Maher Shalal Hash Baz/Bill Wells: How's Your Bassoon, Turquoirs? (Geographic, 2006)
Maher Shalal Hash Baz is one of those bands that really ought to be huge, if there were any justice, but then they'd be big and smooth and dull, and justice is boring anyway. MSHB is essentially the musical expression of Tori Kudo, Japan's greatest revolutionary anti-Darwinist potter. The closest comparison I could suggest from the Western rock canon is Syd Barrett, but with the Pink One's mad-eyed stare replaced by a mood of self-effacement; rather than the tortured-artist-out-on-a-limb thang, Tori is usually surrounded by a fluctuating cast of friendly musicians whose abilities range from excellent to enthusiastic. He's also fond of impenetrable musical jokes, so the reference to a bassoon in the title is a sure sign that there's no bassoon on this track. Except there is. And recorders. And some folk-jazz guitar. And a spoken-word bit. Like Barry White. If he were Japanese. It's in English, but it would probably make more sense if it weren't. Tori claims (I warned you about the jokes) that the whole thing's influenced by The Only Ones, via his compatriate Keiji Haino, a man so cool he refuses to take off his shades, even in front of his cat. It's already my favourite track of the year.
The b-side, 'Banned Announcement', is a live offering. It sounds like an autistic school choir mugging a one-man band and fiddling suggestively with his instruments as he lies bleeding in the gutter. The music is heightened by background noises of applause and clinking crockery that (if this were a 'normal' artist) would suggest a knowing nod to the intro to 'Re-Make/Re-Model' on the first Roxy Music album. But MSHB don't do knowing nods, and nor does their accomplice, Scottish sort-of-jazz enigma Bill Wells. It's not the knowing bit they avoid; it's the nod. This means that they bypass any lazy notions of irony or camp and leap straight into an aesthetic that's utterly real - so real, in fact, that we jaded listeners, so used to the archness of Franz Ferdinand or the Kaiser Chiefs, don't immediately experience it for what it is. It's as if you've been drinking Gold Blend all your life, and somebody wafts a perfect espresso past your nose. For a few seconds, maybe more, you simply don't get it, don't get the connection between this nugget of heady aromas and the stuff that you've been chugging blindly since your teens.
And then, eventually, you get it.
Maher Shalal Hash Baz are damn fine coffee. Smell them.