Side projects offer the ideal space for artists to reveal previously unseen aspects of their musical fascinations. The band Bo Ningen is associated with brutal slabs of heavy psychedelic guitar assaults but the first release from Chela allows their guitar mangler and synth wrangler Kohhei Matsuda to reveal a more experimental side. On ’Diagonal Drift’ he teams up with Ajay Saggar whose Bhajan Bhoy solo project showed him to be at ease working with a host of collaborators. The pair have previously worked together in the trio University Challenged with Oli Heffernan. The name Chela reflects the duo’s respective heritage meaning claw in Japanese and disciple in Hindi, suggesting how the clash of contrasting elements blend to produce something fascinating.

‘Diagonal Drift’ consists of six otherworldly instrumentals varying in length between four and eight minutes. It has the flight, guile and drift of a well-disguised off-spin delivery and is not the sort of record that works as background listening. It is music that discards vocals and conventional notions of melody and structure, demanding immersion, sitting down or laying back, closing eyes and allowing their sonic landscapes to seep over the listener.

The album is bookended by its finest tracks commencing with ‘Flyspray’, a title that corresponds with the images suggested, a swarm of insects interspersed with what could be the sound of a spray deterrent coalescing with an enticing repeated piano motif. The track develops with the introduction of analogue synths creating a trance-like effect akin to a fairground in Hades. It is followed by ‘Appalachjo’, a piece for banjo and drones with touches of teeth set on edge feedback, psychedelic backward masking and white light. ‘Heiwa’ has a far from conventional piano melody, its uneasy pattern combining with drones and synths to create a Kosmische impact.

Side 2 begins with one of the album’s busiest pieces, ‘Ticker’ with its frantic pulses and bass lines like being under siege from an array of science fiction aliens. ‘Tanker’ deploys a distant horn, bubbles of water, sounds of heavy industry. It manages to be the heaviest track on ‘Diagonal Drift’ without resorting to amped-up guitars.

The album concludes with ‘Worship’, a pretty and meditative piano pattern overlaid with drones that echo its melodic pattern and create disturbance on top, devotional sounds are added to the mix. It feels mesmeric and contemplative, providing an ideal ending to an intriguing sonic journey.

Chela: Diagonal Drift – Out 25th August 2023 (Worst Bassist Records)

– Worship – YouTube

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.