For lovers of gently woozy psychedelia, the news that its prime exponents Kikagaku Moya’s 2022 album ‘Kumoyo Island’ would be their final release was a terrible blow. Ambling to the rescue come an unlikely set of superheroes in Maya Ongaku, a trio hailing from the seaside region of Enoshima, an island 50km south-west of Tokyo. Having supported Kikagaku Moya at their final gig and signed to the Guruguru Brain label run by Go and Tomo from the band, they are ideally positioned to inherit their mantle.

Maya Ongaku - Approach to Anima

Maya Ongaku – Approach to Anima

The name Maya Ongaku’s refers to a neologism defined as the imagined view outside one’s field of vision and encapsulates what they achieve. ‘Approach to Anima’ has the air of a relaxed jam at the Ace General Store, the beachy vintage shop’s studio where they are based, although what emerges is so consistently pleasing that plenty of work must have gone into structuring the eventual release. It is an album that is undemonstrative yet manages to grab and retain attention through its assured beauty.

‘Approach’ sets the unhurried scene, an instrumental with acoustic guitar and Shoei Ikeda’s sax weaving a lovely and emotive spell while an array of percussion sounds (djembe, China cymbal, rain stick, shaker) rustle in the breeze. ‘Nuska’, the first single release from the album, glistening with Tsutomu Sonoda’s gentle vocals and a dreamy melody, acts like a head massage dissipating all stresses. With no conventional drum kit on the album, Ryota Takano’s sinuous bass guitar has a different role and his playing knits the tune together superbly.

The song titles often suggest intangibilities, as exemplified by ‘Descriptions of a Certain Something’ which wafts dreamily, evocative saxophone taking centre-stage and acting as the equivalent of lead vocals, while in the background indistinct, whispered voices reading poetry add an extra texture. It is a track where a triangle, music’s most unfairly maligned instrument from schooldays onwards, is not out of place.

Maya Ongaku

Maya Ongaku

Bird song presages ‘Melting’, a song led by Sonoda’s soothing voice, Ikeda’s singing sax and rhythm courtesy of a guiro that sounds like a frog chorus. ‘Something in Morning Rain’ is preceded by the sound of precipitation. It has some lovely guitar picking, a tranquil quality to the vocal melody and lots of tiny percussive flourishes.

‘Rakusui’ is a 42 second snippet, its running water leading into the appropriately named ‘Water Song’, an eleven-minute track that could in no way be described as an epic. It is as if the album has hit the equivalent of deepest, calmest dreaming in the sleep cycle. Sonoda dials down his unassertive vocal style even further to around 0.1, the Nord synthesizer tinkles unassumingly and at the eight-minute mark, the naturalistic percussion takes on greater prominence and the sax weaves a beguiling texture before leaving only the running water.

The aptly titled ‘Pillow Song’ draws proceedings to a conclusion, starting with a relaxed piano before delicately plucked guitar joins in. The vocals take on the quality of a lullaby and there is what could be interpreted as the ringing of an alarm clock a couple of minutes before the end, the piano melody returns, accompanied by a ticking. The song ends with a locked-groove effect and a briefly assertive piece of guitar noise, the only occasion where they could append rock to the psychedelic tag.

‘Approach to Anima’ would make an ideal accompaniment to a nature walk but is equally effective sending the mind on a journey. Either way, it makes for a gorgeous reverie and one of the most beautiful albums likely to be released this year.

Maya Ongaku: Approach to Anima will be released on 26th May 2023 via Guruguru Brain

I was editor of the long-running fanzine, Plane Truth, and have subsequently written for a number of publications. While the zine was known for championing the most angular independent sounds, performing in recent years with a community samba percussion band helped to broaden my tastes so that in 2021 I am far more likely to be celebrating an eclectic mix of sounds and enthusing about Made Kuti, Anthony Joseph, Little Simz and the Soul Jazz Cuban compilations as well as Pom Poko and Richard Dawson.