It is with great joy that I’ve decided to share Killing Time’s Irene. Undoubtedly one of the toughest groups to describe on this hear blog, Killing Time hovers among so many styles and moods that to render them one thing or another would miss the point of their existence. Irene, though, in 1988, perfectly placed you on that rarefied soundscape that only they can traffic in. Take one look at the wonderful cover drawn by Maja Weber, one like she would draw for husband Eberhard Weber’s equally unclassifiable ambient jazz, and you’re peering at a special kind of secret.
Killing Time sometimes reminds me of what could have happened if early Canterbury prog had never let up and sought the help of Mio Fou mastermind Hirobumi Suzuki to soldier on. Maybe in the sounds of Wha-Ha-Ha, Picky Picnic, or Hikashu, you can find a localized brethren but, with time, Killing Time grew differently from them. Hovering, nominally, as an 8 or 7 – piece outfit, Killing Time was fronted and backgrounded by some of the most talented Japanese jazz, pop, and prog session musicians of that era but somehow they never let their technical prowess get in front of a wonderful tune.
From eccentric Japanese New Wave group Chakra came guitarist Bun Itakura and keyboardist Kazuto Shimizu. Dub specialist/stylist Ma-To would provide percussion, tape delay, and synthesizer accompaniment. Brilliant session musicians from Gontiti like Whacho, and one truly special drummer in Jun Aoyama took time away from backing up Tats Yamashita and the former group, to come together and really build on what originally amounted to a way for Bun and Kazuto to “kill time” after Chakra disbanded.
Their first release was 1986’s 12-incher Bob ·8687·Peru. Bob ·8687·Peru toyed with RIO and Zolo-esque arrangements to present a fun, quite spirited take on free-wheeling prog condensed into a bite-sized song. Hearing a song like “8687” or “Peru” immediately conjures up latter day, Adrian Belew-era King Crimson or Camel. It was flashy, overtly-technical, but quite enjoyable exuberant prog. 1987’s Skip saw them shift in sound, making something far more digestible, even if it went even further out there in ideas.
As if nodding to Simon Jeffes’ similar-minded Penguin Cafe Orchestra, Killing Time decided to loosen its reigns and fashion itself as an even more open-sourced group where members could come and go, and musical ideas could come from places that weren’t in the rock or Jazz realm. On stage they’d start toying with visual artists and moving sound installations. On record more forward-thinking ideas came out to play. With this shift, on songs like “老人たちの夢 (Hearing Without A Break While Not Hearing A Break)” or “Skip”, on Skip one could hear Killing Time rolling in all sorts of out there influences — world music, neoclassical, and minimal — with their own, increasingly unclassifiable bit of left-field ideas to create a new other.
The album I present today, Irene, perfectly encapsulates when it all came together. Irene features some of their truly most inviting songs “Kokorowa”, and a “A Close Encounter With You Know What”, the former toying with Fairlight CMI sampling and what sounds like a gorgeous take on electro-acoustic minimalism, the latter then taking the Brazilian-rooted influence of the song, inside out, for something approximating Hermeto Pascoal’s otherworldly samba music. Then the other half is filled with songs like “Psychotropicnic” and “Irene”, two modern, Soft Machine-like behemoths where the sophistication in thought and musical sonics truly untether Killing Time from anything they’ve done before.
On “Psychotropicnic”, the totemic ambiance of Martin Denny’s exotica gains new rungs from minimalism and the avant grade, exploding with dusky mind-melting soul jazz it always had lurking far under it’s subterfuge. Then, somehow, they roped in Hamza El Din(!), Sandii (from Sandii and the Sunsetz), and Mishio Ogawa, for what could be their crowning achievement, a song called “Irene” that sways in movements through all sorts of utterly fascinating ideas befitting its 20 minute song length. Irene with features a Residents-like introduction fading into post-tropical Hawaiian music only to then be dragged into the ether with what sounds like working fragments of New Child’s Hindustani-influenced “Nataraji Bengawan Solo” literally being built and torn asunder just as equally.
Ending on what sounds like African music being put through the glitch machine only to come together like one heavenly bit of no-folk music, hearing Irene, no joke, is quite the experience, and puts a capping mark on a group that is painfully in need of much more recognition. When the album ends on a delightful bossanova, because of course it would, even then you’re left with a smile on your face with how well they pull all of this off.
What can I say? It’s a masterpiece to unmoored thinking…
p.s. and for those asking, Killing Time collected choice selections from all these early albums (plus some bonus tracks) on their equally fascinating Filling Time With Killing Time compilation…