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Les Rallizes Denudes - Double Heads

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Artist: Les Rallizes Denudes

Album: Double Heads

Label: Phoenix

Review date: Nov. 3, 2011

I’m really not sure how widely known Les Rallizes Denudes really are outside of a circle of dedicated Japanese psych fanatics. The band (generally known as simply Rallizes) formed in 1967 and hit their (sporadic) stride in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. It’s a story of almost willful obscurity: Rallizes released almost no official albums, instead leaving a trail of bootlegs that vary wildly in quality but make up for it in mystery. For psych-focused record collectors — some of the most obsessive of that breed — tracking the myriad versions of Rallizes recordings can be a full-time hobby, given the variations in titles (often only in Japanese) and the reliability of dates and labels.

What makes the band so fascinating is that despite their obscurity and apparent unwillingness to actually release anything properly, Rallizes represent the root, the wellspring from which modern Japanese psych originates. Listening to their recordings from as early as ‘73, you can hear the drone, the anarchic splashes of fuzz, and most clearly the reverb-soaked vocal chanting. The vocals in particular can be mapped through the years from early Fushitsusha and Kousokuya through the High Rise/La Musica family and, most recently, to bands like Miminokoto and New Rock Syndicate.

The band’s origins in ‘67 as a group of radical students at Kyoto University echoes the story of MC5, but their shambolic, disorientingly loud performances and alternate-universe blues songs bring to mind the Velvet Underground more than anyone else. This was no flower-child psych (which wasn’t uncommon in Japan at the time; see the group sounds bands like The Mops), but a much darker, deeper kind of shadow-blues.

This six-disc box set from Phoenix Records is certainly another bootleg, but it has the advantage of being well constructed and nicely presented, with surprisingly good sound quality. Limited to 1000 copies, the box contains a small insert and presents three live shows from 1980 and ‘81, each divided into two discs. Each disc is in a mini-LP-type sleeve adorned with black-and-white photos. The shows were all played at Yaneura in Tokyo’s Shibuya neighborhood, relatively late in the band’s lifetime. The lineup included leader and singer/guitarist Takashi Mizutani, along with second guitarist Fujio, bassist Doronco, and drummer Noma. Mizutani, the only constant in the band’s history, plays the Lou Reed role, incanting semi-mystical lyrics and alternating filigreed guitar strums with eruptions of furious fuzz.

The three shows include several versions of the band’s mainstay songs such as “The Last One” and “夜より深く” (perhaps loosely translated as “night most deep”), as well as their iconic “Enter the Mirror,” a magickal sort of song invoking the “vortex of silver” and I think equating the mirror to heaven. Throughout, the band maintains a mostly slow, bluesy style with an overarching narcotic haze the equal of anyone whose ever tried such a thing. Almost all of these songs exceed the 10-minute mark, and some approach 20 minutes, stretching out through passages of hypnotic riffs, chaotic fuzz assaults, and screeching feedback, so you’ll likely either find yourself nodding out in appreciation or getting impatient, depending on your predilections. If you’re a fan of anything from Acid Mothers Temple to Wooden Shjips, and you haven’t yet experienced anything by Rallizes, you would enjoy the hell out of this.

All things considered, it’s great to have these cleaned-up recordings available, and the packaging of these three shows is a boon to fans. But as a limited-edition box set, it’s certainly not the starting place for those not yet familiar with the Rallizes story (the 77 Live bootleg might be the best recommendation as an intro). On the other hand, if it sounds like your kind of thing, then you probably won’t be sorry … and if you’re a Rallizes fan, then you’ve probably already ordered this.

By Mason Jones

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