Pigrocksampler

25 Aug

Let the record show I took 2 1/2 years of Japanese language classes when I was at University of Texas in Austin in the early 90’s. This was primarily because language was a requirement of the linguistics degree I was after, but heck, I could’ve taken German, French, Spanish or some such spiel. I didn’t, I took Japanese! And there are more than a few folk who, to this very day, know me exclusively as Rowsan. Which makes me approximately .00001% more qualified than you lot to review these here Japanese recs.

I must state up front that none of these records are what anyone would term hard or heavy – indeed only HAPPY END really muster a good sweat, and then only for the length of a song or two. But while this explains why none of these artists figure much into Julian Cope’s book Japrocksampler, it also points out that tome’s shortcomings. That is: there is sooo much more to fire your thoughts & emotions about Japanese music than freak alone, and these LPs are as good a place as any to begin firing. So kiite, my friends.

HAPPY ENDKazemachi Roman (1973) This LP is where I finally see eye to eye with that gawd awful Sophia Coppola, who used a bit of it to soundtrack the upperclass malaise of her Lost In Translation. And if she really loves Kazemachi Roman as much me, than maybe I do need to go take a another look at her vapid films.

It’s no overestimation to say these guys are part of the very foundation of Japanese rock; even Julian has given a nod to the HAPPY END rhythm section. Haroumi Hosono’s warm, fat bass tones occasionally put me in mind of FREE’s Andy Fraser (esp. on the opener, “Dakishimetai“), bellowing lullabies to the languidly powerful drumming of Takashi Matsumoto. Like THE BAND’s Robbie Robertson, Eiichi Ohtaki’s gtr is a chankin’ pitchfork-like presence, tossing both rootsy and funky hay about with ease. Vocals are casually believable, with lyrics that apparently cast a Ray Davies-like glance back at simpler, pre-1964 Olympics Tokyo life.

If there’s less psychedelic ephemera than on their BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD-styled debut LP, the emphasis here on earthy American folk forms and quieter, singer-songwriter material pushes distinct musical personalities to the forefront quite gracefully. And what naturalistic production! Why this album isn’t easily available in the West, I know not; it beats the shit outta similar-period recs by TRAFFIC or BADFINGER (two bands I’ve seen these guys compared to). Frickin’ awesome from start to finish.

KAZUHIKO KATOSupergas (1971) This is the kind of late-psychedelic shenanigans the eventual leader of the SADISTIC MIKA BAND got up to back before he went glitter. It’s perhaps a more stripped-down musical statement than some he’d lend his name to later, but then that’s more a reflection of a stoic aesthetic sense than any shortcomings. And methinks stoicism is something the Japanese pull off exceptionally well.

Unlike the fully Westernised rural rock sounds mined by HAPPY END, there’s a Japanese folk/pop influence at work as evidenced by the lead-in track, “Iewo Tsukurunara“. This might irk you more Ameri-centric listeners, but listen deeper: there’s a near-spiritual glow that illuminates the proceedings beautifully, nudging this one into acid folk terrain rarely explored by others. Actually, I could totally imagine Mr Cope championing the more dissociative moments on this one, which never fail to make my head feel fuzzy. Sadly, Kazuhiko Kato committed suicide a few years back, a major loss to Japanese music for sure.

SADISTIC MIKA BANDHot! Menu (1975) – Julian Cope calls this band “shit” – but then, I’ve heard some say the same about THE TEARDROP EXPLODES. Yes the first two SADISTIC MIKA albums were fun if sorta simplistic 3-chord bashers. But by this point, they’d fully digested the suave irony and musical futurism of ROXY MUSIC and developed an appreciation for retro kitsch disco ala DR. BUZZARD’S ORIGINAL SAVANNAH BAND. And even if like those groups they’ve gone for style over substance, they ended up creating one of my favourite albums from an otherwise lacklustre musical year.

While I always fast-forward past the opening fusionoid workout (appropriately named “Time To Noodle”), everything else here gets me either thinking either very sexy thoughts, or else I’m up outta my seat bumpin’ along with a shit-eating grin. Especially their dancefloor-ready peon to Jack Nicholson, “Hi Jack (I’m Just Dying).” And it’s apparently gonna be reissued too in the UK any day now! The Japanese reissue train is all too slow to reach the Western world, but maybe, I’m finally sat at the right station.

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