Masana Temples - the fourth record from Japanese psych-rock band Kikagaku Moyo - is an album that seems almost suffused with life and colour; from the album’s vibrant, kabuki inspired artwork, to the rich instrumentation, right through to the fictional world that forms the album’s conceptual core. In that regard, the album’s opening track, ‘Entrance’ is a warm, friendly welcome to a new sonic world that buzzes and hums with promise. Whilst Ryu Kurosawa’s sitar has always been an integral part of the band’s sound, rarely has it taken such a starring role. A calming, almost serene melody backed by gently strummed guitars builds to an ecstatic crescendo that establishes the frequently joyous, optimistic tone of the rest of the record.

The release of Masana Temples follows a period of change for Kikagaku Moyo. Following a lengthy period of touring, most of the band moved away from Tokyo - some moving to other parts of Japan, others to Amsterdam. With so much of their recent history lived in motion, passing through locations familiar and alien, it’s no wonder that this new record seems at times to feel the same. Songs ebb and flow between different styles, motifs appear and recede like roadside landmarks glimpsed briefly and passed in a blur. The result is an album that even in its slower moments seems to be constantly pushing forward, a hazy, dreamlike soundtrack to a classic road-trip movie.

‘Dripping Sun’ is perhaps the best example of this, opening with a blend of driving bass and wah-wah guitar that lends the track a summery funk sound that wouldn’t be out of place on a 70s cop show. This then shifts gear down to a much slower tempo with clean, meditative guitar riffs and hushed vocals. The track’s initial excitement and drive gives way to a comforting, almost meandering tone that even as it builds seems far happier to extend the journey than rush to the song’s destination. It’s a stark contrast to ‘Fluffy Kosmisch’ just two tracks later, which not only runs at half the length of ‘Dripping Sun’, but immediately adopts an motorik groove that the band maintains for the entirety of the track. ‘Fluffy Kosmisch’ ends in a dizzying swirl of guitar solos, chords and waves of feedback that then merges seamlessly into the more sedate, but no less rhythmic ‘Majupose’. A clean bass guitar riff forms the song’s key hook, with a guitar strummed lazily over it.

The album’s true standout moment though is ‘Gatherings’ which, along with ‘Dripping Sun’, is one of the few tracks that pushes past the 5 minute mark. It opens with the album’s best riff and then proceeds to alternate back and forth between hypnotic verses and pure pysch-rock fuzz for the choruses. It really evidences how tight Kikagaku Moyo are as a band, with repeated riffs or drum fills altered ever so slightly to keep the listener on their toes at all times. However, for a band known for embracing longer, cyclical song structures - Mammatus Cloud for example, featured just three tracks one of which was 27 minutes long - it’s a shame that they didn’t embrace this more, with even ‘Gatherings’ feeling like it’s over a little too soon.

Whilst the more immediate, groove heavy tracks like ‘Dripping Sun’ and ‘Gatherings’ do tend to steal the limelight, the album’s slower moments can be real stunners. ‘Orange Peel’ in particular is a delight. Its bright guitar melodies and slow, percussive work underscore an echoing harmony that’s equal parts Simon & Garfunkel and Cocteau Twins. Closing track ‘Blanket Songs’, meanwhile, brings forth the band’s folk influences - a sound sadly lacking from this latest release - the finger-picked acoustic guitar feeling like it’s a lost riff from Led Zeppelin III. It’s a beautiful, comforting closer, so much so that it feels like coming home after a long journey.