Year of Release: 2004
Catalog Number: FGBG 4545.AR / IM-002
Total Time: 68:44:00
Of the spate of CDs I've been listening to of late, this has to be to me the biggest surprise. I had a certain expectation of what might be heard on Japan's Wappa Gappa's Gappa. Hard to put in words exactly, but essentially, what I expected were many "traditional" Japanese elements -- flutes, koto, and maybe some angular sounds as well, for example. If no one had said they were Japanese, I'd have guessed Italian or French. There are some sharp angles to the arrangements that do hint at some of the Asian music I've heard, but these are "softened" by the surrounding keys.
What came out of the speakers instead was a lilting, sweet voice. Vocalist Tamami Yamamoto way of singing gives a soft flowing edge to the Japanese lyrics. Keyboards and guitar also typify WG; a monstrous amount of keyboards and guitars. The keyboards of Hideaki Nagaike are billowy and lush... orchestral at times. And there's lots of great guitar work here from Yasuhiro Tachibana - add Tachibana to my guitar heroes list! Not to leave unmentioned is the great drum work of Hiroshi Mineo and the bass work of Keizo Endo. The arrangements breathe with drums and bass giving the pieces grounding and texture.
Every track is a gem, truly - whether energetic rockers ("Souk," "The Golden Apples Of The Sun," "Exquisite Blue"), slower paced, more nuanced pieces ("Ranja," "To Soldiers") or a mix of both ("Escher," "Etranger"). I don't really have a favorite track, but "Souk," which begins the album, and the centerpiece epic "The Golden Apples Of The Sun" are the two that leap out at me and really fix themselves in my head.
With "Souk," beneath Nagaike's airy keyboards, guitarist Tachibana plays some very acidic and raw guitar. Endo's bass provides just the right throb to keep the whole piece pulsating like a living thing. Mineo's drums are not prominent here, but very effective. The shimmering percussion is just beautiful, while Tachibana's guitar goes from something dark and menacing in the shadows, to fiery and fierce right at the forefront. It's a stunning opener, that draws you in to see what else awaits.
"The Golden Apples Of The Sun" is the album's epic at nearly 11-minutes - though the shortest track is still nearly 7-minutes. There're some spacey, Pink Floydian effects before some energetic drumming bursts in. Whereas in the "Souk" keys dominate, here it is the drums. You know how every band has that track in their repertoire that is everyone's favorite, that when played live gets the most cheers and just sends chills down your spine? Okay, maybe that only happens to me with my beloved favorites. Nevertheless, "The Golden Apples..." has got to be "that" song for Wappa Gappa. Lush, symphonic, and rich like... well, The Flower Kings come to mind here, and so by extension Yes. Soaring guitar leads, beds of keys, shimmering percussion... and enough tone and tempo changes I think to please prog fans. The song finishes and I hear a thunderous standing O (in my head, of course; not on the CD).
In between and after, we get often dark and sultry guitar and bass led "Kirmes," though it becomes something a bit a bit funky, a bit angular (in a Crimson kind of way), and we're treated to some fiery guitar work, too. For a few moments, Height-Ashbury is evoked by "do-do"ing vocalizations and organ like keys... before venturing into something that is almost Yes-like... "Ranja" and "To Soldiers" are lush, slower tempoed pieces; romantic sounding. Simply lovely, both of them, from the vocals to the drum work to keys to the guitar work. With "Ranja," it's one of those tracks where the word "sublime" comes to mind. I think this is such a beautifully composed track, that it's almost a religious experience. And "To Soldiers" is at once somber and uplifting with an especially tasty solo from Tachibana.
On "Exquisite Blue" they get close to a fusiony jazz with vocals, and Nagaike's organ-like keyboards venture close to Emerson territory at times. And "Etranger" features another sweet but bitter guitar solo... soaring, fuzzed lines. Endo even gets to solo here, too, a melancholy-without-remorse deep and fat toned bit of musing. The arrangement of "Escher" often resembles an "Escher" drawing...
The production on this CD is fabulous, at least to my ears, as I can clearly hear each instrument. The lyrics are printed in Japanese and English, so you can get a sense of what is being sung. One might criticize Wappa Gappa for using some well-worn - and yet, well loved - compositional elements. But even if you've "heard it before," there is such life and vitality in the music that they are creating, such passion and energy that it doesn't really sound like a "retread."
The CD does end oddly, in that it ends on an up-note and just stops - like an unfinished thought, or inviting you to push play again. It's that latter that will have you too singing this album's praises. A stunning work and I think one of the best releases to come out of 2004.
Souk (8:38) / Kirmes (7:44) / Ranja (8:43) / The Gold Apples Of The Sun (10:51) / To Soldiers (8:31) / Exquisite Blue (6:50) / Escher (7:28) / Etranger (9:39)
Keizo Endo - bass
Hideaki Nagaike - keyboards
Hiroshi Mineo - drums
Yasuhiro Tachibana - guitar
Tamani Yamamoto - vocals
Genre: Symphonic Prog