13 Japanese Birds, Vol. 2: Owl

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Rhythm is not always a part of Merzbow's music -- cycles and pulses, yes, but not necessarily rhythm. However, some of the master of Japanoise's albums do revolve around rhythm, and strangely (or not) these often creep up in fans' best-of lists. Some examples of these would be Aqua Necromancer, Doors Open at 8 A.M., and Merzbeat. However, these drum-centric CDs feature drum samples. For his 13-volume series 13 Japanese Birds, Merzbow seems to have decided to go back to his formative years as a drummer. And, man, does he let loose! Vol. 1 in the series was a massive noise attack (you wouldn't really expect less), but Vol. 2 is slightly different. The opening "Gorosukehoukou" and closing "Noritsukehousei" are typical Merzbowian walls of sound: screeching noise from a guitar, home-made electronic device, Synthi A, or any combination of the above (there seems to be very little digital input on this album), all multi-layered over a blanket of pummeling free jazz drumming used as a noise foundation more than a rhythm foundation. It's exhilarating, frantic, but also visceral and urgent-sounding, the last two adjectives having been less necessary when describing Merzbow's music in the early to mid-2000s. In other words, the man is in top shape here. But the real treats on Vol. 2 are the shorter middle tracks "Variation No. 1" and "Variation No. 2." The first of these is spacy, almost dub-like, with swirly washes of synths being interrupted by reverb-heavy drum outbursts. It's almost ambient, and entrancing. "Variation No. 2" is basically a jam between the free drums and the EMS synth, the latter spurting, stuttering, and wailing out a long yet entertaining solo. The 13 Japanese Birds series (planned as 13 albums in 13 months) may not be a defining moment in Merzbow's career (which is already well defined), but it stands as a particularly strong artistic proposition.

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