Although guitarist, producer, and theorist Jojo Hiroshige is one of the leading figures on the Japanese noise music scene, his protégées in the all-female quartet Angel'in Heavy Syrup could not be further from the sort of extreme noise terrorism Hiroshige is best known for. Their quiet, meditative music is clearly influenced by the gentler side of '70s Krautrock and progressive rock; think of the gentler moments of Can or Gong, made even more ghostly and delicate by the group's low-key instrumentation and gossamer vocals. This is music in constant danger of becoming so airy it might drift off into the ether, were it not rooted by subtly polyrhythmic drums and hand percussion seemingly based on traditional Japanese court music. Angel'in Heavy Syrup was formed in 1990 by singer and bassist Mineko Itakura and guitarist Mine Nakao, who are the only constants in the lineup. Drafting drummer Yoko Mandrake in to complete the original lineup, the trio found favor with Hiroshige, who signed them to his Alchemy Records imprint and produced their first album, Angel'in Heavy Syrup I, which was released in Japan in 1991 and in the United States by Subterranean Records the following year. Before their second album was recorded, some lineup changes took place. Mandrake was replaced by Tomoko Takahara, who played flute in addition to drums and percussion. The trio also recruited a second guitarist, Fusao Toda, which meant that Nakao now had a foil with whom she could create ever more delicate spun-sugar curlicues of electric guitar sound. The pair also adds glockenspiel and chimes beginning with 1993's Angel'in Heavy Syrup II, adding an even more fragile ghostliness to the band's sound. Though the album primarily consists of extended, improvisatory ambience, it also includes a peculiarly wonderful deconstruction of Sonny and Cher's "I Got You Babe." The new lineup held together long enough to record their third album, Angel'in Heavy Syrup III, released in Japan in early 1995. Later that year, American avant-rock distributor Charnel Music started a new label, Circular Reasoning, for the express purpose of releasing this album in the United States; as a bonus, the label added "Introduction I: Naked Sky High," the opening track from Angel'in Heavy Syrup II, which had never been released in the U.S. The group remained quiet for nearly half a decade after their third album, finally returning with Angel'in Heavy Syrup IV in late 1999. Takahara was gone, and as if to admit that they're incapable of keeping a steady drummer, her replacement Naoko Otani is credited as a guest musician. Their first album to be released simultaneously in Japan and the United States, the beautifully packaged Angel'in Heavy Syrup IV was also the first to feature English translations of Itakura's Japanese lyrics in the liner notes.
Angel'in Heavy Syrup Biography
by Stewart Mason