream to which you desperately want to return. It’s that good.
The album’s closer shows Kurihara doing the honorable thing and giving his vision a bona fide ending. Not only does it serve as a nice recap of the entire affair, but also individually testifies to Michio’s remarkable ability to construct a complete statement, rather than half-baking a cool guitar lick passed off as a song. Comprised of his levitating guitar harmonies, auditory fireflies, intricate chiming, and massive waves of ecstasy, “A Boat of Courage” is wrought with the intensity a little man with one seriously huge heart.
In the captivating interview conducted by the Ptolemaic Terrascope, Kurihara reveals his status as a working class musician, still laboring in a factory after nearly two decades of rocking. Some would call this a shame, evidence of the deterioration of the artist-consumer affiliation. Author J. D. Salinger famously noted that, "the mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.” I find Kurihara’s servitude to music to be nothing less than inspiring, confirmation that real artists still thrive, respectfully dedicating lifetimes to a pursuits greater than self. If “Sunset Notes” doesn’t inspire, check your pulse. If you have one, listen again; you’ll hear a man who knows exactly who he is and who he wants to be. 9/10 -- Travis Johnson