Walking with Yama Warashi

Your body attunes itself to music. The attraction of music is physical, which can lead your conscious mind into what seem like puzzles when the physical overrides the intellectual or emotional. A piece of music can be good by tuning your body to it. This is an obvious statement when one thinks of dance music, but where else does this phenomenon occur?

One of my greatest pleasures is walking. When walking home today with my headphones clamping down my woollen tuque, the -10° weather and vicious wind reddening my face, I was listening to an album that’s been puzzling me: Moon Egg by Yama Warashi. For the last few days, this album has been the only thing that I can have on for more than a bit. I go back to it, again and again.

This is puzzling to me because I’m not sure that, for instance, the songwriting is any good. The songs on the album wander along casually. The album sounds rather the same throughout. There are breakdowns without reason or consequence. It’s an atmosphere, not an album.

But I realized today that Moon Egg is perfect music for my stride. It is ideal walking music. My body recognized it first: Moon Egg is a brilliant album.

Yama Warashi is a project by the artist Yoshino Shigahara who is based in Bristol (UK). Moon Egg is their first full-length album. The excellent backing band keeps a loose, jazzy feeling. Horns and percussion come and go, keyboards float over the top, while bass and drums keep everything moving. Some of the songs are in the style of Bon Odori, which is a type of Japanese folk dancing done during an Obon festival, a Buddhist commemoration of the dead and celebration of being alive. The songs are generally played a medium pace, perfect for walking and perhaps for dancing in the street.

Yama Warashi means, in Shigahara’s words, “a small child-like spirit which lives in the mountains,” which couldn’t be more appropriate. I can’t comment on the lyrics too much, because they’re mostly in Japanese. Here’s what she said in a recent interview: “As title suggests, definitely ‘MOON’ is one thing, but MOON EGG is about delusion and hope, so it’s not only about the mother nature MOON. Also lots about complicated relationships between human, animals, nature and spirits.”

The obvious comparison for Yama Warashi is Can, and not simply because they both feature a Japanese singer backed by a band that’s equal parts psych-rock and jazz. Yama Warashi are like the Can of lazy songwriting and pleasure in repetitive jamming. Can’s gift to the world was a serene weirdness, a self-assured style that didn’t require the violent angularity of Captain Beefheart or the look-at-me misogyny of Frank Zappa to be different. Beefheart and Zappa tried so, so hard. Can danced serenely beyond them. Yama Warashi is there dancing with Can.

This pleasure in their own music is what makes Yama Warashi perfect walking music. Walking is a comfortable, rhythmic act that delights of its own power, and Yama Warashi has tapped into this bodily pleasure with Moon Egg.

You can listen to Moon Egg by Yama Warashi on Spotify.