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Wednesday, Dec. 25, 2002

HIGH NOTES

NEW RELEASE

The Pascals: "The Pascals Go"


By TOM BOJKO

The Pascals are a quirky collection of outstanding Japanese musicians whose tunes are penned in the spirit of the French composer Pascal Comelade.

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Mssr. Comelade writes music to be performed -- on his own or with his Bel Canto Orquestra -- on highly unusual arrangements of instruments. For instance, plastic guitar, toy piano, ukelele, triangles and melodica stand proudly among the grand piano, violin and classical guitar. His compositions prove yet again a timeless musical adage -- it's not what you play, but how you play it. Comelade is also known to employ Brian Eno's "oblique strategies" in his music. In short, the strategies are a list of tips used to facilitate the creative process and include suggestions such as: "Don't be afraid of things because they're easy to do," "Be dirty," "Go slowly all the way around the outside" and "Do nothing for as long as possible."

On "The Pascals Go," The Pascals have inhabited Comelade's aesthetic with a beauty all their own. While it is unclear if they actually employ Eno's oblique approach, their intriguing compositions and gentle zaniness suggests their creative processes are getting some juice from unusual sources (and they give a nod to Eno on the opening track, a cute but mournful rendition of his song "Taking Tiger Mountain"). The Pascals comprise 16 members and their range of instruments exceeds that of Comelade's Bel Canto Orquestra to include synthesizer, electric guitar, musical saw, tuning fork, various horns, a gas hose, a barking dog and a heap of squeaking toys.

Like much of the music on this album, the melody of "Wedding Polka" has a strong Eastern European feel to it. "Meters," which is dedicated to the New Orleans band of that name, grooves along on a sly guitar riff with playfully voiced toy harmonies until the song suddenly finds itself circling the rings of Saturn with dueling soloists on synthesizer and mouth harp. "Egyptian Reggae" opens with a spooky intro on musical saw and toy guitar. Soon a kazoo enters to state a jaunty melody while a mouth harp springs about with odd precision. After a couple of minutes everything but the kitchen sink drops in to play counterpoint and, while a couple of female vocalists sing clipped, bouncy lines, one could just as well expect Tom Waits and a chorus of gasping skeletons to have made an appearance.

Needless to say, this album is a strange delight.

The Pascals will perform live at Tower Records in Shibuya on Jan. 17 at 7:30 p.m. and Jan. 24 at 7 p.m.


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