Mouse on the Keys’ Out of Body is your new favourite Japanese jazz rock album

Mouse on the Keys - Out of BodyWho are Mouse on the Keys? Two pianists, a drummer. They’ve just made an album called Out of Body. And?

And it's dreaming out loud. And I’d say if you pinned me down, that what they’re making is primarily experimental jazz, but there are also elements of ambient, classical, trip-hop, and math rock, sometimes all in one track. And they’re a Tokyo band, formed in 2006 by drummer/keyboardist/composer Akira Kawasaki and keyboardist Atsushi Kiyota, formerly of Japanese indie pioneers Nine Day Wonder, forged from the ashes of the city’s post-hardcore and post-rock scenes. And they already had an audio manifesto from day one, as Kawasaki is keen to point out. “I had a specific sound concept in mind when I started up Mouse on the Keys,” he says. “It clearly explains our musical influences. The concept was: ‘Utilizing elements of modern French music represented by composers such as Debussy and Ravel, along with the hardcore music of the ’80s and ’90s that our drummer Akira Kawasaki was influenced by, and mixing them in a style reminiscent of Detroit techno.’” And it works.

And they’re ridiculously talented, of course. Perhaps you’d like to see Kawasaki drumming and playing keys at the same time? (Those with shorter attention spans are invited to skip straight to 2.30 for gratification.)

And nor are they a one-man band. Kiyota is joined on the keys by Daisuke Niitomi, a man who is no stranger to adjusting traditional processes. “Since the last record, we completely changed the way we write our music,” Niitomi told Time Out last year. “Whereas before Akira [Kawasaki] did nearly all the songwriting, today each of us do. We also collaborate with artists from outside the band, so our sound has become a lot more diverse.” And with influences ranging from Philip Glass to Fugazi to Godzilla composer Akira Ifukube, there's no shortage of offers.

And music is only one part of what Mouse on the Keys do, as any band who have at one point employed a member exclusively to deploy visual footage will tell you. Certainly, any band whose full-length debut, An Anxious Object, borrowed its title from art critic Harold Rosenberg, and much of its inspiration from Jacques Derrida, stringing together conceptual work based on the dislocation felt between the contemporary Tokyo of their lifetime and the Tokyo that was essentially destroyed in WWII.

And the new album, Out of Body, is relentless – perhaps not their wildest record, or their hardest, but their most fluid, seamless, satisfying.

And eight seconds into “Earache”, essentially the opener following the eleven second “Intro”, I’m enraptured, taken right back to the crystalline synth textures of Gang Gang Dance, production on point, jazz piano splaying all the colours, while Kawasaki pounds out time signatures from an alternative dimension where Billy Cobham and Art Blakey, not reactionary TV personalities, get to become U.S. presidents.

And although it’s an engaging record, it’s not in the intense, math-y way that 2012’s Machinic Phyllum kept you hooked. Rather, the songs here are geared so that the quieter sequences from the record’s most remarkable moments, such as the blissful ambient breakdown for the final third of “Afterglow”, or the distant ragtime piano that drifts in and out of the title track. And I say it’s relentless, because for an experimental jazz jam band, there really isn’t a moment wasted between the footsteps of the intro and the last, ringing note of the finale, only moments when your mind abandons its base paradigm to spend a few minutes out there on the streets, under the neon-glazed rain of Shibuya.

But yeah, essentially two pianists and a drummer.

Release: 25th January 2017, Topshelf Records

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