I love Mukai Shuutoku for who he is. He is not, however, John Zorn.
ZAZEN BOYS’ third eponymous album brings the band back to the inscrutible improvisation that made its first album a chore. In fact, ZAZEN BOYS III goes further.
Mukai has pretty much abandoned any minimum requirement of songcraft. Opening track "Sugar Man" sets the tone — it starts with a menancing riff but quickly dissolves into a mess of spoken word, scratchy guitars and disjointed rhythms.
It’s a racket in the worst sense of the word.
It also reminds me of Heretic: Jeux des Dames Cruelles, the completely improvised soundtrack to an S&M film, performed by Naked City.
On that album, Naked City manages to make up every single piece of music on the spot, caring not one whit about tonality, melody or rhythm. But the telepathic improvisational skills of its five members created a strangely accessible work. In short, there was a method to the madness.
No such method threads Mukai’s madness on ZAZEN BOYS III. The album limps from one track to another, marred by half-baked ideas and uninspiring improvisation.
"Take Off" never does. "Friday Night" shows off some impressive guitar work that crosses the line to wankerdom at times.
The two "Heart" tracks — "Pink Heart" and "Lemon Heart" — demonstrate the band’s shortcomings as improvisers. Simply put, they’re not listening to each other.
Even when Naked City tortured their instruments, each member was mindful of what the others were doing and responded to every musical idea thrown against the wall. ZAZEN BOYS make shit up for the sake of making shit up, and it results in a cacophony of which no amount of brain gymnastics can make sense.
It’s noise, and not very interesting noise, at that.
The few listenable tracks that even hint at Mukai’s melodic sense — "Don’t Beat", "This is Noraneko" — don’t mitigate the avant-garde assault of the rest of the album.
ZAZEN BOYS III is a major disappointment, especially after the incredible performances on "Himitsu Girl’s Top Secret". Mukai’s eccentric muse led him into territory he doesn’t have the skills to accomodate.