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V/A - Tokyo Flashback 7

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Artist: V/A

Album: Tokyo Flashback 7

Label: PSF

Review date: Jan. 15, 2010

For the seventh volume of their long-running Tokyo Flashback compilation series, P.S.F. Records has gone farther out in terms of style, and approached the production in a new way. The six bands included here all recorded their material live on May 31, 2009, at the Show Boat club in the hip Koenji neighborhood of Tokyo.

Despite the album’s subtitle, "P.S.F. Psychedelic Sampler,” many listeners will be surprised by the sounds here. P.S.F. has widened their definition considerably since the earliest volumes of the "Tokyo Flashback" series—there’s only one band here that could be considered "rock" by even the most flexible person. On the previous volume, there were bands that leaned more toward the avant-garde than the traditional "psychedelic" definition, and this album continues in that direction. With an average song length of over 10 minutes, each of the six bands gets the chance to really stretch out.

The bands here will be new to all but the most diligent fan of the Japanese underground. The first two both improvise in a very quiet, ambient style. Le Son De L’os features singer/guitarist Yuko Hasegawa of Onna-Kodomo, and uses ghostly vocals, flute, bass and gentle guitar to create a flowing river of dreamy sounds. Bon no Kubo are an improv trio adding contrabass to drums and guitar. Their quiet scraping and rattling at times approaches silence, then later moves into quiet chords and chiming percussion.

Derakushi breaks the calm spell with an immediate blast-off into sax-led cacophony. A standard four-piece with sax, it’s pretty heavy stuff with dense clusters of bass notes and space-filling drums and cymbals. The Sabu Orimo Unit is a duo of Orimo on shakuhachi and Tomohiko Namiki on harmonica and drums. The piece is exceptionally quiet for the most part, with breathy sounds and the occasional muted thump of a drum; later in the piece we get some harmony-shattering blasts of shakuhachi that add some real tension.

The traditional side of psychedelic improvisation comes from Touyounomajyo, a power trio whose "White Light Spear" opens with fuzz guitar drone which drops into thick riff-rock and lead guitar freakout. It’s a fine jam, but it must be admitted that it’s not anything very new. The final piece comes from Hasegawa-Shizuo, the duo of Hirotomo Hasegawa on hichiriki (a double-reed flute) and voice, with Shizuo Uchida on bass and voice. It’s heavy without being loud, filled with eerie vocals, drones and deep rumblings.

While psychedelic means many things to many people, the collection here is clearly opening a wide door, presenting music that perhaps harkens back to the original Greek derivation of the word: "psyche" + "delein,” meaning "mind-manifesting". Avant-psychedelic doesn’t have the same ring to it, but is perhaps more accurate; nonetheless, those who are looking for a mind-opening collection of music should find much here to like. And regardless, it’s a welcome view into a segment of the Tokyo underground that hasn’t seen much exposure yet.

By Mason Jones

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