Yamantaka // Sonic Titan – ‘UZU’

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The music of Yamantaka // Sonic Titan can never be accused of being ambient. With the release of UZU, their second full length album, the multimedia art-punk giants have built upon the vastness of their dramatic 2011 self-titled debut. Still driven by operatic expressionism and psych-rock fuzz, the Montreal and Toronto-based performance art group maintain and refine the elements that have so boldly defined them—the relentless thunderscape of Alaska B's drumming and the sweeping majesty of Ruby Kato Attwood's vocals.


“Hall of Mirrors” studio performance on Q.

 
UZU is a complex and sweeping tour de force that expands upon the band's journey into pan-Asian culture and prog-rock theatricality by adding elements of rock opera excessiveness, noise theatre, and First Nations chanting into the mix. The result is a cross-cultural,  interwoven musical diaspora that somehow works.
 
The theatricality of UZU is evident from the first measured plonks on the piano-driven opener “Atalanta”, above which Attwood's operatic vocals float and soar. Feeling very much like a national anthem delivered hand-over-heart in a high school gymnasium, “Atalanta” morphs seamlessly into “Whalesong”, bursting forth into a prog-rock hymn flavoured with Japanese undertones. It's a glorious start to an ambitious and varied album.
 
In true rock opera fashion, many of the tracks have no distinct ending, instead mutating into the next on a swell of fuzz or a crest of distortion. The common narrative among songs extends beyond the boundaries of UZU as well. The track “Seasickness Pt 2” made its debut as the theme song of the rock cantata 33, which the band staged at Pop Montreal in 2012.

“Titan and Dione: Saturn Returns”. A Film by Ruby Kato Attwood and Derrick Belcham.

Mythology and cultural references run deeply throughout UZU, with outstanding tracks including the hauntingly lovely “Saturn's Return”. This—UZU's final track—tells of the destruction of one woman's home planet and her consequent fate to orbit the moons of Saturn. The beautifully fatalistic song is immediately preceded by perhaps the most affirmative on the album, the gloriously triumphant “One”. Characterized by a jubilant First Nations chorus, “One” is a reminder that not all mythology is dour and that sometimes cultural appropriation can be loving and respectful.
 


Yamantaka // Sonic titan – “One”

 
UZU is streaming on Yamantaka // Sonic Titan's website and is available for purchase in the usual locations where fine music is sold. Check out their mind-boggling live show during their US and European tour or, better yet, catch them at this year's Calgary Folk Music Festival July 24-27.
 
Barbara Bruederlin

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