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Majutsu no Niwa - Frontera

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Artist: Majutsu no Niwa

Album: Frontera

Label: New Vague

Review date: Jan. 28, 2013

As the Japanese psych scene started to attract international attention in the 1990s, bands like Acid Mothers Temple, Mainliner and Ghost achieved notable success, with releases on stateside labels and substantial touring. Many other bands remained below the surface, however, including Miminokoto, Suishou no Fune, and perhaps the greatest omission, Overhang Party. From their first self-released CD in 1993 to their conclusion in 2007, Overhang Party offered a strong blend of space-outs and heavy riffs, channeling a pretty classic psych-rock style. They toured in the U.S. only once, hitting a small number of east coast locations. Recently, and long overdue, there’s been a release of the band’s complete studio recordings.

Following the end of Overhang Party, band leader (and only constant member) Rinji Fukuoka started Majutsu no Niwa, a trio that follows very closely in the mode of Overhang Party. Frontera, originally released in 2009, was their second album, and like most of their output, it was on the Tokyo-based There/Musik Atlach label, which had no distribution outside Japan. At the end of 2012, this double-LP special edition (with an additional song added to its already weighty heft) was released by the U.S. label New Vague Records -- but only barely.

Sadly, as the first couple of releases from New Vague were being readied (Frontera being the label’s second), owner Joel Nickelson passed away due to a sudden, unexpected stroke. Thanks to the kindness of the Siwa label, though, the albums still saw the light of day, and they’re beautiful productions. (The other LP is the acoustic drone Old Sun by Le Son De L’os, also from Tokyo.) This edition of Frontera, limited to 500 copies, is two immaculate 180g pieces of vinyl in a heavy gatefold sleeve, and is a splendid item.

Frontera opens deceptively with “Afunruparo,” very slow-building fields of guitar squall, feedback and electronics. It builds into a freeform freak-out of wailing vocals and splashing cymbals, then quickly fades to make way for the slamming drums and way-crazy guitar of “Turn To Flames,” one of Majutsu no Niwa’s signature tunes. Blazing rock with churning rhythms and psych-punk riffing, this is high-caliber old-school acid rock for those who want to head-bang, and sets the stage for roughly a third of the album. The softer side of the band, spacious and sometimes folky in feel, is exemplified by “Journey to the End of the Night,” a contemplative, almost jazzy song with heartfelt vocals. “Beyond the Steel Rails” is the only acoustic song here, but its melancholic atmosphere still fits in.

The 22-minute “La Vena” fills all of side D, a sprawling wasteland of restless drums and anarchic guitar. Old-school synths mix with waves of guitar noise, crafting a world of unnerving drone and vaguely menacing emanations. It’s innately formless, but not directionless, and that it manages a sense of evolution across 22 minutes is a fairly impressive feat. Fukuoka’s guitar, in particular, strikes a balance between inchoate noise and barely-discernable melody, lending the piece a certain shape despite the lack of physical structure. As late-night listening goes, this is for the true heads.

Anyone who likes the sound of either psych fuzz-riffery or brain-melting soundscapes should find themselves happy with Frontera, and releases don’t get much better presentation than the heavy vinyl in gatefold sleeve that’s offered here. Hopefully, Majutsu no Niwa will receive a bit of the attention that Overhang Party never quite got, and in an ideal world, folks in the U.S. will be able to see them live in the near future.

By Mason Jones

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