Ken Matsutani deserves to be reckoned as a hero of Japanese underground rock. He formed Marble Sheep and the Run-Down Sun’s Children in 1987, a band whose psychedelic excesses never came my way until (like others, I suspect) I heard the PSF sampler CDs in the Tokyo Flashback series. Ken also played in White Heaven, another important Japanese psych band who always got compared to Quicksilver Messenger Service, though they were much more discursive than that West Coast band. In fact Ken’s history even pre-dates this, having played in early 1980s bands like Cement Women and Onna, who I never heard. When he was running the Captain Trip Records label in the 1990s, Ken was always kind enough to send us copies of his releases – not so much in the way of Japan underground, but plenty of Krautrock reissues, including the back catalogue of La Düsseldorf and then many records of later Klaus Dinger projects (some of which were pretty mental).
Well, recently he formed a new group, The Mickey Guitar Band, and we have their latest album From the Beaches. I see that Rinji Fukuoka is a member – the fellow behind Pataphysique Records, often playing his violin and accompanying the French guitarist Michel Henritzi on numerous droney records, and the man behind Overhang Party (also on Tokyo Flashbacks, of course); this multi-talented fellow also drums, which is what he does here. Plus there’s Hiroshi Hasegawa on electronics, another famed figure in Japan, most famous for the noise projects Astro and C.C.C.C. What a line-up…of course From The Beaches (BAM BALAM RECORDS BBCD 067) is not a psych-noise record similar to those heard on those 1990s comps, nor is it wild noise of the sort that Astro used to emanate. Instead it’s rather laid-back, hazy-dreamy visions of a golden Californian coast experience that never really existed, expressed as layers of droney guitar space-rock and very cosmic synth-electronic sounds.
Well, you could use ‘Falling Star Beach’ to pass muster at the next Hawkwind soundalike rock festival (MGB have got that mindless monotony vibe down to a science), and ‘Stoner Beach’ is their attempt at melding a nasty Seattle-grunge guitar sound with a mellow beat, but mostly this is one for baking in the roasty sun while letting the crabs snip at your pectorals. It’s very interesting that they require pretty long durations to make these beachy statements…and field recordings play a part sometimes. With evocative titles like ‘Hazy Morning Beach’, which lasts 20:03, we could almost be hearing an “art” record of environmental immersiveness, rather than space-rock. And the closer tune ‘Midnight Beach’ is about as abstract as a carton full of colour-field paintings sent to MOMA by Ad Reinhart, full of nervous guitar scrapings and synths imitating the sound of the tide.
This mode all takes me back to other long-form Japanese bands who, following to some extent in the footsteps of Les Rallizes Denudes, slowed the music down to the pace of a fossilised snail trapped in a bucket of glue and created many interminable records of agonised bliss. For instance Tsurubami, Miminokoto, LSD-March, and Chouzu. However, The Mickey Guitar Band are better players, not as keen on lolling in the garage-vibe; and also not as self-conciously steeped in the hippy-cosmo vein as Acid Mothers Temple, who produced so much material they soon started to look like pastiche. In short this is a very good and original record; good work, Ken. From 26 June 2019.