Jaku might be the Japanese word for tranquillity, but the eighth Studio offering from DJ Krush is a brimming with tension at times. It feels like black rain in neon soaked near future Tokyo. Like that film with Michael Douglas in. What’s it called? Anyway. This is a sharp album with atmosphere in spades, and tipped with poison. It’s the soundtrack to a Japanimation that you’ve never seen, but imagine you have.

In short, a very evocative 15 tracks span many staples of Oriental music: pentatonic scales, flutes and taiko drums. Indeed, Jaku is an album for Otaku everywhere. Although, were it not for the fact that Mr. Krush is from Tokyo himself, on occasion you could accuse this album of being a little too Orientalist. It makes for an interesting soundscape, but at times you can’t help but wonder if it’s trying to be mystical and exotic just because it can.

But it’s all down to personal taste, and for the most part it’s a brilliantly produced and tightly executed work. It doesn’t sound like Massive Attack as such, but you can feel a dark mist swelling up behind you as you listen just the same. The best moments, like the appropriately rumbling Stormy Cloud, manage to avoid the Eastern stereotypes, and very nearly make the trip worthwhile on their own. A deep dark piano shudders beneath a heavy double bass, and suddenly you can only see a foot in front of you.

Track titles also hint at the kind of mood that Krush is trying to generate. We’ve mentioned Stormy Cloud, but there’s also Slit of Cloud and Beyond Raging Waves. These names perhaps sum the concept up best, as does the bamboo forest of the cover art. You can almost see Li Mu Bai and Jen Yu flitting weightlessly from tree to tree, and that’s because the atmosphere has pulled you in, weak-willed Westerner that you are. Still, if Crouching Tiger had been set in the future, this is what it would have sounded like. Listen in particular to the Japanese drumming on track seven, provided by Shin-ichi Kawasumi, and you’ll know exactly what I mean.

The best moment comes shrink-wrapped with the ever-excellent Aesop Rock, bringing a twisted rhythmical rap vocal to track nine, called Kill Switch. You’ll only catch a few of the words as they slip in and out of consciousness but it’s a fantastically compelling track, notably because it’s furthest away from the asian motifs that have been popping up throughout. Also worth mentioning is the guest rap on Nosferatu by a Mr. Lif. I must admit to not being familiar with him, but he’s certainly someone I’ll be listening out for in future. Lyrics actually feature in the inlay too, should you fancy deciphering any of the semantic meanderings.

An album that is likely to divide opinion, but also one that you’ll already know if you’re going to be able to get into or not. At times the classical sounds of the Orient might be laid on a little too thickly, but when it works it’s a deliciously sharp experience. Just resist the temptation to meditate with it in the background or practice some lame kicks and punches, and you’ll get the most out of it.

DJ Krush
Jaku (2004)

Genre: Trip Hop
Record Label: Sony Music

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