By: Dylan Schink
Masakichi | website | facebook | soundcloud |
Once upon a time, before the post-rock and drone doom and Japanese noise, when I wasn’t universally barred from using the AUX cable in polite company and I didn’t respond to “what kind of music are you into?” with “let me put the kettle on, we’re going to be here for a while”, I was into indie rock. The Decembrists, Arcade Fire and Neutral Milk Hotel all featured heavily on my usual rotation. Over time I wanted thicker guitars, soundscapes and boomier drums, but I never really lost my taste of indie lyricism and comfortable song structures, but the plinking acoustic guitars, airy sounds and predictable themes all wore on me. Recently though, post-rock has been crossing over with indie rock, creating a handful of albums that satisfy both my desire to damage my hearing and tap my toes and sing along.
Masakichi are the latest in a small but growing coalition of indie rock bands to have cranked up the guitars and turned on the delay pedals, but as far as I’m concerned, Hummingbird is the finest and most focused example of this crossover yet. Masakichi have realised the potential of Now, Now’s Threads better than Now, Now ever could have. They’ve mercilessly cut out filler and restrained indie rock’s lyrically saccharine and musically airy tendencies, and simultaneously subverted post-rock’s glacial sense of progression and excessive intros. What’s left is adrenaline pumping drums; massive, textured guitars; quick, engaging progression; and absolutely gorgeous vocals.
Bookended by the quiet, intimate and heartbreakingly beautiful ‘Papercuts’ and ‘The Smallest Light’, the main body of the album consists of four infectious and powerful tracks, lead by consistently fantastic and emotive performances by Hannah Cartwright, who sounds just as comfortable cutting through thick guitars and booming drums as she does over soft, quiet synths. Hummingbird’s title track deserves particular mention. In under six minutes it beautifully showcases the whole band’s verticality and ability to flawlessly accomplish fast, dramatic progression without ever feeling rushed.
One of the most interesting things about Hummingbird is that, like Marriage’s Kitsune, it packs a full length album’s progression and range on to an album that doesn’t even cross half an hour. On one hand I feel like the album is fully realised and there’s nothing that really needs expanding on, but on the other hand, I really want more.
Hummingbird is an impressive accomplishment that stands head and shoulders above its stylistic contemporaries. It flawlessly brings together colossal guitar sounds and driving drumlines with sentimental lyricism and familiar song structures in a way that could just as easily impress fans of My Brightest Diamond as fans of The Red Sparowes.
We were so impressed by Hummingbird we asked the band to give us an exclusive rundown of each track and how they got there:
HANNAH: This was the first track we ever worked on. Reuben sent the instrumental over to me and I used lyrics from an old poem I had written when I first moved to England. It was the first time we realised that we work well together and was the very beginning of Masakichi. The original poem was inspired by a letter that I received years ago and is meant as a warning never to force advice on to those who don’t want or need it.
REUBEN: This was the first track I worked on with Hannah. I’d been obsessed with Mahler at the time – composers were total rock stars, they had all the ego and drug habits and were weird deviants, but respectable people hold them up like gods. This track is just a long string loop with an improvised guitar part over the top.
HANNAH: Lyrically, Spring is all about defiance. It is intended as a rallying cry. It is meant to give hope because no matter what life throws at you, or how hard it gets, you will still always have the capacity to love.
REUBEN: I listen to a lot of post rock and as I come from a heavier musical background I often get frustrated when it builds for ages and doesn’t kick in like I want it to. I like trying to find the beauty in dark music, pushing melancholy into rejoice.
HANNAH: The guitar at the beginning of Hummingbird was the first inspiration for the lyrics. It sounds like the fast fluttering of wings – fragile and fleeting. It is about the frustration of not being able to hold on to what you need. The harder you try to cling on, the more it slips from your grasp.
REUBEN: we recorded the drums in Church Studios, set up in the middle of the main room with mics up in the rafters of the main hall to get big epic sounds. We used some interesting recording techniques, drummer Benny had recorded cymbals separately when he was playing for Killing Joke and we did some of that to achieve different sounds and effects. The bones of this song I wrote with an old friend Gurneet from Attlaes, and it eventually became this Masakichi track.
HANNAH: It’s about a friend and their constant battle with authority. Although given all the opportunities, they somehow always manage to lose control and make mistakes that hurt themselves and others around them – and it’s never their fault (apparently). It is about the need to take responsibility for your actions.
REUBEN: This was written on a 24 hour journey from Australia to London. Long haul flights are the most amazing opportunity for wormholing into your laptop and writing music, stuck in your seat in a metal box above the clouds with a free supply of red wine for ten hours.
REUBEN: I love trying to fit weird time signatures into tracks without the listener noticing. A lot of the time I start with beats and timings and build tracks from a groove. I’m into writing technically intricate songs without alienating the listener. This track has at least five different time signatures but still has a big Spiritualized-style jammed-out payoff at the end.
HANNAH: I also love trying to write melody and lyrics that disguise all the time changes that Reuben throws at us! Without Arrows is about experiencing emotion – even the not so pleasant ones. It’s taking pleasure in sadness and not trying to fight it.
THE SMALLEST LIGHT
REUBEN: I actually wrote this as a full band song with drums and layers of guitar and keys, but when we stripped it all back for an acoustic set we loved what it became. Originally I had a week off in Ibiza between tours, so I hid away from the superclubs and sat on a balcony overlooking the sea recovering from tour excesses and writing.
Writing music on tour is a really important constant to keep me sane. It’s easy to fall into a cycle of gig / party / recover in time for the next show, and it can also be tough dealing with things back home when you’re never around. Masakichi is a big outlet for all that and as a result can be dark one moment and triumphant the next.
HANNAH: The Smallest Light is a love song…which I’m not telling any secrets about…this one is a little too close to my heart to share…
I have developed a particular process through writing in Masakichi. Every track creates an image in my head and then I describe this visual interpretation with words. I can’t draw or paint, so I try to use lyrics. Until I get the image in my head, I can’t write anything.
SPRING (ALT-J REMIX)
REUBEN: I’d often run into Alt-J on tour and so when they were writing their second album in London we hung out a fair bit. I played Thom the album tracks and he suggested doing us a remix – he actually sent us a remix of Spring back in january, but then a week before the album went to press he called me to say he’d had a brainwave and started from scratch.. We got the new remix the day we officially signed to Fierce Panda and the CD went to press.
Release launch show at The Lexington in London on 23rd September
Tickets / physical : http://www.wegottickets.com/f/9237