SAICOBAB, “Nachin Machine” (Thrill Jockey)

For nearly 40 years, Japanese drummer/vocalist YoshimiO has been flying one of underground music's most garishly hued freak flags with U.F.O. or Die, Boredoms, OOIOO, Free Kitten, and other units. Her sporadic project, SAICOBAB, (formerly Psycho Baba and other variants thereof) has been subverting sonic decorum for about a quarter century.

My first exposure to them was Psycho Baba's 2000 CD, On the Roof of Kedar Lodge, a tripped-out display of percussion-heavy whirled music [sic] that turned your brain into a merry-go-round of lunacy. (Hear "Boat Going Other Side" for proof.) I'd lost track of their progress since then, so it's heartening to see that they're still going strong, with the backing of the great Thrill Jockey label, to boot.

SAICOBAB's first album since 2017's sitar-seared, ragged-raga fest Sab Se Purani Bab, the new NRYTA, which comes out March 22, is another head-wrecking collection. It sounds as if they've trebled the intensity on the record's seven tracks. Yoshimi's most obvious vocal antecedent is Yoko Ono, who defied conventional notions of "good" singing and unleashed an abundance of wild energy and feral ululations on her best albums. On NRYTA, sitarist Yoshida Daikiti valiantly tries to match Yoshimi's roller-coaster-swerving-off-its-rails chants while drummers Motoyuki "Hama" Hamamoto and Taketawa Yo2ro keep boisterous, spasmodic time. 

For many listeners, this record will be all too much chaos and cacophony. Even if you love reckless, relentless psychedelia, it's easy to hear how NRYTA, which is Sanskrit for "dance," could exhaust listeners. A little CAPS LOCK bellowing goes a long way. But radiantly twanging sitars and furiously slapped percussion instruments in the hands of raw geniuses always electrifies the soul.

SAICOBAB's unconventional approach to "dance" music comes to a boiling head on "Nachin Machine." It sounds like Javanese gamelan/raga hybrid on DMT, the hyperkinetic beats stutter-stepping in a strange time signature while Yoshimi chants with choppy abandon and Daikiti wrings hypnotic spangles from his sitar. It's safe to say you won't hear anything quite like this ancient/futuristic, Asian fusion in 2024.

Mushroom, “Looking for Adventure” (Heyday Again)

Bay Area ensemble Mushroom have been one of the coolest American jam bands over the last 28 years. But banish those notions of Phish-alikes from your head—Mushroom's mesmerizing jamming more closely mirrors that of krautrock sojourners such as Can, Embryo, and Agitation Free, or the heady jazz-rock slinkiness of Soft Machine's "The Softweed Factor" than those doofuses angling for a time slot at Bonnaroo. 

Mushroom are led by drummer Pat Thomas, a former Seattle denizen who is also the author of compelling books about music of the Black Power movement, Yippie leader Jerry Rubin, and Beatnik poet Allen Ginsberg, among others. The group's predilection for creating epic, third-ear-opening improvisations has not waned at all on their 15th studio album, Messages from the Spliff Bunker. (Average track length: over 10 minutes.) 

On Spliff Bunker, Mushroom continue to be a loose-limbed force for casual transcendence. "Don't Hate Me Because I'm Beautiful" epitomizes the band's ability to summon nonchalantly funky and slyly psychedelic mantras. With his battalion of keyboards, Matt Cunitz dabs the sound field with colorful whorls while the rhythm section bulldozes onward with stoic determination. In "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities" (a reference to a short story by Delmore Schwartz, who was Lou Reed's professor at Syracuse University), Mushroom create a gripping soundtrack for a tank advancing into enemy territory in slow-motion. "Victor Krummenacher vs. Jorma Kaukonen" possesses the eerie air of Pink Floyd's "Careful With That Axe, Eugene," which isn't as easy to achieve as you'd think. 

The first single from Spliff Bunker, "Looking for Adventure," uses a line from Steppenwolf's "Born to Be Wild" as an artistic manifesto and springboard for a roiling, stoned, oblong boogie that accrues fascinating percussive details, as Ned Doherty's bass darts stealthily and Paul Hoaglin's guitar and Cunitz's keyboards swell and swirl with proggy aplomb. I hear traces of Wolfgang Dauner's Et Cetera in the eventful 12 minutes of "Looking for Adventure," which is a rare and auspicious thing. 

Messages From the Spliff Bunker comes out on two slabs of vinyl, retails for $22, and is available in stores on April 1; that deal is no joke.