Eiko Ishibashi’s Hyakki Yagyo is a dazzling and dizzying musical ghost storyJoshua Minsoo Kimon August 18, 2020 at 5:00 pm

Japanese multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter Eiko Ishibashi has spent the past couple decades working in a multitude of idioms, including art-pop, jazz, postpunk, and free improvisation. It’s been thrilling to hear her move among styles and ideas from album to album, and her latest, Hyakki Yagyo (“Night Parade of One Hundred Demons”), is one of her most arresting to date, replete with tantalizing, haunting atmospheres conjured by electronics, acoustic instrumentation, and field recordings. Made with two of Ishibashi’s frequent collaborators, Joe Talia (percussion) and former Chicagoan Jim O’Rourke (double bass, mixing), Hyakki Yagyo feels uneasy right from the get-go: synth tones flicker patiently and ominously, a faint clanging arises in the distance, and soon we hear dancer and choreographer Ryuichi Fujimura energetically whispering a tanka by 15th-century poet Ikkyu Sojun, adding to the alluring mystique and horror suggested by the album’s title. The image of otherworldly spirits in an uproarious gathering is apt, given that Hyakki Yagyo presents a dizzying assortment of noises: chiming bells and rattling metal, wheezing flutes and rushing water, screeching strings and warbling electronics. Ishibashi has always used extreme dynamics for dramatic effect in her experimental works, and here they’re at their most theatrical and breathtaking–the quietest and loudest moments feel equally important in keeping you on your toes. Despite how cacophonous the album can sound, it’s clearly constructed with meticulous care–every note and sound and texture has a purpose. Once you pick up on that, each new development makes you curious about what will come next and how the piece’s narrative will unravel. Ishibashi has accomplished a marvel with Hyakki Yagyo: it combines the intimacy of a ghost story told at a campfire with the grandiosity of one presented onstage. v

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