Ai Aso/Wata

She's So Heavy EP

(Diwphalanx; 2007)

By Chet Betz | 8 October 2007

The first song on the She’s So Heavy split shared between Japanese folk-minimalist Ai Aso and Boris guitarist Wata, Ai’s cover of King Crimson’s “Islands” is a sharp exercise in expressive introversion, stripping the original of its boozy amble, honing in on the two key melodies and transforming those into a stunted cadence; Soichiro Nakamura’s drums start then stop halfway through the measure (minus the odd cymbal crash or fill) while Ai’s calm intonations trail into the rest along with the trembling notes of You Ishihara’s guitar. The second melody (I’d hesitate to call it the chorus of the original but here it works as such) is highlighted by the symphonic warble of Ai’s mellotron, a song-making piece of accoutrement that glazes over the stutter and would be cathartic but that the stutter remains entrenched in the song’s foundation. This cover doesn’t alter King Crimson’s melodies, it potently reinforces them in a crystalline structure that affects a form both firm and fragile, and so “Islands” joins the songs of Lavender Edition (2004) and Chamomile Pool (2007) as yet another testament to the conceptual elegance and ascetic rigor of Ai Aso’s craft.

Accompanied by Michio Kurihara and the rest of Boris, Wata’s take on the late great Masashi Kitamura’s “Angel” finds perhaps its most subtle reference point of homage in Soichiro Nakamura’s mellotron (Kitamura played quite a bit of mellotron when he wasn’t playing bass in seminal Japanese hardcore band YBO2), which then also draws a parallel to the Ai Aso song on this split. Kurihara strums, Atsuo creates ether with his cymbal and some bells, and Wata’s vocals in the chorus take a slight but unexpected downturn that harmonizes beautifully with Takeshi’s bass line. But it’s in the final two minutes that Wata gets to unleash a loudly melancholic guitar lead, and that’s where the mellotron softly wails out an elegy that almost sounds choral. The production lets this one down a bit: live the sound is perfectly balanced, Wata’s vocals glistening just on top of the surface and her solo breaking in with a titanic impact to the gut; here on record, however, the vocals feel a little too closely mic’d and her guitar loses a tad of its closing pathos—not through the playing but in its being pulled back a notch in the mix. There was no mellotron part live, though, so score one for the record. Either way, it’s a piece of work that aches brightly.

This split will cost you about thirty bucks, but the songs are incredible, the run only numbers 1500, it comes with a 60-page photo book, and “She’s So Heavy” just happens to be the parenthetical title of my favorite Beatles song. Do the right thing.