Chalkin’ up another great installment of Hidden Gems, RSTB’s series in which one of my favorite artists picks out an album that hasn’t gotten proper due in the scheme of things and shines a bit of light on it. I’ve found that the picks can often illuminate not only a deserving overlooked album, but also give insight as to where the chooser’s own sound developed from, and this entry from Ben Chasny is a prime example. Ben’s picked a PSF classic, the very seldom sung Live In The First Year Of The Heisei (Volume’s I and II), by collaborative trio Keiji Haino, Mikami Kan and Yoshizawa Motoharu. Technically its two albums, but who’s to get picky around here. Ben gives his take on what makes this such a slept on piece of culture and how it’s played an important role in his own music.
“Though technically there are two volumes of this, I’m going to put them together due to their being recorded at the same time,” notes Chasny. “This record was my introduction to Kan Mikami and the late bassist, Yoshizawa Motoharu. The whole thing has an alien vibe to it that sounds completely unique. No record in the world sounds like this one. It starts off with a take on an old Mikami classic, “The Sea.” It takes a while for the song to start chugging along, with Mikami’s fisherman strum coming in about 30 seconds from the start, followed by Yoshizawa’s bass tumbling in to say hello. Only after Mikami starts singing does Haino’s slide creep in.”
“This first track is the most mellow of all the songs on the record for the most part,” he explains, “perfectly balancing each musician’s delicate focus on an atmosphere never before attained. Later tracks, as in, the very next one, feature a more characteristically black hole type playing from Haino that punctures the acoustic atmosphere with metaphysical violence. Yet, the trick is, Haino never succumbs to violent guitar for the sake of shock (which is not to say it’s not shocking). The ol’ ‘hey, now listen to a noise solo in the middle of this acoustic song’ trick has been played far and wide (ahem, guilty as charged); but Haino’s playing is always more as coordinates, not juxtaposition. The three musicians triangulate a course that is just plain beautiful and terrifying.”
“When I first started Six Organs, Ben confides, “this record was a huge influence for it’s laying down of a unique world. I don’t think anyone has ever come close to it, but it was inspiring. It’s definitely not a sound that would ever be classified as any genre, especially by anyone lacking the proper context. I should say, the whole album is incredible, but this version of “The Sea” easily ranks in my top 10 songs ever recorded. One of the best on the PSF label.”
Sadly this one is long gone, so as far as picking up a copy I’d say with a bit of clever Googling you can certainly find it to listen to. As for ownership, there’s hope in Discogs as well as the long discussed PSF Black Editions label in the works. Not sure the timeline on that, but this would certainly be in the running for essentials needing a repress. Ben is absolutely right that this record is unique in creating its own atmosphere, and just as adept at sucking the current one out of the room completely. Haino fans should certainly come for the artist’s inclusion here, but for any fans of psych-folk or the Japanese underground, its an essential find as well. As for Chasny, he’s got a new record on the way from longtime home Drag City, that’s shaping up to be one of his finest yet.