Just like you – the imagined you that I understand perfectly – I love Cirque du Soleil. The performances, the drama, the spectacle, all of it. More than once it has moved me to tears including the time where I was, literally, front row center at Kà, 5 feet from the pit that, sadly, killed someone several years later. Like all of you, I’m a sucker for souvenirs of these performances and so, of course, I bought all the music CDs. OK, that’s a lie. I’d feel embarrassed reducing the entire experience to 10-15 songs. The point of the music is not to be a music show, although some Cirque du Soleil shows are exactly that, but to complement the stage performance. If you enjoyed an elevator ride up to a tall building, would you buy the elevator music CD? No, you would not. Neither would I. Now, however, I have found something that is completely separate, reminds me vaguely of Cirque du Soleil and whose performers might be insulted by me reducing them to accompanying Chinese acrobats and Montreal buskers. If they felt insulted, it would be entirely fair, since their music merely reminds me of Cirque du Soleil, but actually accomplishes, in a piece of music, what the Cirque du Soleil musicians need an expensive troupe of performers: a sense of wonder.
After that lengthy prelude, you may be entirely confused. So am I. I intended to focus first and foremost on the band and only accidentally on the circus. It’s too late, so let’s move on and pretend it all happened as it was supposed to. As I’m sure you know, since you are still the imagined you I understand perfectly, I refer to Yamantaka//Sonic Titan. The double slash matters, but, yes, confuses, too. The associations with Cirque du Soleil extend a little further than vague sonic resemblances. Both band and circus originate in Montreal. Both have a kind of performance art vibe, one with circus props, the other with film and social commentary. Both make extensive use of people from Asia, one with amazingly contortable athletes, the other with two women exploring their joint Asian and Canadian heritage. But that’s where it ends. One is a multinational entertainment empire while the other is a performance art collective. I found this music almost by accident, having searched for music including Yamantaka Eye, founder of the Boredoms. I’m not sure how Yamantaka Eye and Yamantaka//Sonic Titan might show up in the same search, but they did. Language and internet search … it’s so strange. Still, there it was. In the short clips I heard, I didn’t know what to make of YST (not at all like Y&T). The sound was engaging but distant, alive but not vibrant, haunting but not spooky. It felt a little cerebral, like the more conceptual songs of Propaganda.
I’ve listened to this wonderful album several times and can’t quite figure out how to talk about song-after-song so let’s just talk about the sound itself. The mood of the album comes from a kind of brooding feel of synthesized viola and cello. No, that’s not the actual sound, just how the sound feels. Behind it is a rhythm section that doesn’t. Demand. Attention. To. Each. Beat. Instead it’s like the rhythm of a train ride or slow-motion horse gallop: persistent and always there, but able to fit into something bigger. If there were tympani occasionally, I wouldn’t be surprised. Finally, the vocals are mid-high pitched female vocals with a kind of Irish mystical feel, minus any Irish brogue. You know, Enya-esque, but with a French-Canadian twist. The sound is easier to understand as part of the band’s theatrical performances which combine a kind of performance art with operatic expanse. In fact, that same style, made much more generic, serves Cirque du Soleil well as something which complements performance without dominating it. The music of YST, though, moves to the forefront and doesn’t’ require visuals.
The mood of YST fits into the similar place in my listening as Washed Out, but where Washed Out is for a vague euphoria, YST is for a serious pensiveness. Imagine Amanda Palmer theatrics combined with Washed Out mellowness. In short, perfect music for a drive to/from work where all my big thoughts about (dis)satisfaction with life emerge.