Review: LITE / Mouse On The Keys – Split EP

Topshelf Records

Math rock, or jazz as normal people call it, reached its rather short-lived fad peak in the mid 90’s, pedalled by labels such as Thrill Jockey that promoted a slew of bands, often from Chicago, who played guitar-based incoherent jams under the guise of it only being understood by genuine musicologists. Over in Japan there was a similar boom, the differences being that it was generally far more subversive, challenging and…well, better. Bands such as Zeni Geva used an unstable base of ignoring the majority of established musical conventions to create music which was far more suggestive of violence and uncontrolled rage than any number of celebrated extreme metal bands. The musicians were often skilful enough that they could interchange between pronged blasts of sheer force and far more melodic, almost poppy numbers and King Crimson-esque sweeps of grandeur.

This E.P. features two bands – LITE, a Japanese four-piece who focus on the gentler, subtler twists of key change (inevitably they have crossed paths with Tortoise’s John McEntire, a limpet on the genre) and Mouse on the Keys, another band from Japan, this time a trio who focus on funkier rhythms and a biological approach to playing the piano. LITE’s first contribution is Else, an utterly inconsequential bout of dithering which would be better left off entirely, let alone feature as the first track. Their second track, Saigo No Basin, is a huge improvement, beginning with a mournful whooping plucked string and leading into a typically finger-torturing avalanche of bullied chords and rattling, hiccupping drums. The third movement, if you will, is a far more sweeping, yet reflective affair, the band playing incredibly tightly and sympathetically. A fine recovery.

Mouse on the Keys is not a collective’s name which fills me with confidence, although titling their first track Four Preludes, Op.50, No. 3 in B Minor is impressive swankery and gave me vague hope. In fact, it’s a beautiful piano-led sigh enlightened by some strangely barking cymbals, shorn of the pious ‘you don’t get this’ air often clouding more widely heralded practitioners. It is jazz – it’s not an odd form of rock, I wouldn’t even consider it experimental. There’s nothing wrong with jazz, it’s not a medical condition. The E.P’s closer, Echolocation, is a jolly, rather jingly piano melody gently joshing with very purposeful drumming. It’s very Western, the only hints at something a little out of the norm being the piano phrasing towards the end which slows the pace to allow the silence to breath for a moment before frantically sprinting to its conclusion. This is a perfect primer for the previously coy or a nice window into a couple of potentially unknown bands for the more experienced.