(Not the actual artwork, just something I made up myself, see bottom of first paragraph below)
Lhasa is another wonderfully obscure band discovered within the blogging community, and an experience which I just really want to share. As far as I know, they are a Japanese band... and as someone whose very first introduction to screamo came from Envy's A Dead Stinking Story, I know that can only really be a good thing.
These three songs, 'Mother Earth Father Sky', 'Fallen Grace' and 'Bogged Horizons' were released on a split CD The Harsh Words as the Sun with Italy's Raein and France's Daitro. It's a fairly good split, in my opinion - I quite like Daitro, although I much prefer La Quiete to Raein - but Lhasa's three near-epic songs stand out, almost too much. My preference is to listen to them on their own - a quite satisfactory experience at about 26 minutes - and so that is the way I've presented them, unofficially of course, here for you. (n.b. the 'artwork' at the top is my own - a combination of a purloined tourist photo of the Potala palace in Lhasa city, and what Wikipedia says are the Tibetan characters for 'Lhasa'...)
Anyway, to describe the music itself... it's going to be difficult. Lhasa is all about the voice, even more so than usual screamo bands, and to the extent where it might be said that the instruments are completely secondary. It starts off sounding like ordinary post-rock, and then erupts slowly into deep, throaty vocals. At first, they sounded like ordinary metal screaming, but immediately one can hear so much texture, variation and shape as to escape comparison. Effectively, Lhasa uses the human voice as an instrument (an interesting inversion of the more common technique of using an instrument to mimic the human voice), conveying mood, energy and emotion almost solely through the medium of gruff screaming.
There are, I think, at times at least two vocalists intertwined (shades of my beloved HWM!) but for the most part Lhasa is stripped back to the one voice. This can be heard most effectively on the start of 'Bogged Horizons', where the singer carries along the tune in a low moan for all of five minutes before emerging with the rest of the band in a chugging, throaty catharsis. It seems these guys have absorbed the collective techniques of screamo of the last decade or two (as well as, possibly, the collected works of Louis Armstrong) and produced an incredibly dynamic, innovative and physically overwhelming style all of their own.
In many ways, this music is also incredibly dense. I've listened to these songs countless times, yet I don't really think I fully understand Lhasa. There is something of the cartoonish in this music, as the sound is so direct and unabashed, yet it is also beautifully attuned to the ear. On hearing Lhasa first, I posted some stupid comment like "This is the screamo Tom Waits" in reply, yet as they say, many a true word is spoken in jest. Lhasa plays no folk or carnival music, they are defiantly hardcore in their distorted, atonal guitar wash and chiming post-rock accompaniment, yet they possess like the genius of Tom Waits a powerful sense of soul and profound ability to express emotion in its rawest, most affecting form. Lhasa is a corrosive, bewildering enigma of modern 'screamo' - the poetry of song in its most potent guise.
(If you want to find out more about Harsh Words as the Sun, check out the releases on www.daitro.com/)