April 18, 2005

Ruins "vrresto"

Since their formation a decade ago, Japanese duo Ruins has cast a long shadow over the fringes of underground music. Initially conceived as a power trio, the band settled on a bass-and-drums-only format after their guitarist failed to show up for their first rehearsal. After drummer Yoshida Tatsuya and his revolving cast of bassists proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that you don’t need a guitarist to make a room-clearing racket, Ruins’ influence started being heard in the music of a host of younger, similar bands. The distortion and speed of Lightning Bolt, the skate-punk fury of Godheadsilo, the goofiness and tape cutups of Olneyville Sound System, and even the jazzy meandering of Dianogah can all be traced back to Ruins. The same also goes for the onomatopoeic screeching of Mike Patton and the ever-shifting meters employed by any band that’s ever been referred to as “math-rock.” Ruins’ latest album Vrresto is actually a domestic reissue of an album that the band self-released on their Magaibutsu label seven years ago, but it pulls off the double whammy of sitting proudly next to their progenitors while simultaneously taking them to school.

Ruins play the kind of music that could only be generated through either rigorous rehearsal or telepathic improvisation, depending on which section of the song you’re listening to. Vrresto’s second track, “Warrido,” sets the tone for the rest of the album. It switches from an odd-metered metal rhythm to a four-on-the-floor disco beat at the drop of a dime. Both Tatsuya and bassist Sasaki Hisashi harmonize with each other in goofy falsettos while singing in an invented language. (I’m shocked that titles like “Warrido,” “Zumn-Vigo,” and “Savollodix” actually appear in their respective songs.) Two minutes into the song, the duo lets go of anything remotely resembling structure, launching headfirst into a flurry of processed noise. Hisashi uses a MIDI interface to make his bass sound like a synthesizer; at one point, his instrument sounds like an organ being violently flat-handed. Toward the end of song, Ruins returns to the original theme, but it proves to be a fluke.

Many other songs on Vrresto announce a theme, only to spend the rest of track going on nonsensical yet exhilarating detours. For instance, “Zumn-Vigo” devotes the first 30 seconds to crashing metal, only to shift into a mellow jazz breakdown. The song’s midsection could be described as “Muppet funk” because of the juxtaposition of intense rhythmic syncopation and cartoonish vocalizations. At the end of the song, Hisashi switches on his MIDI controller to make his bass sound like a symphony of bells. “Larikoschodel” has a section in which both musicians sound like they’re doing imitations of Tuvan throat singing, which is then followed by a series of clashing synthesizer chords straight out of Frank Zappa’s Jazz from Hell album.

Such quick and constant juggling of incongruent ideas can get monotonous or tiring over the course of an hour, which may partially explain why I don’t know anyone who owns everything that Ruins have ever released. Taken in mix-tape doses, though, the band can provide the musical equivalent of a swift smack upside the head to unsuspecting listeners. Vrresto is a snapshot of two expert musicians from a country that already processes information a bit faster than the rest of us, going anywhere and everywhere their minds and hands want to take them. If you’re already a Ruins fan, you should have bought this a long time ago. If you’re not…brace yourself!

--Sean Padilla

Artist Website: http://www5e.biglobe.ne.jp/~ruins
Label Website: http://www.skingraftrecords.com

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