The music of World’s End Girlfriend is wonderfully post-modern, a hodgepodge of sounds and instruments, an ambient chamber orchestra being overrun by an exuberant carnival dance-party. Somehow, Katsuhiko Maeda manages to create a convincing unity where others could see only chaos. By combining disparate elements, which by all accounts don’t make sense together, he has yet again managed to craft a beautiful, confusing mess of a record. Formally speaking, this shouldn’t work; it is too serene and lovely to be danceable, but too beat-heavy and chaotic to be ambient or chill. What purpose does a record serve, then, what function can music like this possibly have? It is simply art-for-arts-sake. And it’s fantastic.
Hurtbreak Wonderland is World’s End Girlfriend’s fifth album, following last years critically acclaimed collaboration with fellow Tokyo natives Mono. Many listeners had probably never heard of him prior to Palmless Prayer/Mass Murder Refrain, and thus will be discovering the bizarre fantasy lands Maeda conjures for the first time. Although certainly a classic record, Palmless Prayer simply didn’t allow him the eclectic experimentalism that he enjoys on his solo project. Hurtbreak Wonderland continues where 2005’s The Lie Lay Land left off, but Maeda’s composition and arrangements have continued to progress and grow more sophisticated, without sacrificing the strangeness that is World’s End Girlfriend.
At times, the uplifting strings and horns are vaguely reminiscent of Sigur Ros/Amiina, until the electronic beats come in, giving WEG more of a Books vibe. It’s hard to tell what in Hurtbreak Wonderland is a new creation, and what is borrowed; the collage of organic, borrowed, and manufactured is so seamlessly arranged. Something like a sonic collage, the aural equivalent to a Max Ernst painting, these pastiches manage to sound original, greater than the sum of its parts.
I can imagine John Cage being into this, at least in theory, as Maeda continues the tradition of using aleatoric elements in his compositions, what Cage referred to simply as “chance music.” It is of no use to try and describe this albums progression track by track; it is all over the place. Somehow the general tone of the album seems balanced, oscillating between soothing and energetic, peaceful and exuberant. Maeda draws on more tones and samples than I can name, including harps, strings, explosions, bird sounds, drum machines, electronic blips, synths, organs, various horns, guitars, and live drums. Without departing from his established style, his latest effort is his strongest, and continues to surprise.