Sundays & Cybele - Heaven | Sound Takes

Sound Takes: Heaven


Sundays & Cybele
Heaven (Beyond Beyond is Beyond Recordings)

Over the years, I’ve learned that music often helps subdue the migraines I get. Certain music, at least. Not death metal or grindcore. But if I’m conveniently near a bed when a beastly headache develops, I’ll grab my iPod, lie down, and listen to some low-key tunes as I watch the pain play out in magical flashing auras on the underside of my eyelids.

The other day when a migraine surfaced, I crawled into bed with my iPod and scrolled to a band with whom I was just becoming familiar–the Japanese psychedelic-rock outfit Sundays & Cybele. I’d already heard a few of their songs and knew that I wasn’t about to subject myself to anything that might exacerbate the pain. In fact, upon my first initial listen of the band several weeks before, I had enjoyed the song “Black Rainbow” from their upcoming LP, Heaven, so much that I’d actually thought, “Hey, this would be a great song to have a migraine to.”

And I was right. It was.

“Black Rainbow” is a hallucinogenic song, one that makes you want to get stoned and watch a kaleidoscope shape-shift and change colors for hours, which is exactly what my migraine auras were doing. While a simplistic beat steadied the song’s progress, the distorted, fuzzy guitar–the band’s foremost instrument throughout the LP—lifted it in what I imagined were sine waves alternating across an otherwise featureless expanse.

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Each of Sundays & Cybele’s songs on the 6-track Heaven LP relies heavily on guitar distortion, which isn’t to say that these songs all sound the same. Quite the opposite: each distorted riff, often played in repetition, is like a signature that functions to glue the intro to the song’s body and the body to its ending.

Kazuo Tsubouchi is the band’s frontman. A multi-instrumentalist, Tsubouchi is seemingly one-third Hendrix, one-third Manzarek, and one-third Jónsi, which puts him on a talent pedestal upon which he doesn’t seem afraid to stand. Prior to Heaven, Sundays & Cybele released the album Tsubouchi, an acoustic folk-heavy LP that comes off more like Tsubouchi’s own solo project. After gathering the group in 2004, and, alongside its members Yoshinao Uchida, Shota Mizuno, and Ueno, molding it into the atmospheric wonder that it is today, Tsubouchi assigned himself the role of chief instrumentalist, vocalist, and songwriter. This structure seems to be working out rather well for the quartet.

On Heaven’s second song, “Almost Heaven,” Tsubouchi’s guitar does most of the talking. It’s a tachycardic tune that made my migraine auras look downright lackadaisical in their languid shapeshifting. But while the song’s pace is quick and hurried like a teeming river, Tsubouchi’s voice is like the leaf that glides carelessly across its surface.

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This kind of juxtaposition, this pairing and layering of dissimilar sounds, is itself a sub-theme on the album. The fourth track, “Empty Seas” unfolds with Tsubouchi frenetically hammering away up and down the fretboard before settling into a ’70s biker-rock rhythm akin to Montrose’s “Bad Motor Scooter” (Sammy Hagar’s hard-rock band before Van Halen). Eventually, Tsubouchi applies his soft vocals to the tune, thereby adding a dreamlike layer to it.

While, overall, I found the music on Heaven energizing, it also felt like white noise to me, which made it easy to enjoy while prone on my bed. I adapted to its sounds much like one adapts to living near train tracks or above the subway. After a while, they were just sort of there. This likely had to do with the fact that there are no real surprises on Heaven. A good thing, by the way. I have a difficult time enjoying an album that ventures into several different genres in the span of a dozen songs.

One tune did shake me out of my migraine mini-coma—“Hinagiku.” This song marks the album’s downshift into “slow dance” mode. “Hinagiku,” the fifth of the six tracks on the LP, starts with a drum intro nearly identical to that of The Ronettes’s “Be My Baby”—boom ba-boom tsk, boom ba-boom tsk. The sudden turn in tempo startled me so much that my eyes popped open. The auras were gone. And while a small pulse of pain was making itself physically known behind my eyes and in my sinus cavities, I hardly noticed thanks to Tsubouchi’s waah’ed-out guitar riffing. While “Hinagiku,” at first, reminded me of early-60’s prom music, the psychedelic twang over the romantic arpeggios felt strange and incongruous (again with that juxtaposition)—what I imagined it must feel like to walk into a senior prom on LSD: the room is dim, reflections from a disco ball dance across the ceiling, and in the far corner, a doberman pinscher is standing on its hind legs, wearing a pearl necklace and a badge that reads “Chaperone” and handing out plastic cups of fruit punch.

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The last song on the LP, “Time Mirror,” is the obvious comedown to the psychedelic music-trip that is Sundays & Cybele’s Heaven. A seven-minute instrumental anthem, the song has a Pink Floyd-ish feel to it, with more prominent keyboard and an obvious arc. As I lay in bed with my migraine, listening to this trippy last track, I imagined Tsubouchi on stage, bending the strings of his electric guitar à la David Gilmour mid-“Time,” with tufts of synthetic fog wafting about him. While this image of him seems just as ridiculous and exaggerated now as it did in its moment, I was grateful for it then; it meant my headache had dulled enough that I could let my imagination play again. And just like the concept of “heaven” itself, what good is feeling better without remembering the pain of how you got there? And that’s where the music comes in, man. Just ask Timothy Leary. Or Kazuo Tsubouchi.

Abby Higgs graduated from The University of Baltimore's MFA in Creative Writing & Publishing Arts program. Her work has been published both in print and online. You can read more of her words here: Find her on Twitter @AbbyHiggs. More from this author →