Sounds from Japan
In December of 2005 I went on the latest of a long string of short tours to Japan, playing shows in Tokyo, Kyoto, and parts in-between. On the way I managed to pick up too many CDs to fit in my suitcase coming back, but I made it work just for you, dear reader, in order to share some of the highlights. Here, then, in alphabetical order, are ten items from both the known and the obscure, with a song from each as an introduction. Enjoy.
Click here to download a zip file of all ten mp3s, or check them out one at a time.
Well, hell, if you put together Hide from Ultra-Bide, Tabata from Zeni Geva, and Nani from Hydro-Guru and Zuinoshin, what would you expect? Total madness, of course, but maybe not quite this. There would be no way to expect this, really. Hide's got a new place in Kyoto with a little studio room, and he's going out there in there, if you know what I mean. Hide stopped by my Kyoto show, gave me some CDRs, and then we ended up checking out his amazing apartment and studio later that night. This track is just one example of the oddities on this, their third self-released CDR. It's all funny, crude, high-speed stuff. Watch for a possible U.S. tour this year.
Bacteria - "Hate All" (Grand Fish/Lab Fenice)
Bacteria has been around for a long time (I reviewed an earlier CD back in 1997), adding occasional prog-like complexity to their heavy punk. I got this new EP from the band at a show we played together in Tokyo, and it's impressive stuff. I look forward to the full album. The first three songs are strong, straightforward heavy punk rock; it's the two-part "from some faraway small world" that lets Bacteria show their range, moving from slow, hypnotic playing into massive, epic waves of sound like a more metal-influenced Mogwai, perhaps.
Coa - "Cut Up" (Theophoric)
Coa's latest is a 20-minute EP that sees them back to heavy, pummeling form. While in Himeji I stayed with drummer Bill and her husband Michishita (whose band LSD-March is also very worthy of mention) and got this CD. Their previous album Sea Urchin Character was a deep, dark psychedelic journey, but here the duo return to mostly massive, noisy, crunching bass and drum destruction. The first song is a Pure Doom (tm) intro, then the real fun starts. Distortion, feedback, crushing drums, child-eating vocals, it's all here and good. Why Coa aren't more well-known remains a mystery to me.
This trio of women play a good blend of heavy, crashing, distorted rock and good old pop, with titles like "Soup of Leviathan" and "Fancy Science Squadron". Even during the heavier moments, they don't forget to drop some memorable progressions into the churn. The surprise is when they do something like drop some moments of total pop into the middle of the fuzz rock, or the opposite, go from pop into something noisier. This CDR has five songs in about 21 minutes, and should appeal to those who like pop with their rockin' out. It was one of the cheapie CDRs that I scored at Enban, a store in Tokyo's Koenji neighborhood that should be on any visitor's list of must-visit spots.
Eddie Marcon - "Shining on Graveposts" (Preservation)
This project includes Coa member Eddie (as well as Coa drummer Bill on one song), but couldn't be much more different. Rather than Coa's hard-core darkness, this sees Eddie (who by the way, like Bill, is a woman) exploring pastoral folk styles. Her beautiful guitar and vocals mix with Marcon's bass and Masao's gentle percussion, and the results are absolutely gorgeous. A terrific surprise that should be listed alongside any of the current crop of U.S. indie-folk artists.
I lucked out by having this band play at one of my shows in Tokyo, and I was impressed by their energy. They don't have an official release, but I bought their self-produced CDR from them after the show. It does a pretty fine job of representing them, filled with heavy bass, fizzing guitar, shouts and screams. Sometimes they even get pretty and poppy for a little bit. Really great stuff. No titles on the CDR I'm afraid.
Not much information here, I just picked up the CDR at the aforementioned Enban; so I can't say much except that Squimaoto are a trio, and these three songs remind me of folks like Tarentel. Languid, spacious pieces based around sparse rhythms and simple guitar lines, dreamy and trance-inducing. This self-released CDR seems to be their only output so far aside from a compilation appearance.
An extremely talented young guitarist in Kyoto, Take-Bow played at my show there and blew me away. His duo with a harmonica player combined blues, tapping, finger-picking, and experimental scrapes and hits on the body of his acoustic, all of it considered and well-placed. This track, from his self-released CDR, is a couple of years old but is a good example of his style. Check out his web site; anyone who's been enjoying guitarists like Jack Rose, Stefan Basho-Jungens and the like should know about Take-bow, as well as fans of folks like Frith.
Seiichi Yamamoto - "Eve" (Dako Vynal Fantasia)
A new album from Osaka music hero Yamamoto (ex-Boredoms, Omoide Hatoba, Rovo, Rashinban, etc) is always worthy of note, and this one had just been released when I went to Japan so picked it up immediately. This one's seven long tracks see Yamamoto exploring quiet reveries of sound using synths, quiet percussion, and a host of other sources. It certainly follows more in the trance-out tradition of Rovo than his more frenetic projects, and this may in fact be too mellow for some. But as a night-time mind-melter, it certainly gets the job done. It's also worth noting that this album features the sadly-missed China contributing percussion and voice.
One of my favorite finds from this trip, this CDR was a chance purchase because the brief description pasted on it by the store sounded intriguing. Three tracks of skewed, noisy stuff that blends jagged guitar and a fierce rhythm section with yelping vocals, it's got an energetic feel akin to early Fall, blended with a No Wave sensibility. Fantastic work. I've been in touch with the band, who hope to finish a full proper recording this spring, and perhaps come to the U.S. if they can find a way over. Stay tuned.
Amazon Saliva - www.amazonsaliva.com By Mason Jones
By Mason Jones