Without question, Teke::Teke is a creature completely in its own quadrant of the pop diaspora. Does that mean that everything about their new album, Shirushi, stands completely separate from everything else in pop? Certainly not – there’s no question that it’s possible to pick out sounds and ideas which could be associated with film score composer Neal Hefti (who composed the iconic Batman theme in 1966) as well as the work of Ennio Morricone and guitarist Tomoyasu Hotei, and that sense of urgency inherent to those scores combined with obvious connections to Japanese music and compositions like those done by Toronto-based metal heads Yamantaka//Sonic Titan are undeniable – but there’s still a nagging uniqueness which separates Teke::Teke from all of those acts which (at most) may call themselves peers or contemporaries.
Some critics might say that it must be lonely when you “almost but don’t quite” fit in with a potential artistic peer group, but Teke::Teke can still take heart. Here, this Quebecois Japanese psych-rock band (yup – I’ll give you a minute to get your arms around that) might not have a large scene or peer group to ally with, but those who hear this album will find that there is not only something about it that they love, there’s something about it that is absolutely captivating.
Unlike many of the other artists which have already been mentioned in this review, the guiding principle about Teke::Teke (based on the introduction made with Shirushi) is one of a greater attention paid to gentility and craft over slamming listeners over the head with bombast. “Kalakala” opens the A-side of the album with tentative strings and wind instruments as well as a wisp of a wah pedal on guitar with the gradual build of a classical overture – but shatters that wall when Ian Lettre’s drums crash in after about one minute and fifteen seconds. While the change isn’t gigantic, it is sudden and will have listeners perched on the edge of their seats. From there, the build is continuous and listeners will know they’ve reached a summit when Maya Kuroki’s nasal sigh enters the mix. In that moment, it feels like the song really shifts gears and listeners will find themselves rushing – trying to keep up with it.
After “Kalakala,” Teke::Teke really digs into a Neal Hefti inspiration as “Yoru Ni” hits a great, nearly Batman-esque stride through its running. There too, some beautiful piano inserts a little more Japanese classicism which helps to take the music a little closer to the scores of Kill Bill Volumes 1 and 2, but also shows listeners that they’ve already cast the spells that can have them hanging on the suspended notes in the song’s bridge – which is absolutely thrilling.
As the side progresses, Teke::Teke gets absolutely sublime in a Combustible Edison kind of way as “Dobugawa” slinks its way along breathlessly and with a tremendous amount of reverb included before “Barbara” shifts gears again to something close to garage rock (a la the 5, 6, 7, 8s) and then backslides sardonically into the very loungy “Kizashi,” which closes the side. There again, the lounge jazz of Combustible Edison appears to factor into the presentation but, because the cut is instrumental, listeners may find that they’re incapable of being patient enough to wait for the energy to increase and will rush to flip the record over when the side ends.
The surfy, Japanese sound which was omnipresent on the A-side of Shirushi reasserts itself nicely as soon as stylus settles into B-side and “Kamihari” opens it, but Maya Kuroki also illustrates how much more emotion she is capable of getting from a four-minute song as she sighs and cries her way along with absolutely shocking levels of instantly accessible emotion. The closest comparable study to what’s happening here might be Bjork’s most orchestrated work, but even that doesn’t accurately encapsulate the sound here; listeners will find themselves utterly transfixed by the performance, and left without any easily reachable words to convey what they’ve heard, thereafter – they’ll just want to hear more. “Sarabande” continues along that exact same trail with another great and dramatic movement before “Mei Kyu” picks up the tempo to go surfing again but, even so, when the chimes begin to sound and “Tekagami” closes the record with a more methodical pace and enormous-sounding percussion, listeners will realize that this close was coming – while they may not have noticed at first. They’ll realize that, even if there was more to Shirushi, they wouldn’t be able to appreciate it because the experience running front-to-back with the album has left them spent. The album and the way it plays was good and exactly enough; more would have been too much.
With all of that said, it’s easy to understand – first – where Teke::Teke was coming from and how Shirushi came to be. It’s a really good album and, because it’s a good album, hoping for more is easy, but expecting more would be unreasonable. There is no guarantee that the band will produce more music, of course, but even one listen will have those who hear Shirushi hoping that there will be more albums which will allow Teke::Teke the chance to further develop what they’ve started here. [Bill Adams]
Shirushi is out now. Buy it here on Amazon.