KUUNATIC is a thrilling Tokyo based tribal-psych trio bolstered by diverse global sonics and powerful female vocals. Drawing on the members’ different musical and cultural perspectives, their music explores ritual drumming, pulsing bass lines, atmospheric keyboard sounds and Japanese traditional instruments.
Having previously released an EP (“Kuurandia” / 2017) as well as a split 7” (with Taiwanese fuzz psych garage band Crocodelia), “Gate of Klüna” is KUUNATIC’s much awaited debut album. Produced by Tim DeWit (Gang Gang Dance) the record reveals a mesmerizing soundworld that transcends genres and hemispheres and succeeds in being both boldly experimental and wildly catchy.
KUUNATIC are Fumie Kikuchi on keys and vocals, Yuko Araki on drums and vocals and Shoko Yoshida on bass and vocals.
Creating a world has many advantages. Notions of time and space can be bent, Urizen-like, to the will and reasoning of the creator. Although formed in Tokyo in 2016, a city that is very much on this planet, Kuunatic first looked to another heavenly body to shape their project. In interviews the band have cited that their name is drawn from kuu, the Finnish word for the moon; inspired in part by original Finnish guitarist, Sanni. Keyboardist Fumie helps guide the uninitiated. “Kuunatic’s musical concept is a fantasy. Our first EP’s title ‘Kuurandia’ is the name of the fantasy planet we live on. The EP was a prologue. And this [debut album] is a concept album about how the planet began, evolved and was explored. It consists of eight songs and each song has a story to tell.”
Julian Cope once wrote that Japanese rockers “thrust everything they discover from the outside world through their own singularly Japanese filter, […] often bringing forth something magnificent and wholly better than that which had first inspired it.” Given we are dealing with a band whose drummer, Yuko Araki, proclaimed (in an interview with African Paper) that they are “ultimately unclassifiable – though I could say we are Kuurandian,” it is futile to give Kuunatic any anchoring in terms of style or scene; though recognizing fragments of other sounds is great fun. Fumie considers Cope’s premise. “It applies to us in some sense. We like to mix and experiment with everything we saw, heard, experienced and thought, not only in Japan but elsewhere, to create a unique world. During long tours we always talk a lot, experience the same things, play around, come up with very bizarre ideas and make them into songs. Kuurandia is like our imaginary utopia. We don’t think we are excellent players, but we believe that we always passionately embody our ideas and our adoration for fantasy.”
The listener is advised not to cast their net too narrowly, as Kuunatic’s music seems to invoke many responses around the world. This writer hears the echoes of weird off-kilter hybrids and psyched out chamber music from the likes of Os Mutantes, Basil Kirchin, The Raincoats or Manfred Hübler. Drummer Yuko again: “it’s interesting that audiences always try to categorize us according to so many different musical genres.” But musical interpretations will inevitably circle around their home base on their “other” planet, Japan. Japanese audiences sometimes consider Kuunatic as “amplified” Shinto shrine maidens (miko). Fumie chips in. “Our sound consists of many different kinds of music, but certain unique Japanese instruments and their sounds give a special atmosphere to Kuunatic’s world. Japanese traditional music exists in very close proximity to us even if we don’t go to see Gagaku (Japanese shrine music) or Kabuki (Japanese traditional theatrical performance). Fumie has been playing the Kagura flute (Japanese shrine music flute) since childhood, Shoko’s name includes the Japanese character 笙 which means a Japanese traditional instrument, and Yuko sometimes visits a Homa burning at a temple and listens to their powerful chanting rhythm. We hear traditional music everywhere at summer festivals in Japan, so the music is imprinted in us as a very familiar sound.”
The possibilities to project onto Kuunatic’s music are endless. This is because the band has created that rare thing, catchy music that is impossible to pigeonhole. The track ‘Lava Naksh’ is a form of renaissance dance; a pavane, maybe, albeit with Kraftwerk’s early organ sound. ‘Full Moon Spree’ could be a ritual version of The Fall’s ‘What You Need’. ‘Raven’s War’ is a dry-as-dust progressive soundtrack, it could be a lost cut from the Valley of the Dolls record. The transportative elements in all are key: certain beats and near-melismatic melody lines hark back to archaic processional and ritual music. In ‘Desert Empress Part II’ for example, a glowering bass line walks ponderously alongside the toms, framing and guiding the mood. Finishing matters off with what sounds like a backwards organ is also discombobulating. Such sonic sleights of hand are part of the Kuunatic playbook. But we must remember an old psychonaught’s advice: the menu is not the meal, and the map is not the territory.
“Gate of Klüna”:
(2) Desert Empress Part 1
(3) Desert Empress Part 2
(4) Full Moon Spree
(6) Lava Naksh
(7) Raven’s War
(8) Para Bennyà
Each song on “Gate of Klüna” tells the story of how the imaginary planet Kuurandia “began, evolved and was explored.” The numbered track descriptions below correspond to the track list numbers above.
(1) Sacred bells ring at the dawn of a new era. (2-3) Our new empress rises with magical refrains.
(4) As the planet prospers, Kuurandians hold a ball under the full moon and (5) celebrate the richness of the harvest. The peaceful time seems to last forever…. until (6) a gigantic volcano emerges in the middle of moonrise mountains. KUUNATIC chants enigmatic mantras like praying, to prevent its eruption. (7) However, unidentified invaders appear from its roaming lava, and the war of predation begins. KUUNATIC fights and drops their magical spells, and finally they win the battle. (8) Three pythonesses sing a mystic triumph song, then lead their people to a deep dreamy forest.