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Kousokuya - 1st

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Artist: Kousokuya

Album: 1st

Label: PSF

Review date: Sep. 1, 2003

It Shrunk All the Distance
With Its Power

Amidst the hype surrounding Japanese psych bands like Fushitsusha, High Rise, and Acid Mothers Temple, the name Kousokuya has consistently been left off the list. Those bands are undeniably fantastic, and deserving of the good words they've received. But Kousokuya's absence leaves me scratching my head and wondering why.

This album, the band's first, was originally released only on LP in 1991. If it had been given a widespread audience in the U.S. at that point, perhaps the band would have earned the recognition that it deserves. But here we are over ten years later, with another opportunity – better late than never. Since its release, Kousokuya released one U.S. album, Ray Night, a live collection from Forced Exposure. But it's true that the band's leader, Kaneko Jutok, has never done the promotional work that some of his brethren have. And in the years since this debut, the band has released only a handful of albums and compilation tracks.

For the recording sessions that produced this album, the band consisted of Kaneko on guitar and vocal, Mick on bass and vocal, and Takahashi Ikurou on drums. Kindly, P.S.F. have added one bonus track from the same sessions, so this five-song CD is over an hour in length.

The 19-minute opener "The Miracle" starts off heavy and slow, dark and deep guitar psychedelia with a mood not unlike current-day "stoner rock" bands, though with a greater multi-dimensionality. The vocals are more than a little reminiscent of Keiji Haino's, though somehow more delicate and thus less intense. They remain pretty sparse – the focus throughout the album is on the instruments, which get extremely intense. About halfway through, everyone blasts into outer space: the drums are pounding ferociously, the bass is thick and powers it all forward, and the guitar spreads itself through the rest of the frequency spectrum with aplomb. Make no mistake, this is ROCK music, with an intensity easily comparable to today's densest psych purveyors.

As recording engineer Honda Shigeto puts in the awkwardly-translated liner notes, "every single note was clear, it shrunk all the distance with its power."

"The dreams of the recollections" is a slower seven-minute dirge with splashes of atonal guitar, a sort of free sound with bluesiness leaking through. "Removal," 15 minutes of epic space, takes a step towards sparser atmosphere, letting moments of near-silence slip through the exceedingly slow bassline and occasional clattering of percussion. The guitar consists of strangled squawks, repressed clicks, and sections of feedbacky notes. Then, ever so slowly, the song builds, but it remains relatively spacious – the guitar never forms a wall of sound as it does on the other songs. Stranger is the song's conclusion; it just abruptly stops, as if the tape ran out.

"The dark spot" (also the name of Kousokuya's collaborative album with saxophonist Masayoshi Urabe) starts its seven-minute march with slow, fuzzed power chords. The rhythm kicks in strong and simple as it moves into molasses-style garage rock, with spiky guitar leads. The vocals take it out into a dark echoey area of scuzz-psych-rock, and eventually the bass is holding down the basics of the melody while the drums clatter and crash and the guitar is spitting out shards of static that'll put a smile on your face.

The bonus track is the 15-minute "Suffering broken song," which occupies a distant part of some lightless planet. Slow, steady drums, bass that's so sparse it's barely there, and sharp, staccato guitar notes, atonal and fuzzed to oblivion. It feels glacial, heavy as a broken heart.

If any of the aforementioned bands above are on your shelves already, get yourself to a store or mail-order outfit and grab a copy of this one. If you have yet to strike out into the wilds of Japanese psych rock, starting here will be a great reward. Either way, you can't lose.

By Mason Jones

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