Japan pt 1


Your Ears are my Punching Bag: Japanese Noise

Original position in magazine: pp 33-42

Contents: Tokyo Flashback, Tokyo Flashback Vol 2, Tokyo Flashback Vol 4, Ghost, Otomo and Eye, White Heaven, High Rise, Musica Transonic, Keiji Haino, Consumer Guide to Boredoms


You’ll have noticed many PSF Records in this section. PSF stands for ‘Poor Strong Factory’, the mysterious record label in Japan that issues these monstrous records. It also stands for Poverty-Stricken Fool, which is what you’ll be after you’ve paid for all these absurdly expensive items, some of which cost over £20 apiece. Note however that there are a few domestic-ish or US releases which are also worth checking out – and they’re more affordable. In particular look for those on the French label Disques de l’Acier et Du Soleil. I have dwelt at length on some volumes of Tokyo Flashback, which were a revelation to this listener; four volumes of this excellent series have surfaced so far, all of which I would recommend without hesitation. The smart ones amongst you will have already bought Cosmic Kurushi Monsters, the Virgin (budget-ish) 2 x CD sampler, which we will examine next ish.

Tokyo Flashback: PSF Psychedelic Sampler
JAPAN PSFD-12 CD (1991)
Marble Sheep and the Run-Down Sun’s Children fade in with a hammering boxing glove, and throughout the long piece one single chord/note unites these six Orientals. Playing the ‘Octopus Hold Guitar’ links them to Musica Transonic and their mad east-west innovative names for instruments, in the tradition of Blue Oyster Cult’s ‘Stun Guitar’. The photo here also shows the ‘Camel Clutch Lightshow’ in action. High-Rise’s ‘Mainliner’ is a high-octane dragster mesa-boogie on acid cut with Jack Daniels. Once again, no stupid verse-chorus structure to disrupt proceedings – just 100% thrills every second. Up next are Ghost playing their ‘Improvised Tama Yara’ at rained castle. A cello moans, a banjo acts as a koto, a vocalist whines, the drums march you thro’ the ruins and Mu Krsna plays ‘Atmosphere’. Climb inside this raincloud in a pink sky. The incredible Fushitsusha are caught in the very thick of exorcising a particularly nasty Green Dragon demon, belching out of the victim’s guts in thick bursts of vomit, the guitar saws off his limbs while the frantic Holyman pounds his head with a hammer. White Heaven play an alternative take of ‘Blind Promise’ – see below for full review. On Verzerk’s ‘Heavy’, N. Yoshimoto’s bass rules the roost and the first Black Sabbath LP is invoked with a lumbering, heavy jet-black rhythm. Track 7 has no English translation, but the girl bass-player singer suggests something in the Slits-Raincoats mode – disjunctive, stop-start, structure all pulled to pieces. The keening voice could make this a political protest of a vengeful love song. The last cut is the sound of Keiji Haino’s solo vox, being tortured to death in a deep-freeze chamber. Release him somebody, he’s the prisoner in the basement of this monstrous High-Rise Tokyo skyscraper, eroding its foundations from beneath, while Fushitsusha are the earthquake shaking it down, and Verzerk are the bulldozer sweeping away the rubble, whereas…

Tokyo Flashback Vol 2
JAPAN PSFD-24 CD (1992)
… this sampler conversely is the fragile Bamboo House of Secrets in the mysterious forest of spirits. Who knows what you will find lurking behind the next door – a beautiful courtesan or a hideous dragon? Overhang Party deliver a hypnotic stone groove wrenched from the psychedelic basement, as good as any genuine period artefact. Marble Sheep’s ‘I Just Stay in the Up Side’ is more sundrenched poppy psych with a distort lead guitar that Jerry Garcia would be proud of; the same goes for the cut by Ohkami No Jikan, which practically turns into a mid-section from ‘Dark Star’ as it describes a neon-lit Osaka wasteland at 3 am. On the less conventional side, check out Maher Shala Has Baz, who kick off with 90 seconds of insufferable, disjointed plunkings over which they chant unintelligible wailings; this precedes a crisply recorded, but detuned garage-band song with a nice melody hiding somewhere in the skeletal framework; this is as deliciously off-kiltre as ‘Loose Lip Synch Ship’ by The Hogs. Kousoyka are suffering a moment of deep personal crisis on their track, as evinced by the reedy ululating voice, paranoid lead guitar, and grinding Swans-like rhythm section. Yura Yura Kingdom are the Vertigo band that never were, a swirling sinister noise fronted by a singer who learned how to sing Jim Morrison by the phonetic method. Plus a classic live High-Rise cut, where Narita’s octopus screech guitarings are joined by Keiji Haino’s gruff barks over the ‘Psychotic Reaction’ riff. White Heaven and Fushitisusha are also here. Fantastic cover art echoes that of UK garage band The Eyes Blink LP; the back cover is a galaxy photograph in silver and purple.

Tokyo Flashback Vol 4
JAPAN PSFD-69 CD (1995)
Another strong collection with a few big names, some intriguing unknowns and several distinct divisions of ‘psychedelia’ at work. High-Rise are the riff kings of the 90s and they pull it out of the bag here, even when they’re not as sharply recorded as we’re used to hearing them. Asahito Nanjo’s other band Musica Transonic don’t let us down either, and in the land of the riff Puka Puka Brains look to be ascending stars. Construction, a very young-looking band, use a coupla familiar riffs – ‘The Gift’ and ‘Sister Ray’ and make diverting enough use of them and some acknowledgment in the lyrics – ‘this…reminds me of the songs of someone’. A second strain comes from Psychedelic Crazy Horse and Akiyama Sugimoto – burlesque style drumming and noodly warm-up exercises from the guitarists, each going their own way and taking no heed of the other musicians, I half expected the tap of a baton and a big dramatic convergence. But it didn’t come. Either time. The third strain is of a spookiness I’d associate more with Chinese ghost films. The Hikyo String Quintet have it and so do On-na Kadomo – a line-up of two bass guitars and a violin that’s either heavily processed or has nickle wound strings bowed with a hacksaw. There’s much creaking and clanking behind the plaintive vocals, to good effect. But the rosette winner of this spooky strain and of the whole compilation has to be Shizuka – electric mandolins, extreme reverberation and a lament that blossoms to startlingly expansive proportions. At which point you should tape down the crockery and cover your head with your elbows.

Temple Stone
Second Time Around
JAPAN PSFD-25 CD (1992)
Ghost are the true inheritors of the progressive folky mantle; if High-Rise are the Japanese Black Sabbath, Ghost are the Incredible String Band. Electric instruments vie with traditional bamboo reeds and percussion, and combine with eerie moans to conjure up a most haunting atmosphere. There’s a photograph of the band (in booklet for PSF-D 12) playing or posing in the ruins of an ancient Japanese Castle – either paying homage to The Can’s Monster Movie (Made in A Castle with Better Equipment) or giving due respect to their honourable ancestors. The eponymous CD Ghost features many long-winded anthems to the ‘Moungod’ – a god of the Mountain, or a god of the Moon? When they get into a groove – and in this department they score more often than not – these fellows can put you in a deep trance for days. In adopting western modes of musical expression, cultural differences are not elided – instead, an exciting East-West clash results. But you could say that about all the fine records in this section.

M C Hellshit and D J Carhouse
Live at Disobey
Otomo and Eye let rip during one night at a gathering round the Disobey bonfire. At first listening, this scared the bejabbers out of me and an electro-magnetic pulse caused my pacemaker to implode. Now I’m back from intensive care and slowly growing accustomed to the antics of shock-jock Eye and turntabling-terrorist Otomo. In their eighth-dimensional world of fantastic possibilities, Frank Sinatra was a crippled reggae singer who sang back-up in Lesley Gore’s band while hammering on a packing case filled with vampire bats. If he failed in his duties, the devil’s minions would boil him in oil and prod him with jade pitchforks. The results of these diabolic tortures have been taped and issued herein for your enjoyment – you sadists! Very very limited 3-inch CD, beautiful collage/fibre tip scrawl sleeve. Probably long out of print now, so really your only option is to kill someone to get a copy.

White Heaven
JAPAN PSFD-11 CD [1995]
Their first record in 1991 was a limited 500 copies on vinyl, sold out in no time and is a collector’s item, hence this slightly easier to obtain CD reissue of it. To some impatient listeners this may not have the same immediate drool-factor as the other goodies reviewed here, but I think you should stay with it as it’s a real grower. Songs, for a start, not just noise – and guitar grooves of the more mellow mode, both of which make this a tribute to the past glories of psych & garage, a kaleidoscope of the band’s record collections. The clanky rhythm guitar on ‘Blind Promise’ is worthy of anything from the Pebbles series – nearly the equal of the unbearably beautiful sound of the chundering rhythm of ‘Love At Psychedelic Velocity’ – while the lead guitar is distorted to the pitch of Captain Beefheart’s blues harp. The sweet guitar solo on ‘Dull Hands’ edges us towards Quicksilver Messenger Service territory, not a bad place to be at all – and conjures up Roky Erickson, who would make a real meal out of this lyric which plaintively begs ‘Please Don’t Walk Away’ over a slow rock beat. ‘My Cold Dimention’ whisks us back to early Black Sabbath territory – a lot of the Jap undergrounders seem to venerate Tony Iommi, and quite correctly. ‘Mandrax Town’ finally confirms all the druggy clues hinted at in titles and lyrics (it’s a real come-down album, this). ‘I love you sweet white lines’ declares the singer, then at 2.05 a double-tracked one-note guitar solo kicks in as deep as an armful of heroin. ‘Out’ begins as the riff Lou Reed never got round to playing, somewhere between ‘I’ll be Your Mirror’ and ‘Jesus’, with tricky major-minor chord changes from ‘New Age’. On the front cover, the four members of the band form a virtual Skull in black and gold (respect to the Grateful Dead), while a labyrinth motif on the back cover challenges the listener to find the way ‘Out’ of their maze of references and smotheringly overcharged mix. A high-quality item indeed.

JAPAN PSFD-48 CD (1994)
Yet another intensely LOUD disc that will cause your poor CD Player to wave the white flag, pack its bags and go home to its Mum. High-Rise, like many of these rogues on the PSF roster, have tried the recorded history of Heavy Metal / Prog music, sampled it on full blast and stuck their heads in the bass bins of stadium-sized PA speakers – and they’re still not satisfied! So they have to perform their own brand of music to get anywhere near the power surge and energy release that their macro-biotic systems evidently crave. Glenn Branca and his guitar orchestras? Bah! A cigarette lighter trying to compete with the core of the sun. If you can educate your palate to taste a good hot chili through layers of flame, then you should have no trouble untangling the superlative guitar riffs and wah-wah pedal to the floor solos that abound in this brilliant recording.

Musica Transonic
Musica Transonic
JAPAN PSFD-61 CD (1995)
Unrestrained wodges of effects-soaked ‘Motor Psycho Medieval’ guitar, another psychedelic-to-the-Nth degree masterpiece. This trio of demonic spirits was formed out of The Ruins, High-Rise and Toho Sara. Musica have a extra weird dimension in that they sometimes sound like they’re trying to be a cabaret-style parody of a 60s beat group. Occasional major-seventh chords work their way in to the mix, likewise the basic repeats in the song ‘structures’ make you think of a cheesy garage band only too ready to display their rank incompetence by playing ‘Louie Louie’ at the high-school bop. Less than 40 minutes of concentrated psych vitamins are guaranteed to revitalise your heart, head and lungs. The sheer volume is another all-out attack on your hifi system, your neighbours, your walls and your head – not until a fine hairline crack in your cranium appears will these maniacs rest.