erzbow’s recent work has always appealed to me more than most of his contemporary noisemaking cohorts. Over two decades after Whitehouse debuted their long-since rendered tiresome "Sex, Shit and Sadism"-obsessed thematic imprint, newer artists on the noise scene still seem eye-rollingly obsessed with it. Given that noise, unrestricted by popular notions of what constitutes "music," should theoretically possess a greater capacity than most genres to convey a wide range of emotion, it's disappointing that so few seem eager to harness that potential. Enter Masami Akita—an artist that continues to push boundaries and, lately, marry noise to gentler, more naturalistic subject matter.
Granted, this thematic shift would be irrelevant were it only reflected in album titles and cover art. But somewhere along the line, Akita's music underwent a change in direction, a change that cannot simply be explained by a shift in production methods. In recent releases, Akita has explored creative and conceptual spaces markedly different from those detailed in earlier albums like Pulse Demon and Venereology; whether it be the Buddhist navigations of 2001's Dharma or the righteous indignation of protest albums like last year's Bloody Sea and Minazo, the general impression is of an artist possessing a greater sense of purpose than most of his contemporaries.
Merzbear is Akita's latest collection furthering this new direction, and the next installment in the beat-based Merz- series. It's still noise, of course—a rumbling bass pulse forms the basic structural foundation for each song, which Akita builds upon or, like a kid with Crayolas disregarding the lines in a coloring book, freely ignores as he sees fit. However, on this release, Akita has used these familiar tools to again explore new conceptual territory.
Merzbow's previous animal-themed releases, while certainly bucking the transgressive trend in noise's subject matter, were still guilty of being somewhat one-dimensional in approach. Albums like the aforementioned Bloody Sea and Minazo, as heart-rending as their animal rights-themed appeals may have been, suffered from emotional simplicity, presenting a propagandistic, Disney-fied vision of hapless, suffering creatures more deserving of pity than respect. However, on Merzbear, Akita uses noise to paint a far more well-rounded picture of the natural world. While playful yelps of feedback and chirping bleeps and bloops evoke images of the cutesy anime-style bears that decorate the record's sleeve, a malevolent bass roar is never far away, reminding the listener of nature's more threatening side. Akita exploits the full emotional range of noise more masterfully than ever here, creating an experience that's less Disney flick, more raw documentary footage; amoral, un-narrated attempts to convey the Zen of comedy and tragedy, love and anger, innocence and savagery, all within four tracks.
Merzbear may not be the most musically interesting of Akita's canon, but it's his most accomplished step so far in terms of both beat-based and animal-themed work, and as such makes for an enjoyable listen. It also serves to demonstrate that even in a genre as sonically abstract as noise, conceptual considerations do influence the sound of a work. Let’s hope that other artists in the field take notice.
Reviewed by: Ben Good
Reviewed on: 2007-06-26