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Wednesday, November 22, 2017 
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Hoahio
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Peek-Ara-Boo
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Some of the most interesting communions of those long-time musical twain — serious avant-gardeism and fun pop-music — have been authored by Haco, the Kobe-based songstress whose discography seems like a dazzling dialogue between these ideas. In particular, the "pan-Asian" pop-songs and abstracted experimentalism of her girl-group trio Hoahio has been a shining light in such a realm. On their 1997 debut Happy Mail, and its 2000-issued follow-up Ohayo! Hoahio!, the group — Haco, koto-player Yagi Michiyo, and sine-wave tonalist Sachiko M — staged a rousing to-and-fro, even in between the two discs, in which piercing digital-distress, traditional hogaku figures, and new-wave-ish pop-songs could not only commune, but be in and of the same artistry. After essentially feeling this out on that first album, Ohayo! Hoahio! was like an artistic tour de force, in which they refined and re-refined their initial ideas — and, even, some of the earlier songs — into an album which seemed both far more melodic and far more mentally experimentalist at the same time.

Since then, the initial trio has splintered. Sachiko M, as key figure of the reductionist Japanese-noise movement now widely known as "onkyo," has found her own fame, staging her strange memory-free-sampler seances around the world, issuing a slew of releases (including a trio of 3-inch CDs that, in hindsight, seem a sort of suite), and oft collaborating with Japanese underground legend Otomo Yoshihide. By 2001, Sachiko had left Hoahio, and, with the future of this union up in the air, Yagi stepped up her koto playing in avant-garde circles, and Haco, well, she's always working on something, from reissuing the albums of her 1980s avant-rock band After Dinner, to collaborating with Cinorama's Sakamoto Hiromichi on the excellent 2003 co-bill Ash in the Rainbow, and then with Terre Thamelitz on a high-concept new-wave album, 1979, under the name Yesterday's Heroes.

It was only recently that Hoahio were reconvened, with Sachiko's place in the trio now filled by percussionist Mari Era, who plays all sorts of hand-percussion and mallet instruments. This, of course, changes the dynamic of the band greatly, with the struck sounds of such percussion not too far away from the tones of the koto. If previous Hoahio discs were seen to have worked with a delicate balance, then Peek-Ara-Boo definitely upsets that, this apple-cart careening down cobblestone lanes in which the percussion clatters and crashes, the appropriately named "Tribal Markets" a back-alley bash that is the album's most arch-experimental moment. Mari played with Haco on that Ash in the Rainbow album, and it's easy to see the influence of that recording on this one, this version of Hoahio now working largely with ornate instruments, the koto often set in tandom with marimba, mandolin, and tuned percussion.

Things begin with an exuberant pop-song, "DJ Hashimoto," which finds a souped-up lick of electrified mandolin(!) leading into a strangely jarring, defiantly upbeat song built on the brittle bones of viciously-plucked koto and toy drumkit. But Peek-Ara-Boo is certainly a more sedate and beautiful outing than its preceding longplayers, Haco's effortlessly beautiful singing oft delicately perched atop delicate arrangements filled with cautious space. Where Hoahio, through Haco's musing and muses, was once knee-deep in notions of the new-wave and its lasting effects 20 years on, with her fragmented English vocals exploring ideas of how modern Western musical influence is filtered through existing Eastern ideals, this canny cross-culturalism and these contrasting conceptions are rarely prevalent through Peek-Ara-Boo.

If anything, this album, with Yagi's koto playing the central focus of songs, seems to wish to stage a dialogue between traditional Japanese music and the exuberant J-pop and "J-Indies" of today. Whilst it might not be Haco's most important or exciting work, Peek-Ara-Boo still stands head and shoulders above most of the musical masses.


by Anthony Carew




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