Kofū II / 古風 II comes as a nice surprise, as it follows a revered trilogy while operating as a sequel. After last year’s Kofū, Meitei‘s realized that he had over 60 extra tracks and a lot more to say. (Note to artist: we’d love to hear the other 48+!). Once again, the Kitchen label has put together a luscious package with the option of adding a postcard set and even a tote bag, something that might have seemed extravagant in the merchant culture of ancient Japan. As Meitei continues his sonic exploration of history and modernity, we recall that the two are in constant dialogue, in the same way as musical styles separated by generations can flourish together in a single track.
The mood of this album continues to trend to the positive. After wrestling with ghosts and demons, there is space for celebration. While some of these pieces have somber backgrounds ~ “Kaworu,” dedicated to the artist’s late grandmother, and “Shurayuke hime” (“Lady Snowbird”), an assassin’s sonic creed ~ little of this bleeds into the timbre. The early and late tracks are especially catchy, beginning with the brief whistling prologue and plucky, danceable “Tōkaidō,” which refers to the route between Kyoto and Edo, along which 53 stations were created for travelers (and shoppers). Today one can zip through on the Tokaido Shinkansen, arriving quicker but missing everything along the way. The vibrant “Happyaku-yachō” is an expression of energy and color, traditional flute counter-balanced by staccato piano, hip-hop beats and high-pitched vocal samples, as if everything is moving too fast to comprehend.
After such a beginning, the tender “Kaworu” creates quite a contrast, but serves as a reminder to rest along the way: to appreciate the smaller moments, whether in a carriage or on foot, pausing to speak with shopkeepers, to pour tea for an aged relative. Having created the space for reflection, Meitei then dedicates a track to “Oshi-Musha,” the disgraced warrior who leaves a battle. One can imagine the lonely outcast, hiding in the mountains, unable to come to terms with his cowardice: the lowest of the low, unable even to end his miserable life. The artist then returns to the red light district, expressing his continued love for the overlooked. Their songs decorate “Yoshiwara” like lipstick and powder, while “Arinsu.” honors their dialect.
The forces of modernity are impossible to ignore. “Shinobi” references a ninja video game, “Saryō” a popular dessert chain. “Akira Kurosawa” is the most telling piece, honoring a director who looks to the past for perspective: a clear influence on the reflective Meitei, who seeks the soul of Japan by donning its many masks and peering through its painted eyes. If there is no single conclusion to be found, there is still the ineffable, transformative search. (Richard Allen)