Earlier this year, Japanese psych band Kikagaku Moyo announced that they would go on indefinite hiatus following their 2022 tour. It’s always surprising when a successful, globe-trotting band call it a day at the top of their game, and their multitudes of fans got pretty upset in response to the news. Over the past decade, Kikagaku Moyo have become one of a handful of cult-favorite bands to make the break from underground psych heads to more mainstream indie-rock audiences, a la Wooden Shjips and Earthless. And they deserve this wider attention for how they’ve ingeniously toed the line between immaculate songcraft and spacey experimentation. Kikagaku Moyo (whose name means “Geometric Patterns”) formed in Tokyo in 2012 around the duo of drummer Go Kurosawa and guitarist Tomo Katsurada, then expanded into a five-piece influenced by a disparate mix of sounds, including Indian music, hip-hop, black metal, and power pop.
Japanese audiences weren’t particularly welcoming to the band, so they turned to the U.S., playing events such as Austin Psych Fest and releasing albums on stateside labels, including New York-based Beyond Beyond Is Beyond. In recent years, Kikagaku Moyo have toured their psychedelic asses off (except during pandemic lockdowns, of course) and started their own imprint, Guruguru Brain. While their hiatus is a sad development, at least they’re going out with a bang: to coincide with this tour, they’ve just released their swan-song LP, Kumoyo Island (Guruguru Brain). The seeds of the album were planted while the band were stuck in Amsterdam during the early days of the pandemic and germinated in a studio in the Shitamachi area of Tokyo.
The album is a fitting epitaph; the songs on Kumoyo Island sound like the culmination of Kikagaku Moyo’s shared musical experiences. Opener “Monaka” (named for a type of Japanese adzuki-bean sweets) is inspired by minyo, a Japanese folk-music style, and aided by sitar, snaking wah-wah guitar, and a funky groove; “Dancing Blue” slaps just as hard. It’s is nice to hear the band sing in their native language (they sometimes use their own made-up tonal tongue), which they also do on the gently flowing “Yayoi, Iyayoi,” which spirals into a fierce Flower Travellin’ Band-style freak trance. Overloaded Eastern-style guitar adorns “Field of Tiger Lillies,” and “Nap Song” is a gentle sleepwalker (as one might expect from its name). The band even take on “Meu Mar,” a dreamy tune by Brazilian troubadour Erasmo Carlos—a bold choice, considering the aesthetic distance. “Maison Silk Road” and “Daydream Soda” (which wins song title of the year for me) are the most musically challenging tracks on the LP, with densely layered field recordings and unidentifiable sounds that could’ve come from the beyond. It’ll be interesting to see how Kikagaku Moyo re-create these songs live, and I’m curious to see to what extent they mix it up with back-catalog material at this final Chicago gig.
Kikagaku Moyo, Joshua Abrams, Tue 5/24, 8:30 PM, Thalia Hall, 1807 S. Allport, sold out, 17+