Makunouchi Bento ~ Rinbo

This unassuming little release is one of the most original recordings of the year, a follow-up to 2010’s highly eclectic Swimé.  Rinbo is no less eclectic, but is far more accessible, and has a great starting point:  the stories of four Japanese monsters.

Slow down, fanboy, this isn’t about Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra and Ghidrah, although that would have been fine as well.  This quartet is comprised of Yuki-onna, Ame-Onna, Bake-Kujira and Jubokko: the snow woman, the rain woman, the ghost whale and the vampire tree.  Those who encounter such creatures seldom emerge intact, although three of them (all but the ghost whale) do occasionally present a benevolent side.  In order to bring these creatures to life, Makunouchi Bento calls upon a great army of instrumentation, enhanced by field recordings and some extremely creative composition.

Yuki-onna (the snow woman) glides through the snow, leaving no footprints.  While described as beautiful, she often leads travelers to their deaths.  According to legend, she once spared a woodcutter after he agreed never to speak of her to anyone.  Years later, he mentioned her to his wife, who turned out to be the creature he’d long ago met.  Sparing him on behalf of their children, she fled from his sight and was never seen by him again.  The wind runs rampant through her song as we hear the sound of footsteps on snow: another prospective victim.  Traditional plucked instruments bear witness; an electric guitar contributes a sense of danger.  Branches break as the storm grows in intensity.  The footsteps quicken.  Just ahead is a door, a hearth, a fire.  The trap has been sprung.  Only by guile, luck, or love will the traveler escape.

Ame-onna (the rain woman) is a cloud by day, a storm by night.  She can bless crops or curse feeble humans, following them like the cloud of Joe Bfstplk.  Her song is barnacle-crusted, wooden hued, haunted by thunder and chime.  Her power seems less frightening than inevitable; even as the rain begins to fall, it seems serene.  Much less so the song of Bake-kujira (the ghost whale), a skeletal spirit who brings misfortune to all who spot it.  A darker timbre immediately surfaces: dissonant buoys and frightful waves, accompanied by screeches, creaks and knocks.  The whale’s cry is that of an injured creature who no longer expects or provides mercy.  This boat is bound for disaster, no matter what gets thrown overboard.

The brass tones of the closing track mimic the pain of Jubokko, the vampire tree, who grows near battlefields, craves human blood and oozes this red liquid in place of sap.  While its branches can also heal, one needs to draw near in order to remove them.  The creeping menace of this track makes Jubokko seem like the most fearsome monster of all.  In monster conversations, that’s what it’s all about: which would win in a battle royale.  The overt melodies of the closing minutes contain echoes of the late Akira Ifukube, connecting mythology to movie; the finale is intensely cinematic.  The final sound is either that of a tree falling or a tree munching; optimists and pessimists will be exposed by their interpretations.

With Rinbo, Makunouchi Bento makes a play for the big leagues.  A full album with a half-dozen more Japanese monsters would cement the deal.  Remixes are already being released for the current tracks.  Please don’t stop now; we want a sequel.  (Richard Allen)

Available here

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