Posts Tagged ‘Japanese Rock’

Kukangendai

Kyoto trio Kukangendai push minimalist guitar jams to their logical conclusion – crafting terse, clipped songs that are rooted in repetition and cut clean of any excess. The band works like a biological organism, laying down a heartbeat of guitar that hammers steady, removing almost any flash from the instrument’s aspirations. Guitar and bass work like left and right ventricles, on songs like “Mure” pumping a hypnotic hum that’s almost meditative in its consistency. They lace in the occasional sighs of a non-metronomic chord or a vocal moan through the nervous network, tracing stimuli ever so gently across the consciousness of Kukangendai’s beat, but for the most part this album is an exercise in control.

That leaves the drums to wind up the free will warrior in the equation. The drumming rolls and twists within the framework, still lock-stopping along with the rest of the band but also tasting the energy in the room with something less mechanical than the other players. While this likely sounds like a tightly regimented panic attack, the results are as engrossing as any of the flashiest forays into guitar histrionics. The trio’s pushing the needle through the soft tissue of math rock, jazz and post-rock to create something grand in its appreciation of austerity. Looking to realign the senses? This is the baseline yer looking for to calibrate to the eternal thrum.




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DMBQ

For their 13th record, Japan’s heavy hitters, DMBQ have headed back to basics – capturing their own particular maelstrom with an array of vintage equipment and analog aesthetics. They’re harnessing the squall, tapping into the eye of psychedelic fury and heading straight to the heart of creeping dread. The record bursts open with the fire-wielding stomp of “Blue Bird,” a song that belies its natural zen title, instead rumbling across the barren outback on tank treads, guzzling the last gasoline available in a wasteland war zone out of hedonistic spite. As the record wears further on, they don’t overwhelm with a constant barrage of amplifier scorch, though they don’t skimp on it either.

There’s a general burnt apocalypse feel to the Keeenly and as the record unfolds the band evokes more than just the warbringer battlements. They unleash dust storm devastation – torrents of guitar sweeping headlong through the headphones in a disorienting haze. They soak the listener to the bone with monsoon drones, and heat-warped textures. When vocals find their way through the chaos, they scratch at the listener with a wild-eyed fury. DMBQ are well over a decade deep into their career of noise excavation and they show no signs of dulling their edge. Keeenly may not be as frantic as they’ve ever been, but it jackhammers as hard as anything in their catalog.

The band even finds a bit of clarity by the time it collapses to a close. The record builds worlds only to destroy them, but by the time “The Cave and The Light” rises over the horizon, the band is ready to rest. The final track sparkles like the remains of a a great cosmic storm, a fitting peace to end an album of malevolent destruction. A definite hole has been felt with the absence of DMBQ in the last decade, and the band wastes no time reasserting their place back atop the mountain of Japanese psych masters.


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High Rise – II

Black Editions has done the world a service reviving the out of print P.S.F. catalog for the majority that missed these records in any format, let alone on vinyl. When the project was announced it had a few initial records attached (Keiji Haino, the indomitable Tokyo Flashback compilation) but the one that got me the most excited about the whole ordeal was news that High Rise’s second album II would make its way back to vinyl with the original black and silver cover. That record is a cornerstone of Japanese psych, and one of the hardest hitting heavy psych records from any scene.

Primarily the work of Asahito Nanjo and Mnehiro Narita, the record hones distortion and fury into a formidable weapon of psychedelic destruction. The band melds punk’s mayhem and no wave’s acerbic bite with metal’s bleeding edge and penchant for guitar histrionics. Nanjo’s bass thunders through walls of distortion, pounding the air with a relentless pummel. It’s Narita’s guitar work, though, that provides the real appeal of the record. That he’s not held up in higher esteem as a purveyor of maddening riffs is beyond me. This edition features a newly scrubbed mix by Asahito Nanjo, marking it as the definitive version in the band’s eyes.

Fans of Acid Mother’s Temple, Comets On Fire and Boris would do well to take notice to this precursor of psych sludge. It’s an absolutely essential release given proper love and a reverent pressing. The label’s been killing it with their selections so far, now if they can just get White Heaven’s Out on the schedule I’ll be set.


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VA – Even A Tree Can Shed Tears

Light in the Attic, like Numero, has never gone in for half measures. When a release is compiled, they’re throrough, swaddling it in impeccable design and restoring lost music to its rightful place on your speakers. So, with this in mind it was an exciting announcement that the label would be starting a new Japanese archival series looking at different scenes and subgenres throughout the region. Their first take puts the focus on the ’60s and the folk movement that grew out of student protests, “authentic folk” leanings and the beginnings of psychedelic folk. Much of this came under the banner of “New Music” which tied together the Eastern and Western regional strains.

The collection is stitched with a wonderful slide in and out of the more authentic, stripped-down artists, many of whom find a plaintive beauty in their compositions. The songs are clearly leaning away from what would have been traditional Japanese folk, but also working in the same way that their British and American counterparts had contrasted the more pop sounding beat groups. While there’s certainly an argument to be made for more Japanese traditional influence to rear its head, this collection stands as an interesting argument for the West’s pervasiveness on young people at the time.

Light in the Attic has shone a light over many voices that seem left out of the current conversation in Japanese music. It’s easy to connect the dots between Takashi Nishioka’s subtle boil of fuzz and later works by Masaki Batoh. For me, personally, so much of my contact with Japanese music is rooted in the noisier ends of psych, the discordant ends of rock and, when scrubbed up, the more beat-leaning ’60s groups like Jacks or Apryl Fool. It’s great to have a collection that brings the underground beauty of these artists to the foreground. Can’t wait to see what LIA digs into in this series next, but for now, this one’s a keeper.

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