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Sounds from beyond with Japan's Ghost

Ghosts, in literature and in the subconscious, are marked by what Freud termed “the uncanny”—that is, having a quality of being nearly familiar, not quite human. Sometimes they are depicted as transparent, or as having no voice or face. They have no regard for structural or personal boundaries. Weighted by chains, they may clang; more often they hover in unsettling silence. Their designs are ambivalent.

Guitarist Michio Kurihara, who plays in the Japanese psychedelic outfit Ghost, presides over his fretboard without appearing to touch it, calling forth sounds that seem to come from some place distant and/or ancient. Behind Ghost’s large mix, which is varyingly loose, fierce and intricate, his guitar lopes, present but ethereal, until the band subsides and Kurihara rushes forward and wails.

That’s “wails,” by the way, in the haunting sense—Kurihara prefers the short end of the neck and seems partial to the tremolo sound—as well as in the rock sense, i.e. “That guy Kurihara can wail.” The latter usage might be a little dusty, but it refers, I think, to a period of rock music that Ghost has made a project of reviving. They flirt with late-’60s British rock, sometimes invoking T Rex and the Rolling Stones—their heavy cover of “Live With Me,” built over a xylophone track, rocks in a way Keith Richards might never have considered.

More often, though, Ghost seems interested in complex experiments, playing traditional folk instruments alongside modern electric guitars in difficult time signatures, for example, or piling sounds upon a simple structure. The results are challenging and rewarding. Playing an orchestra pit worth of instruments (several guitars, drums, hand percussion, vibes, strings, brass, recorder, piano, oscillator and hurdy-gurdy), Ghost’s sound is as much mathy post-rock as it is the progression of freeform psychedelica—and never jammy. Even the monster freakout on 1999’s Tune In, Turn On, Free Tibet (Drag City), which, at 33 minutes, requires its own platter in the two-LP set, sounds both arranged and organic. It moves from idyllic and plaintive folk music to something percussive, electric and terrifying, an obvious but no less poignant metaphor for the rape of Tibet.

Kurihara, whose work on the records takes a less-is-more approach, shines as accompanist for the New York folk duo Damon and Naomi, topping off their dreamy compositions with climbing solos. As lead for the Japanese quartet the Stars, he builds Television-style duels before taking the band into territory that sounds jazzy, sharp and heavy. Live, Ghost’s compositions may seem little more than an excuse to hear Kurihara’s prodigious wailing, but they’re a perfectly good excuse.

Ghost performs with support from Six Organs of Admittance and Ex-Cocaine at The Other Side on Wednesday, Sept. 29, as part of KBGA’s 8th Birthday Bash. Tickets cost $5 (21+) and $7 (18 to 21).

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