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PAINTING PETALS ON PLANET GHOST - 'S/T' lp/cd (Time-Lag Records)

** by Tony Dale, TERRASCOPE (UK)

"The resoundingly well-named Painting Petals on Planet Ghost is a My Cat is an Alien side-project featuring MCIAA brothers, Maurizio & Roberto Opalio, and their longtime collaboarator, Ramona Ponzini. However, this record is the obverse of what one might expect, traversing a spectral, isolationist landscape light years removed from the comsmological outings of MCIAA. For this project, Ponzini plays Edo-period shrine maiden to the Opalio's indentured court musicians. Except, instead of Maurizio and Roberto playing shamisen, koto or taiko, they construct a rice-paper thin-but-strong structure from toy piano, ghostly keyboard tones, antique accordion, percussion, tape effects, and the occasional treated acoustic guitar. The five pieces on the record are, at their most basic level, Japanese poems intoned in a child-like manner over a bed of toy and antique instruments. However, the effect is somewhat other than basic - the trio skilfully intoning Zen mantras for the easing of frayed nerves, played out in encapsulated space, and with many resonating voids for the receptive to fall helplessly into. As in traditional Japanese music, much is made of the power of the silence, the resonance of decaying tones, and the weight of the suspenseful interval. Listening to Ponzini, in my minds eye I see the heroine of the first chapter of the 1966 Japanese compendium horror film 'Kwaidan' - the supernatural "woman with the long black hair" as she extracts her revenge against the archetypal unreliable husband. This film, from which so many have subsequently drawn, has an exquisite visual and sonic aesthetic that is not easily matched, but this release is certainly not disgraced when placed alongside it. From the opening 'Sakura No Hana No Oto Ga Kikoeru' with its simple incantations over Roberto's "cosmic piano toy", to the closing 'Sakurabana', where accordion drones leave inedible tracks in the mind, not a note or instrumental choice seems anything other than deeply considered and transcendentally placed. The artefact matches the music for attention to detail. The LP comes pressed on 180 gram virgin vinyl, and packaged with a letterpress printed cover and insert printed with copper ink on thick handmade ivory art paper, each sheet cast one at a time and air dried, apparently. As far as I know, there are no plans for a CD version, so expect the numbered copies of 560 to go quickly, as seems to be the way of things now."

** by Tom Sekowski, GAZ-ETA (PL)

"Take everything My Cat is an Alien is, then forget that you've ever heard the band's music, close your eyes, all relaxed and rested Painting Petals on Planet Ghost, which features the Opalio brothers, along with their long-time partner/collaborator/manager Ramona Ponzini is a different animal altogether. If you were to shave the edges off the band's chaotic presentation, if you could discount their forceful improvisations and tone the music down by a few notches, you would perhaps arrive at the sound of this trio. To say that much of their music is meditative would be an understatement. On "Haru No Hi Ni", Ramona's delicately flowing vocals grace the sound of gentle acoustic guitar picking and a few percussive clicks, while "Sakura No Hana No Oto Ga Kikoeru" is a ponderous study on the sound of the bells, gentle toy piano clicking and a softer-than-soft vocal accompaniment by Ramona. Sure, there is some actual movement on a couple of the pieces, but even this is done in a nonchalant, very drone-like fashion. Sweetly understated and poetic with a capital P, this release sees a new chapter opening up in the life of the Opalio brothers."

**by Brad Rose, Foxy Digitalis (USA)

"Painting Petals On Planet Ghost is a new project featuring space feline brothers, Maurizio & Roberto Opalio, and their longtime partner-in-crime, Ramona Ponzini. Ponzini also appeared on a duo album with Roberto last year, Praxinoscope. With that in mind, don't expect this to sound like My Cat is an Alien with an extra collaborator. No, Painting Petals on Planet Ghost traverses new ground, staying away from the extended splendid cosmic explorations that MCIAA have become known for.

Make no mistake about it, Ponzini is the shining star here. Her tentative, beautiful voice is like a beacon leading the brothers, like moths to a lamp, toward their destiny. Unless you're fluent in Japanese, you're not likely to have any idea what Ponzini is singing. As she recites various Japanese poems, the Opalio brothers paint an aural backdrop of loneliness and desolation. These songs are like the last will and testament of someone stranded in the middle of nowhere. This is their message in a bottle.

Most haunting is "Haru No Hi Ni." The Opalio's solemn acoustic guitar plucks reek of desperation. Hearing it over and over again, I feel like someone is ripping my heart from my chest. Ponzini's voice floats above the surface, doing its best to stay on top of the wreckage. Each note is like a tiny dagger filled with the worst kind of poison. Simplicity is the best weapon here, and the trio absolutely nails it. This is one of the year's best songs, hands down.

Elsewhere on this record, the backing instrumentation is even more minimal, but still works. The opener, "Sakura No Hana No Oto Ga Kikoeru," features little more than the gentle clanging of chromatic percussion underneath Ponzini's incantations. And at the beginning of the closing piece, "Sakurabana," the trio returns to this format. As it moves forward, the brothers add melancholy drones with (what I think is) an antique accordian. The dichotomy of this and the percussion at the beginning only adds to the longing in the piece. It settles itself right into your bones.

Painting Petals on Planet Ghost shows the Opalio brothers in top form. The addition of Ramona Ponzini adds an entirely new dimension to their sonic attack. The subtleties of this record are what make it so great. Well, that and the fact that Ponzini's vocals are completely mesmerizing. Add to that the typically beautiful Time-Lag packaging, and you've got something essential on your hands. I can only hope that this project will be back with more sometime down the road. Painting Petals on Planet Ghost debut is absolute magic."

**by Adam Richards, INDIEWORKSHOP (USA)

"From the moment I tore open the cardboard mailer I was gone. Such seems to be the case when you receive anything from Time-Lag Records. You hold something heavy and beautiful in your hands. The vinyl is thick like a slab of beef, a fine cut. You can smell how clean and pure it is. Then you take notice of the stunning packaging, In this case each sleeve is hand done, “printed with copper ink on exquisite & massively thick handmade ivory art paper, each sheet cast one at a time & air dried.” Most importantly though, is the music. Painting Petals on Planet Ghost is the inaugural voyage of the My Cat is An Alien brothers Roberto and Maurizio Opalio plus the vocals of Ramona Ponzini. She delicately intones Japanese text over faint and delicate music’s. This album shows, if for some reason you were worried, that MCIAA are no one trick pony. Whether electric or acoustic, the music here is deliciously paced and almost fragile, as if the whole thing were made of glass. The sounds are both somber and delirious as they gradually unwind. The sounds are made of acoustic guitar, tape loops, mystical percussion and of course, Ponzini’s voice. I can just imagine these sounds wafting down off the Western Alps in Italy, where this music was recorded. Surreal fantasies begin to form as I think about it. This album deserves a full-length review’s worth of appreciation for its otherworldly beauty but I am humbled by the record and can find no more words to do it justice."

**by Bryan Berge, STYLUS MAGAZINE (USA)

"Prolificacy’s double-edged. Should an artist release (x > 1) albums per year, naysayers will arise lid-capped from their trashcans and spew the familiar catcalls: “Indulgent! Unfocused! Unfinished!” Unfortunately, the grouches are too often right; otherwise there wouldn’t be so damn many of them. On the other hand, prolific musicians are usually dedicated musicians, capable of more quality albums than the industry standard. No need to punish anyone for exceeding expectations, right?

Let’s zoom in for a case study: Roberto and Maurizio Opalio, known ’round these parts as My Cat is an Alien, not only exceeded their quota in 2005, they play improv psychedelic, a dreaded tag bringing to mind the overflowing landfills of Acid Mothers Temple discs littering Japan (as if the country weren’t cramped enough!) The symptoms of Templetitis recur in the duo—the cosmic vocabulary, a seat at the table with Ed Hardy of Eclipse Records, similar ambient signifiers. The stage is set for a slip in quality. But like AMT in their prime, My Cat is an Alien hasn’t fallen victim to their own energy and enthusiasm.

A key to staying fresh is collaborators, which brings us to Painting Petals on Planet Ghost, a project pairing the Opalios with songstress Ramona Ponzini. This album is a soothing nightcap for a hectic year—short, sweet, easily digested, but still full-bodied. Five songs, not reaching half an hour, of Japanese poetry backed by the Opalios’ sparse instrumental investigations. For the notoriously long-winded brothers—who would just as soon unleash a seventy-minute track as brush their teeth in the morning—the seething restraint on Painting Petals on Planet Ghost is positively revelatory.

Melancholy dominates the album. Ponzini’s melancholy is bested only by the Opalios’ melancholy, each track a battle to out-lonely the other. One could wish for more variety, but given the brevity of the album and the potentially endless permutations of sadness, Painting Petals gets by.

Ponzini’s approach to Japanese serves the album well. The majority of her audience speaks nary a word of it, so she rightly lingers on the sound of the language. As far as I know, she might be happy as a clam, reciting words of sunshine and bounty, but to get the “K” just right (with the crisp burst at the end), she has to elongate the sound. Japanese suits Anglophone listeners well. All its sounds occur in English (except the unrounded “U,” but that’s a quibble), and it has a syllabic rigidity that provides natural rhythm. Ponzini clearly agrees. In fact, she’s sometimes too focused on the sound, forgetting the emotional significance of the poetry. This disrupts “Haruame No Juru Wa Namida Ka,” in which she deadpans the same line for some time, expecting the words alone to carry her meaning. Luckily the gaffe doesn’t spoil the track, as it was already spoiled by the piercing frequency inexplicably favored by the Opalios.

Otherwise, the album kills, though that’s too strong a word for something this fragile. Barring the overanalytical Orientalist concerns that besiege me upon hearing the gongs of “Haru Wa Akebono”—these three are Italian, after all—these songs are nothing but beautiful; the musical equivalent of brushstroke painting. So despite my earlier hand-wringing, Painting Petals has left me wanting more. Knowing MCIAA, the wait won’t be long."