The Desperation of Kengo Iuchi

After a post I wrote last week about Daisuke Tobari, an outsider folk singer from Japan whom I compared to Jandek, I did some more digging. It turns out I’m pretty alone in that thought.

It appears that a lot more, (at least relatively), people make the Jandek comparison in reference to Kengo Iuchi, a fellow Japanese outsider artist. I had heard the name before, but I never really looked into him. Once I had seen that his music was often ascribed the label “death folk” online, I knew I had to check it out. I was ready to be very wrong about my assertion last week.

Like Daisuke Tobari and Jandek, Kengo Iuchi is pretty elusive. No live performance videos, one blurry photograph, no music since the late 1990s, occasionally atonal weirdo folk, the whole nine yards.

I still think my comparison is more correct, but I’m glad I took the shot at being wrong.

Kengo Iuchi – “Inugami to Kachiku”
(via Kubitsuri Tapes)

Kengo Iuchi’s record “Inugami to Kachiku” is the most discussed out of his small discography, but I think that’s very justified. Released in 1995 on Kubitsuri Tapes, this album reeks of desperation.

It’s mostly centered around an atonal acoustic guitar and Kengo Iuchi strained, pained whimpers and shrieks. Occasional interjections from other sounds like an oscillating keyboard that sounds like it belongs in indie horror soundtrack, clanging drums, and scraped metal make appearances throughout the record.

Oddly enough, the vocals get very reminiscent of Black Frances, especially on the second track.

I can see why the Jandek comparisons get thrown at this record, but I think on an emotional level it’s coming from a different place entirely.

Jandek’s music feel sinister and mysterious. A lot of the creepiness comes from how calm the surreal lyricism and unkeyed guitar are presented. “Inugami to Kachiku” flips that whole concept, mostly with the vocal performances.

They sound absolutely desperate, like a final, dying cry for help.

There’s really only one song on the record that doesn’t feel like it physically hurt Kengo Iuchi to sing, but they might be the hardest to listen to. On “犬神と家畜” the attempt made at singing feels like it’s a mockery. Sure, it’s a softer song without any big freak-out moment, but it comes off so uncomfortable I would rather listen to him wailing.

After checking this record out, I thought maybe the Jandek comparisons might make more sense for other entries in his discography. I think there’s really only one other option that makes any sense.

Kengo Iuchi – “Anata no Kyouki no Haru ga Saku”
(via Brom Records)

“Anata no Kyouki no Haru ga Saku” was released in 1997 via Brom Records. It features the most singing out of Kengo Iuchi’s discography, but not in the creepy way that cropped up on “Inugami to Kachiku”.

I would hesitate to call them falsetto because based on the small sample size of his vocals I have, I don’t know what Kengo Iuchi’s normal range is. Long story short, the vocals are pretty high-pitched.

This one is a lot more sonically spacious. Aside from a few moments pretty great moments featuring super heavy drums, growling, and a squealing alto saxophone, it stays that way.

The space here helps to develop a horrifying atmosphere, but it still doesn’t come off quite as harrowing as a Jandek release.

Whether intentional or not, Kengo Iuchi just has a quality to his voice that sounds exasperated no matter the context. Bloodcurdlingly bellowing while drums crash or softly crooning out of key, (not that his songs are ever really strict with those), his vocals are uniquely hopeless.

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