Posts Tagged ‘Japanese Psych’

Kikagaku Moyo kick off Live at Levitation LP series

Levitation has long been a destination festival for excellent psych acts and it should have been no surprise that it served as one of the entry points for Kikagaku Moyo into American hearts. One of the band’s first shows was at the festival in 2014 and they returned again much higher up the bill in 2019. The band’s performances at both with grace the inaugural edition of the Live at Levitation series issued through the festival’s label arm, The Reverberation Appreciation Society. Both sides are heavy reminders of why the band is excellent in the studio, but also an animal on the stage. The energy that they bring to their first set helps cement them as heirs to the PSF legacy in the new age and the label’s got it up on ltd vinyl with a t-shirt in tow. Check out a video of the band performing “Smoke & Mirrors” at the fest in 2014. It’s been a good run on live albums of late and this official boot is a pretty essential extension of the current crop.

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The Silence

Masaki Batoh’s output of late has been nothing short of admirable. Between a run of solo albums and his work with The Silence, the man’s pumping out multiple albums per year without the slightest dip in quality. Following up the absolutely crushing Metaphysical Feedback from last year, the band pushes into heavy pscyh Nirvana with Electric Meditations. The record follows its predecessor’s reliance on sax and flute to fill out the shifting landscapes, letting heavy walls of riff and tender folk sidle down psychedelic jazz tributaries. The title track straddles the blend especially well, shifting easily on its feet from electric sweat growl to hushed moments of reflection. The album begins with a similar crash to the gates in “Tsumi to Warai,” which wields sax like a battering ram before letting a snaking bass section writhe against the groove into the opening of the album.

They blister next through a psych-funk simmer, dousing the listener with humid flutes and a tangle of rhythm then wind through the wooded paths that bear the brush marks of his time with Ghost. They get lost in the abstract only to pull themselves from the void of twinkling improvisations and conquer once more. Then, just for good measure, they knock the lid off of a cover of Bo Diddly’s “I’m A Man,” sounding like an outtake from Two Bands And A Legend. The Silence has always seemed like Batoh’s well-oiled endgame — a perfect amassing of players that can finally form the sounds that have haunted his head for ages.

It’s the songwriter at his most varied, but the eclecticism fits together like a puzzle box that’s a portal to a realm of fascinating forms. The panoramas on Electric Meditations are vast and wondrous, and it almost seems like he’s been overlooked in the last few years because people expect spot-on psychedelia from a figure as storied as Batoh. It’s worth shouting, however, that the legend is still plugged into the lysergic portal and passing the visions onto us in records that delight, disorient, and divine some sort of deeper cosmic thrum. Don’t miss out on what Batoh’s been conjuring.



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The Silence – “Electric Meditations”

Masaki Batoh isn’t wasting any time these days, cranking out excellent solo records and new material from The Silence at a dazzling clip. The latter is back on the heels of their heavy hitter from last year and from the sounds of the nearly eight minute title track, “Electric Meditations,” it’s going to be just as ferocious. The song crawls in on a stomping riff before the band lays in with fat bleats of sax and Batoh laying down a faraway lyric over the top. It burns straight through — growling, groaning, and letting the listener get a nice sear on ‘em between the grit on that guitar and the bulbous sax blasts that permeate the song. The Silence has proven to be some of the ex-Ghost songwriter’s most intense material over the years and from the sounds of this one, that reputation isn’t going anywhere soon. The new record is out November 6th from Drag City.



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Musica Transonic – S/T

If you’re not paying attention to the output of Black Editions by now, then there’s no saving you. Getting the P.S.F. catalog back on the racks and doing so with a keen eye to detail might be the closest thing to doing divine work in the godforsaken clutches of 2020. The label has a few on the slate this summer, but for now I’m giving the necessary nod to Musica Transonic and its ineffable impact. The record brings together an unshakable trio of Japanese talent that included Nanjo Asahito (High Rise), Makoto Kawabata (Acid Mothers Temple) and Tatsuya Yoshida (Ruins). I remember grabbing a CD of this quite a few years ago and the record hits like an overload to the senses, pulsing with riffs that are burnt to the very core, and a constant barrage of rhythm that shakes the very marrow from the bones. At proper volume this one should finally liquify the last of those brains that Marty McFly hollowly threatened melt so long ago. If this was in the walkman there’d have been no walking away and no going back.

While structure and riff isn’t quite what the record is about, it makes up in pure sonic assault what it lacks in memorable, head nodding fodder. Like free jazz lit on fire and shot through the atomic combine, this record is meant to be felt physically and with the reissue Black Editons have unearthed an extra dose of bonus material to fry your insides as well. The record was the next evolution after Nanjo burnt a hole in the underground consciousness with High Rise, pushing the listener to the limits and feeling like there’s more going on here than one can possibly focus on. It boasts a pre-AMT Makoto Kawabata stepping up to shred the soul with Yoshida bashing out a beat that’s more involuntary bodily harm than groove. This is peak P.S.F. and it’s packaged up all nice with some foil embossing brining the dazzling colors of the cover to life. Don’t warn your neighbors, just let Musica Transonic introduce you to them when you get it in the mail.




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Kawaguchi Masami’s New Rock Syndicate & Kryssi Battalene

RSTB has had no lack of love for New Haven guitar-wrangler Kryssi Battalene (Headroom, Mountain Movers, Medication) over the years, and with her latest she’s only letting that love grow. The guitarist spent some time in Japan in 2018 and surprised legend-in-his-own-right Kawaguchi Masami (LSD Pond, LSD March, Aihiyo) at a solo show. The two made a connection and eventual plans to collaborate. Thus, a new version of the New Rock Syndicate was born with Battalene and Kawaguchi trading off on guitar and vocals. The record pushes both through new terrain, showing off their ability to flash fry a riff, but also a more mercurial side to both. While first couple of tracks light the wick on amp-toasted explosions, “Drown” finds them wading into the haunted mists of Ghost or Cosmic Invention.

The band only tumbles further into the cosmos after that. The guitars become more entangled and synths begin to swamp the speakers. On “Shadow of the Earth,” Kawaguchi takes the reins for the first half, letting the band wander through a nebulous darkness that stares out at the upper edges of the ionosphere from a position rooted in the mossy shade of gravestones and gravel. Battalene brings things down softly to the ground with her own haunted croon on the second half. “Pieces of You” closes out the record with a shuddering tumble that threatens to bring the whole thing crashing down around the listener. The record is a layered, seething mass of psychedelic throb and both artists prove that their individual, indelible forms only multiply when they’re together. This ones a limited platter, out on New Haven’s own C/Site. Fans of either artist should grab one while its there. Definitely too good to let this one go.



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Masaki Batoh

With his return to the fold of psychedelic folk (with a turnoff into blues last year) Ghost’s Masaki Batoh has reestablished himself as a master of the craft. Not that I’d ever had any doubts about Masaki’s prowess, but its nice to hear him embracing the delicate vibrations that result in melancholy bouts of rarefied air once again. While his work with The Silence has seen him reconnect with legendary psych drummer Okano Futoshi (Acid Mothers Temple, Cosmic Invention) he shifts to yet another high profile name for this record, letting Hiroyuki Usui (Ghost, Fushitsusha) create a lilting, skittering backdrop to his verdant vignettes. Often Usui holds back, framing Batoh’s work in shifting winds of sound, but there are moments when the percussionist acts as a perfect foil for the songwriter, as on “Speculum” in which the two artists play off of one another with graceful elegance.

Largely Batoh has shirked the lonesomeness of Nowhere, at least in the studio, inviting other members of Ghost and The Silence into the sessions. Though, musically, this record still leans into the solitary winds that he explored on his last LP. Likewise there’s an embrace of fluidity in language, with not only English seeping into his repertoire, but Spanish and Latin this time as well. Batoh doesn’t cobble his influences haphazardly, though, and the language shifts and instrumentation (which ropes in flute, piano, lap steel, saxophone, contra bass) gives the album a tapestry quality that’s meditative, if not also rustic. With the exception of a dip into heavier pscyh on the closer, Smile Jesus Loves You feels like the hermetic album he’s been longing to make, even if there are friends nestled in his cave this time. The mountain winds, and sunrise hues are rampant, and ultimately quite welcome. If Nowhere whet your appetite for more haunted folk from the master, then this will help quench the ache.



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Kikagaku Moyo – “Ouchi Time”

Another sublime cut from this new Looking Glass series though MexSum and its from longtime faves Kikagaku Moyo. The band’s been working outside the album boundaries all year with a solid entry to the Sub Pop Singles Club and now this gem that’s playing to their psych-folk strengths, but bringing in the bob of rhythm that keeps this track bubbling right on into German Progressive waters. As the build crests, the band lets a the chug of drums get doused in stringwork, echo, and a disorienting cascade of ecstasy. Hoping that this track hints at the direction they might be headed, but the tracks included in this series seem to be particularly singular offerings, letting band’s play around with sounds, while all adhering to a sort of humid, earthen psychedelia and folk focus. Can’t wait to see what’s next.


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White Heaven – Out

I wrote about this one a little while back, but it bears another mention since this is the first time that this essential LP has been readily available. White Heaven’s proper debut may stand as one of the greatest psychedelic records of the ‘90s and argument goes to push it well up the all time list as well. The record brought together a formidable collection of musicians, lead by the talents of You Ishihara and Michio Kurihara. The former would go on to form The Stars and the latter would helm Ghost, but while they were together for a short time, they stood at the epicenter of a Japanese psychedelic bloom that can still be fell flowering today. Later, the band would bring Shimura Koji (Mainliner, Acid Mothers Temple) into the fold, but here, even though they were just beginning, their sound had already begun to form the exploratory blues pyrotechnics that cemented them as a primordial force in Japanese rock.

Prior to this album, the band released a live tape that documented their early shows, but the studio lit the light of some fertile collaborations. Kurihara’s guitars singe and demur over the course of the album, especially the epic centerpiece “Mandrax Town.” Following this album both Michio and drummer Ken Ishihara exited, but this was a document of the band at their most vital and elemental. The band would finally call it quits around the release of 1997’s Levitation and Kurihara would take Ghost on to be one of the premiere exports from the scene, but this moment of inception and incubation proves where much of his sound got its start. Black Editions has restored this LP to its proper position as a centerpiece in any psychedelic bin. Necessary by all measures.



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Sub Pop Singles: Kikagaku Moyo & Terry

The ranks of the Sub Pop Singles Club are always a good place to keep an eye, and usually a good bet to go in blind when they announce. The label embraces the edges of what they’d normally consider for full releases (through sometimes I wish this embrace would extend beyond just a one-shot 7”) and they shine a light on some of the more deserving artists in their sphere. Last year’s series is now getting out in to the physical world, but that also means those who didn’t go all in can still grab the digital delights as they come piecemeal. Yesterday saw the release of two RSTB regulars and both are in fine form.

First up is a new single from longtime faves Kikagaku Moyo. The band lights into a searing cover of “Gypsy Davey,” and English folk traditional that’s been most often associated with Sandy Denny’s version. The band, rounded out with vocals from Kandice Holms (Bells), gives the cover a good nod, mixing the earthen smolder of the original with a bit of their own psychedelic smoke. On the flip they enter the folk-tinged whisper of “Mushi No Uta,” which laps at the listener with a gorgeous simplicity and tender soul.

The label sweetens the release day with a new single from Aussie’s Terry as well. The band has been pretty low key since their 2018 full length I’m Terry only releasing a short and sweet EP last year. “Take The Cellphone” hits all the right sweet spots for Terry – as post-punk throbber that’s tinged with a squeamish pop sense and winking all the way. The b-side’s an instrumental with a laconic feel, despite its rather political title, “Debt and Deficit Disaster.” The song’s a slow creeper, but as with anything from the band, its no throwaway. Both singles are great shots for the series, though I’d think that along with the earlier inclusion of Minneapolis’ Uranium Club, all of these could welcome full lengths from these bands into the Sub Pop roster.




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Masaki Batoh – “In The Hour of Serpent”

Nice surprise today to have a new track from Masaki Batoh. With a solo release just last year, I’d not have expected more from the ex-Ghost frontman, but he’s sprung out of the fertile ground that brought forth Nowhere for a less solitary follow-up. Where that record was huddled around Batoh’s isolated reflections, Smile Jesus Loves YOU is more about reaching out in collaboration. Featuring members of Ghost (including percussionist Hiroyuki Usui) and The Silence, the record aims for communal transcendence and seems to be nailing it quite completely. Opener, “In The Hour of Serpent” is a lilting cut, buoyed by sweet flute curls and bittersweet plucks. The new LP is out May 8th fro Drag City. Dig deep on that cut below. If the rest of the record is half as good as this, its gonna be another stunner.



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