Pochakaite Malko

Pochakaite Malko

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When the first notes of "G-13," the leadoff track on Pochakaite Malko's eponymous 2001 debut album, blast out of the speakers, the band's serious fixation on '70s-era keyboard-dominated prog rock is immediately apparent. The Hammond organ sound, the thunderous yet nimble bass, the locked-in pummeling drums -- these adept Japanese musicians really enjoyed their early Emerson, Lake & Palmer records. And while the ELP influence is clear, this is actually closer to a fictional EELP, with two Emersons rather than one, because Pochakaite Malko are a quartet, comprised of keyboardists Kazuo Ogino (Ghost) and Tomohiro Ueno, bassist Shigekazu Kuwahara, and drummer/percussionist Junzo Tateiwa. Ogino and Ueno stake out complementary territory, however, and aren't actually like two Keith Emersons battling each other in the pyrotechnics department. Rather, Ueno, with his Hammond XM-1 module among an assortment of other keys, handles the organ voicings, while Ogino -- also Pochakaite Malko's principal composer -- often uses his keyboard arsenal to produce piano sounds. Sometimes, the music is arranged as if a Hammond organ just wouldn't be powerful enough on its own; as if the band, seeking maximum assault on your eardrums, decided that an organ needs to be supplemented by the sharp attack of a piano for full effect. Ogino also breaks away from his keyboard partner to hammer away with the Kuwahara-Tateiwa rhythm section while Ueno moves into the principal melodic/thematic role.

And while the ELP influence is about as subtle as a Tarkus armadillo tank, RIO-style avant-prog is also here, notable in the band's contrapuntal writing and dark harmonics; Kuwahara and Ogino previously played with Ruins drummer Tatsuya Yoshida in a Magma cover band, and a Magma influence can be discerned (in compositional structure as well as Kuwahara's thick, fuzzed-up bass tone), along with the relentless drive of Roger Trigaux's Univers Zero spinoff group Present. It all reaches a heated climax by the conclusion of third track "Lanka," with initially murky mechanistics building to an explosive, overpowering climax, but then Pochakaite Malko begin throwing curve balls; the next track, "Cat Field," is nearly folky in comparison, with a medieval dance feel and flute/whistle voicings harmonizing with the organ. The appropriately titled "Funeral" interrupts its 13/8 Univers Zero-flavored dirge with interludes of flute, piano, and strings before resuming and expanding upon its massive heaviosity. Two tracks later, "Trinity" is the biggest surprise yet, with a tamboura-style drone and tabla percussion along with a sitar-rific note-bending turn from guest guitarist Kei Fushimi, suggesting Cloud About Mercury-era David Torn. And then guest Keiku adds her incantatory chanting to "5th Element," in which Far Eastern-tinged Weather Report fusion suddenly shifts into pure Zappa. By the time one discerns the influence of Soft Machine in the bassline of "Acid Rain," it seems clear that ELP were merely a starting point for this thoroughly remarkable band. That Pochakaite Malko forge a unique identity from their myriad influences, rather than becoming consumed by them, is more remarkable still.

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