Japan has been a huge influence on my life, there is no question. Perhaps its obvious as I moved from England to Japan a number of years ago now, but I love the culture, the food and some of the music here is fantastic. I always wanted to release something with a typical Japanese twinkle, only not too cute as it rubs me up the wrong way to be honest. I desperately wanted Home Normal to release something in this vein, only not sickly sweet like so much of the work I hear here, but arse-kickingly beautiful, delicate and cute without sticking candy down your gob. So imagine my excitement when I received an album that was all of these things, only by a group from the Czech Republic!
Gurun Gurun have never lived in Japan, yet somehow capture everything that good Japanese pop music adheres to be, taking it a lot further than the limited borders of such music often is. Their musical work combines guitars, analogue synthesizers, turntables, various acoustic instruments and digital effects to span musical spaces ranging from hypno-minimalist atmospheres to warm tones of slow moving, repetitive melodic stanzas. It shouldn’t really have been a surprise to me that the album felt so Japanese, as two thirds of the main band are members of the excellent experimental pop outfit Miou Miou (on the celebrated Japanese label – Rallye). Jara Tarnovski and Tomas Knoflicek are ably assisted in Gurun Gurun by Federsel of the Buchty a Loutky Theatre Company, improv band B4, noise project Radio Royal and art group Handa Gote. The result of which makes Gurun Gurun perhaps the more dynamic, and certainly more noise based and experimental of the two outfits. The group is also topped off with some amazing guest artists, including three Japanese vocalists: Moskitoo from the 12k stable providing gentle, airy vocals across ‘Fu’ and ‘Ano Uta’. Another 12k artist (also on Anticipate), the enormously talented Taylor Deupree collaborator Sawako providing touchingly open and raw vocals on the ever so weird but tender ‘Yume no Mori’ and ‘Yuki ~ Hawaiian Snowflake’. Rurarakiss (from the Miyachan Akichan project with Daisuke Miyatani) sings in the most hushed of tones over the glitchy, noisy pieces ‘Kodomo’ and ‘KúKó’. Beyond these, the varied group is made up of Artem Vartanian on clarinet, trumpet and shepherds pipe, Daniel Meier on violin, Floex on clarinet and koto, Irena and Vojtech Havlovi (The Havels) on alto and tenor viola da gamba, and finally with remixers Opiate (Morr Music, City-Centre Offices and Raster-Noton) and Kora et le Mechanix.
Its a remarkable debut (such as it is given their various backgrounds), covering so much ground yet keeping things restrained enough to have a perfect fluency about it. I was instantly struck by the way its cute without actually being overly so, noisy yet structured and multi-layered without being overly complex. In terms of great experimental pop music, there is very little you can really ask for. Its wonderfully melodic, quirky, touching and tender, and the guest artists feel very much part of the fabric of the album and band, making the whole album seamless under the careful guidance of Tarnovski, Knoflicek and Federsel.
Perhaps the best summary I can leave you with, and one which covers the magical nature of the album, is the fact that ‘Gurun’ is a fictional planet from the old school Slovak children’s sci-fi TV series “She Came Out of the Blue Sky”. Somehow, that makes sense of the album perfectly on so many levels.
Recorded in Copenhagen, Chrudim, New York, Pardubice, Prague, Saitama, Ostrava and Tokyo.
Mixed by Jara Tarnovski and Tomas Knoflicek (1-10), Kora et le Mechanix (11) and Opiate (12)
Mastered by Ondrej Jezek
Photography by the brilliant Hitoshi Ishihara