The faintest hints of the 1960s hit parade radiate off these three beautiful instrumental pieces for electric guitar by the Japanese composer Naoto Kawate. We are reminded, at arm’s length, of the optimistic twang of the Ventures or the crisp strummed chords of the Archies. But there is no hewing to antique formula here. These are not––not exactly, anyway––pop songs. It would be more accurate to describe these pieces as loving tributes to the ambience and atmosphere of ’60s pop, a certain swath of feelings imprinted on sounds that come from a particular moment in historical time.
Looked at in a different way, we might say that Kawate (perhaps best known for his contributions to the legendary Japanese collective Maher Shalal Hash Baz) has constructed ingenious little machines within which to study the interaction of simple elements—one guitar strumming plaintive chords four-to-the-bar, another playing a plangent melody up the neck. What, Kawate asks, are the possible outcomes of this commingling of elements? In this playfully experimental respect, Three Guitar Tunes evokes the music of the sweetly deranged Deerhoof-adjacent group The Curtains.
On “Corner Lights,” Kawate winds a snaky melody around a sweetly melancholy set of chords. Echoes of psychedelic-guitar visionary Zal Yanovsky can be heard in the decorations of the lead voice. But the constituent parts do not cohere into a wordless pop song or cinematic mood music. Similarly, the continuous eight-note melodyb of “Slightly Different” drives through a series of nearly identical side streets, never returning precisely to a starting point or allowing the passenger to know (with any certainty) the nature or purpose of the trip. “Wrong Platform” pairs a lithe folk-rock strumming pattern with a more densely ornamented melody line and a few carefully selected idiomatic gestures: here, a hint of vibrato; there, some sliding double stops. The effect is mesmerizing, touching, weird—a judgment that applies to Three Guitar Tunes as a whole.