It was several months ago that a good friend of mine started raving to me about a song he'd heard entitled "Hana." When I asked what it sounded like, he had a somewhat difficult time describing it to me, but eventually said that it was good enough to cause one of those small 'shifts' in his music listening. Hardcore music fans will most likely know what I'm talking about when I say a 'shift,' as it's one of those little moments where you hear a song that slightly alters how you hear music from there on out. Once he told me that, I knew I had to hear the track, and although it didn't quite do the same thing for me immediately, I now recognize it as something pretty amazing, despite what seems to be fairly simple parts.
"Hana" is the opening track on Jun Ray Song Chang, and it's just the first in a batch of genre-busting output from this group. Mixing programmed tabla drumming, cut-up vocals, and mournful strings, it has the making for any middle-shelf world music/electronic hybrid, but is programmed in a way that individual syllables fall on different hits of the tabla while the strings slowly speed up. At the beginning, it seems fairly pedestrian, but by the end has become an impossibly hypnotic spray of drumming and vocals that works like a sequel to Steve Reich's "Drumming." The rest of the album is just as strange, as "Preach" follows up with oddly-pitched vocals and horns over more interesting tablas.
That second track leads into it, but the third track of "Kobana" really shows off the playful side of the group as more tweaked vocals play out over sparse tablas and what sounds like an accordian mixed with electronic bloops. From there, the album goes into the almost indie-rock guitar strumming of "Nigatsu," and it's spun with their off-kilter flavor before the middle of the album lets loose with "Goo-Gung-Gung," a hyperkinetic bounce-fest of sped-up chinese harp and a rhythm comprised of programmed bubbles and splats.
If it sounds like the album is a bit all over the place, that's because it is. Although there is definitely a worldly vibe to the entire disc, it's one that's been tweaked in all kinds of way, resulting in an album that would absolute freak out most Kitaro fans. In that way, it's also a very unique disc, and one that's definitely worth hearing. Although there are a few tracks that sort of miss the mark, the disc is never less than ambitious in trying new things, and I can hardly fault them for that. Sometimes funny, sometimes stunning, and almost always interesting, Jun Ray Song Chang is a fine debut and a nice little oddity to add to your collection.