An introduction of Japan’s Maher Shalal Hash Baz is bound to be cursory, given the ensemble’s lifespan and the depth of their engagement with the musical world. The group have been spreading tendrils around the world since 1984, and in that time some dozen and a half releases have made their way into the public (including a few breakthrough records on Stephen McRobbie of The Pastels’ label Geographic in the early 2000s) with Tori Kudo and Reiko Kudo at the creative helm, if there were one—with a sizeable rotating ensemble, Maher’s approach to composition and performance looks more like a feedback loop than anything unidirectional. Tori Kudo and company’s first record in seven years, Hello NewYork is out now on OSR Tapes, a fitting complement to the group’s cooperative and expansive ethos.
“Art rock” may be a frequent catch-all for a band like this, but use of the word “art” risks implying a distancing from experience or “reality,” and Maher Shalal Hash Baz possess an immediacy and a commitment to the spirit of onstage or on-the-floor improvisation even in their recordings. Besides, Maher’s sounds are too fluid not to slip through the holes in any net of genre. Hello NewYork traverses a spread of 24 tracks of varying length (and another 10 bonus) with nearly as many collaborators behind them, including OSR’s own Zach Phillips, who engineered and mixed the record. The extension of a 30th anniversary gig in the city, it testifies to the ever-shifting group’s ear toward Western sounds and words and also to its furrowing brow. Against horns and squealing guitars Kudo and friends meld the sacred and mundane. “Haarp”, which has the timbre of a Velvet Underground deep cut, is a series of Biblical excerpts parlayed between K Records’ Arrington de Dionyso and OSR labelmate Christina Schneider. Later the ensemble introduces the Underground’s “Dulce Juana” (that’s “Sweet Jane”) in flamenco, with the guide of raucous claps and a woodwind section. There’s a sparsity to some songs and a choral near-theatricality to others, Kudo’s singing raw and grainy throughout, so that he and the band feel inimitably close and real—all of the album was recorded live. Its two instrumental closers do a good job encapsulating the full range of feeling here: “Psalm For You”, a solemn march of horns and whistles, bleeds into the full-blown orchestral ecstasy of “Unknown Happiness”. This is a wholehearted celebration of the whole spectrum of living, and a renewing of vows. You can stream the full record below and order it here.