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As Happy As Sad Is Blue

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Album Review

J.P. Shilo is none other than John Brooks, a multi-talented member of the late great Australian instrumental outfit the Hungry Ghosts, which imploded in 2000. He spent some time as the drummer of the now infamous Danmatsuma with vocalist Kimiko Tanaka. Brooks left the drug-fueled antics of Danmatsuma and entered a Tibetan Buddhist retreat center and stayed for four years. The music on As Happy as Sad Is Blue comes from this time period, mostly, when Brooks, now Shilo, set his musical ideas onto four-track tape. There are 15 tracks on this CD released by Steve Shelley's Smells Like record label (Shelley recorded the Hungry Ghosts, too). Virtually unclassifiable, it centers on noir-ish circus-type music, ambient instrumental pieces that are darker and edgier than the genre might suggest, beautiful pastoral passages, tango-like interludes, and other elemental musics that cannot be quantified in written language. There are two longish cuts here; the opener, "Earth-Sinking-into-Water," with its shimmering gongs and cymbals, sparse electric guitar, echoes, and tape delays, whispers throughout its nearly six minutes. The other, "The Sea Has Done a Number on Me," is an eerie meditation piece that reminds one of fellow Australian minimal guitarist Mick Turner's work on Moth. The rest of the "songs" here clock in around the three- or four-minute mark, some as brief as the title track (1:21), a Tom Waits carny-like backdrop of crunchy guitars, organ, and percussion all distorted in a funhouse mirrorlike approach. As Happy as Sad Is Blue is an utterly engaging piece of work — it floats, hovers, grovels, crawls, walks sideways, rolls, and sometimes even struts. It's a collage of sorts, but one that works from top to bottom; there are no throwaway or self-indulgent cuts here. This is far more interesting, say, than Daniel Lanois' unreleased demo collection, Rockets, because it's simply more musical, more ominous, dreamier, more beautiful. Shilo plays everything here himself and it's an astonishing array of instruments from violin and guitar to bandoneon and balalaika, from percussion to sound effects. This is an unlikely debut and may disappear without a trace, but it certainly deserves to be heard — and often. This is underground music, outsider art at its best, by a sophisticated albeit careful and even shy musician with many secrets and sleights of hand at his disposal, which he readily employs. A welcome surprise.


Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '90s, '00s

J.P. Shilo is actually the birth name of former Hungry Ghosts member John Brooks. An Australian slowcore instrumental group similar to fellow Australian group the Dirty Three, Hungry Ghosts broke up following the release of their debut album, Alone, Alone (which was produced by Sonic Youth's Steve Shelley and put out on his Smells Like imprint), in 2000. The breakup hit Brooks hard, and he reverted to the name J.P. Shilo, then essentially withdrew from the music scene, emerging several years later...
Full bio
As Happy As Sad Is Blue, J.P. Shilo
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