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Yamantaka // Sonic Titan, Perfect Pussy and their dissonance

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Yamantaka // Sonic Titan is a performance art troupe that moonlights as a touring rock band, the latter of which traveled to The Middle East Downstairs last night for a performance that reflected its theatrical roots. The Montreal group donned robes and painted their faces, modeling the Manga tradition of cartooning. Musically, the band draws from a great many styles, representing well the Asian-Canadian heritage of Yamantaka // Sonic Titan’s core members, Ruby Kato Attwood and Alaska B. That cultural marrying results in a blend of Asian C-pop, progressive metal and Chinese opera, and so the band has embraced the “I don’t know what they are” moniker of “experimental rock.”

Yamantaka // Sonic Titan’s audience was primed with the burgeoning hardcore punk band, Perfect Pussy. They’re hard, they’re fast, and they’re noisy—if you want to lose your hearing as fast as you can, travel with Perfect Pussy. Today, noisy isn’t an entirely pejorative term—yes the band is loud, but the band’s punk façade is rooted in noise rock, a subgenre that, according to Thurston Moore, has taken the place of punk rock. It appropriated the punk ideology while “punk rock” was co-opted by the mainstream. And indeed, the Syracuse-based band pumps the treble and obliterates the stage space with pure noise. It’s hard and fast like punk has always been, but Perfect Pussy places a premium on dissonance, creating tireless noise that they're able to mold into coherent sound. (A quick shout-out to Green Dreams, the band that adeptly prepared the crowd for Perfect Pussy with some simple, solid punk; great riffs.)

It was a strange transition from Perfect Pussy to Yamantaka // Sonic Titan, like a cocaine high straight into to an acid trip. The crowd somewhat awkwardly segued from moshing to operatic observation before settling into the refreshingly original “experimental rock” of YT // ST. The band opened with “Queens” and progressed into a great set-list that vacillated between vocal recital and death metal concert—and they covered the entire stylistic spectrum that accounts for the vast disparity between those genres. Where Perfect Pussy was raw, energetic thrashing, Yamantaka // Sonic Titan was stoic presentation, and the band stayed in character throughout the entire show.

As conflicting as these two modes of performance are, the bands did share the use of dissonance as a common denominator—albeit in much different ways. As was aforementioned, Perfect Pussy’s sound revolved around dissonance and its inherent “noisy” character. YT // ST used it in a more classical sense; that is, they used dissonance as a temporary divergence from tonality. When chord progressions stray from consonant sound, the listener can better appreciate its presence upon its return from atonality. In “Reverse Crystal // Murder of a Spider,” Attwood and Alaska B vocally harmonize a tritone, which isn't pretty by itself, but with context it contributed to the complexity of the chord progression and resulted in a much richer composition.

All in all, it was a solid show with great individual performances. This observer isn’t entirely convinced that the two bands are the best match, but if seeing them together is your only option, then by all means, attend.

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