TEKE::TEKE Expand Their Kaleidoscopic Universe on 'Hagata'

TEKE::TEKE Expand Their Kaleidoscopic Universe on 'Hagata'
It can be difficult for a band with a truly distinctive sound to innovate and expand beyond their signature style without compromising their identity. On their sophomore LP Hagata, the Montreal-based septet TEKE::TEKE manage to do just that: building on their trademark blend of Japanese traditional music and 1960s psychedelic rock but adding just the right elements to make it feel both fresh and captivating.

When TEKE::TEKE released their debut album Shirushi two years ago, the band was still riding on the buzz generated by their 2018 EP Jikaku while having also gained an international reputation for their fearsome live show. Born as a sort of tribute band to Japanese guitarist Takeshi Terauchi (1939-2021), they had to prove that they could be more than just a novelty act — they did so by showcasing great songwriting skills and an ability to combine disparate elements such as noise, prog, surf rock, chamber pop and film scores into an immersive world.

In press materials, the band has described "Hagata" as "a very deep word, something present but also something leftover from someone or something no longer there." In its essence, the term can refer both to TEKE::TEKE's way of conjuring past musical elements and to its various members' personal experiences. As someone who moved to Montreal in the early 2000s without speaking any French, singer Maya Kuroki is no stranger to feeling like an outsider, something she uses to her advantage through her dramatic vocalizations in her native tongue. Being of mixed French-Canadian and Japanese culture, guitarist Sei Nakauchi Pelletier is also familiar with that sentiment, and his compositions brilliantly sit at the junction of these two worlds.

In line with TEKE::TEKE's cross-continental musical language, themes of distance and identity seem to be running across Hagata. Indeed, one of the standout tracks is called "Doppelganger"; starting as a '70s Japanese-style ballad, the song morphs into a superb instrumental section where a repeated chord sequence allows the band to build up the tension through layers of lush orchestration. The melancholy of the bridge also provides a fitting counterpoint to the bouncy verses, again echoing the doppelganger theme while creating its own narrative through music alone.

One of the greatest strengths of TEKE::TEKE is that there seems to be no limit to the musical directions they can take. Having already combined an impressive number of genres and styles on their debut album, the band push things even further here by fully embracing their punk side on the fiery "Hoppe," which closes in Black Flag-fashion as the guitars, drums and even the trombone engage in fast riffing. Elsewhere, there's a hard-rock-meets-stoner-metal feeling to the seven-minute epic "Kaikijyu," although the song's intensity tends to wear down as it goes.

But the most surprising number on Hagata is "Onaji Heya," with its synth-percussion and pulsing beat that show TEKE::TEKE venturing into uncharted territory. Working with producer Daniel Schlett (whose credits include the War on Drugs and CHAI), the Montreal combo has let new influences into their sound, with some unexpected results. There are very few rock bands that could pull off an impressionist interlude in the style of Debussy ("Me No Heya") but it somehow works.

The challenge for TEKE::TEKE is that their instrumentation is so atypical for a rock ensemble that they can't rely on the same old tricks to create effect: one line from Yuki Isami's shinobue flute and you're immediately transported into their world. For that reason, nothing is ever going to beat that feeling of excitement when you heard them for the first time. And yet, by trusting themselves as a band and by expanding their sound just a little, they've produced an even more adventurous record than their debut — at once versatile, imaginative, and fun. (Kill Rock Stars)