Cat Last (Mandala Cat)

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There is something very special in the meeting between Kan Mikami's songwriting and Keiji Haino's guitar work. Vajra's fifth album builds furthermore upon this partnership, delivering a short but efficient slab of music. Clocking in at under 40 minutes, Cat Last (Mandala Cat) still packs enough charm and mystery to satisfy both fans of and newcomers to modern Japanese psychedelia. Because in the end, that's what it comes down to. Mikami's lyrics adopt the soft surrealism mixed with a critique of social issues that forms the backbone of psychedelic rock. The first three tracks are strong catchy songs with a wicked edge, especially "Japanese Cola Is Sweet!" (with the opening lines "Japanese cola is too sweet / This is not entirely normal" building up to a political stance). In "Monkeys Don't Pray," the rather soft-spoken song is turned inside-out halfway through by Haino building a wall of noise guitar. Things take a different direction following the a cappella "Mandala TOOT (H)." "Sound Deadening" is a free-form jam where strummed guitars and echo-drenched vocals float in mid-air, evoking early Acid Mothers Temple. Drummer Toshiaki Ishizuka remains silent for most of its duration. "Playing Wounded" features Mikami at the piano, sketching a song, only hinting at what it could have been before opening up on free form improv, then switching to a classical guitar theme (Haino) and back to free jamming -- all in two and half minutes. Eventful, challenging and pleasurable, this album will have you scratch your nugget for a long time.

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