Beginning with the lovely overdubbed E-Bow drones and feedback swirls of "And Begun," at once psychedelic and somehow sweetly bluesy as well, Japancakes adds to the noted Bliss Out series on Darla with a fine six-song effort in Belmondo. The sextet conjures up six tunes for this release, each strikingly lovely instrumentals exploring a gentle, quietly intoxicating zone somewhere between exotica revivalism, shoegazer ambience, and low-key mood music. "Handguns and Firearms," for all its violent title, is anything but; taking up a full third of the disc at 16 minutes, it's a perfect study in wistful, minimal style. Suggesting nothing so much as Slowdive's underrated Pygmalion as remixed by the High Llamas, the combination of piano, vibraphone, strings, low-key drumming, and electric guitars and bass is flat-out lovely, revolving around a central melody loop for its steady flow before dissolving into a final swirl of drones. It's a hard moment to top, but the rest of the disc is an equally worthy listen, exploring music that's hardly kick up your feet giddiness, but in its truly beautiful way suggests an interesting alternative to the likes of Godspeed You Black Emperor! and Sigur Rós, more down-home and calm. "Always Stuck With Leaving," which definitely suggests another connection to the music of Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell (though this time more the country shades of Mojave 3 than Slowdive's shadowy power), is a fine moment, while "Duluth 75" adds some unexpected (if still low-key) energy to make for a distinctly different offering on the otherwise slow-paced performances. Perhaps the most mournful song is "Theme for a Film," which uses everything from slide guitar twang to slow, steadily descending strings to create an appropriately cinematic mood, if a particularly downbeat one.
by Ned Raggett