Cynical Gen-X target marketers are always claiming that this or that
set of rules "no longer apply," but the exact moment when all rules
really did stop applying and reality broke itself in half arrived
recently, unsponsored and without much fanfare, at the 3:39 mark of
"Scarlet Dream," the second song on Sigh's new album, Imaginary
Sonicscape. A trio from Japan whose vocalist rasps tunelessly in
the black-metal tradition while the most incredible collection of
'70s analog synths ever assembled grooves along behind him, Sigh had
been barreling happily through a chugga-chugga metal song in a
modified march tempo; the synthesizers were making all kinds of weird
chirping noises while bells chimed occasionally through the verses (I
can provide proof if you need it). "I am the sun/ I am the moon/ Born
in heaven/ Raised in hell," the lead singer spat, the guitars behind
him recalling Judas Priest, the female backing vocalists (really!)
cooing counterpoints prettily, tambourines and twin guitars conjuring
up a pure, uncanny vision of '70s album-rock filtered through
Norwegian '90s metal. And then, as suddenly as a god descending from
above the stage at the climax of a Greek tragedy, "Scarlet Dream"
became a dub reggae song. Not metal that resembled dub reggae. Not
reggae-inflected hard rock. Reggae. Dub reggae.
Imaginary Sonicscape is a flowing cornucopia of such
what's-going-on-where'd-the-floor-go moments. Clocking in at around
63 minutes, it's not hallucinatory; it's the laughing face of
hallucination itself. No style is too unlikely for Sigh: one minute
they're quasi-symphonic guitar bombast, and the next they're wah-wah
pedal and bloop-bloop synth music from a never-aired '70s cop show.
While their craft is spiritually akin to the
everything-and-the-kitchen-sink style that makes Indian soundtracks
such a blast to listen to, what gives Imaginary Sonicscape its
uniquely woozy charm is the way nothing ever really seems jarring.
Mastermind Mirai Kawashima engineers transitions between disparate,
even mutually hostile styles "A Sunset Song" somehow weaves 30
seconds of honest-to-goodness disco into its
Guns-N'-Roses-meets-Wishbone-Ash frame by turns resembling
Slayer, Thin Lizzy, Return to Forever, and that guy who plays piano
at Nordstrom's. It never lets up; song after song, the surprises keep
coming, like trapdoors in a funhouse. Like a less serious-minded
Radiohead with a hard-rock obsession, Sigh loathe complacency; while
Radiohead tilt at their windmill with high-minded poetry, Sigh let
their hair down and unleash every cool sound they can think of.
Yielding more "wow"s per song than any other album in recent memory,
Imaginary Sonicscape is worth the price of admission for the
keyboards and vocoders alone. That's right: vocoders. I told you,
people. Folks usually say this just to get attention, but for once,
all bets really are off.