Ten Must-Have Japanese Records
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Ian suggested I rank the “top ten Japanese albums” for my next installment of the Friday Top Ten franchise. That’s right, it’s a franchise now. As far as I know you don’t have to do more than two or three of something in order to make it a franchise. They call the Twilight movies a franchise and there are only three of them. I’ve written nearly 200 top ten lists, I’d say that’s a god damned franchise, wouldn’t you? Anyway, I thought that Ian had a good idea, but there are so many different kinds of Japanese music, from those Nonesuch Explorer traditional koto albums to whatever modern stuff is being released, Boris or Shonen Knife or whatever. It’s hard to pick a quintessential “top ten,” so instead I’m going to eschew the whole ranking system and definitiveness of an exclusive list and instead point out ten Japanese albums I think you should have. This isn’t a ranking, and yes there are things that will be invariably be left off this list, but here are ten records you might not know about that you should seek out as soon as possible!
Notably absent from this list are records that have been featured in the “Collectors’ Slum” series, including Speed Glue & Shinki, Chihei Hatakeyama, Gerogerigegege, High Rise, Mainliner, Blues Creation, Flower Travellin’ Band, Suishou No Fune, LSD March, Sachiko, Space Machine, and others. Hint: use the search function.
Ten Must-Have Japanese Records
10. Flied Egg – Good Bye – Early ’70s hard rock that looks better when reviewed on a typical music blog than it actually sounds. A twelve-minute drum solo concludes side one, and it doesn’t gets much better from there. Still, it’s a known “stoner” classic and a collectible gem released on Vertigo in Japan. Some people say it sounds like Grand Funk Railroad’s Live Album. If anything, it sounds like they’re having a ton of fun making this record, and if you’re one of those people that thinks good vibes can save unaccomplished song craft, this might be right up your alley.
09. Yasushi Yoshida – Secret Figure – Stunning, beautiful minimalist compositions heightened by the haunting string accompaniment. This is the first album recorded by the composer, who writes mainly for guitar and piano. Excellent use of “found sounds” and field recordings adds a touch of everyday life to these nine masterful pieces. [Listen to “Parade”]
08. Taj Mahal Travellers – Live Stockholm July 1971 – A well-known psychedelic/experimental ensemble formed in 1969. They drove around in a rune-inscribed Volkswagen searching for beaches upon which to perform mostly outdoors, often on beaches, sending out wave after wave of drone to meet the crashing waves. If you’re looking for a good jumping-off point, try the double-LP compilation Oz Days. Dig the bowed double bass!
07. Mikami Kan – Dune 963 – Japanese folk singer who was heavily influenced by American blues music. He began his recording career in 1971, but this album from 1996 is a surprising late-bloomer, which I find myself listening to way more than albums recorded a decade or two earlier like Bang! or Baby. It’s hard to go wrong with his stuff, but if you’re just looking to get started, here’s where you should begin. [Listen to “Red”]
06. Up-Tight – Early Years – The most recent addition to the list, I chose this over most of the modern psychedelic or hard rock out of Japan because it was released just three years ago and it’s probably stayed as close to perfect as I remember it being the first time I heard it. I can grow tired of Boris records, but not of this killer psych rocker. [Listen to “Melt Rain”]
05. Les Rallizes Denudes – Heavier Than A Death In The Family – Earl’s Psychedelic Garden wrote, “Formed by a group of radical students at Kyoto University in 1968, led by Takashi Mizutani. Les Rallizes Denudes began as a folk group. Inspired by the Velvet Underground’s eighteen-minute nihilist opus “Sister Ray,” Mizutani ditched the folk ideal, taking the Velvet’s sonic blueprint far(ther) out to a deeper underground. A Les Rallizes Denudes live show was to witness an extreme(r) version of Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable mind fuck. And like the Velvet’s and later the Stooges, no one except a few got it.” [Listen to “Enter The Mirror”]
04. Morita Doji – Good Bye – Why not. I could have gone with A Boy or Mother Sky, but I thought it’d be funny to have to albums on this list with the same title. This is about as far from Flied Egg as you can get on the spectrum of modern Japanese music. She’s considered to be a psychedelic folk singer, but on this her first album it’s not all that psychedelic. I guess the music has a little bit of subdued freakiness to it, but that soft Japanese voice pretty much counteracts it. When I think of psych-folk I think of Luv Machine or Fresh Maggots. Still, she’s the gold standard for good Japanese folk, and I’m pretty sure the lyrical content of her songs is dark because I remember reading that the death of a friend or family member is what inspired her to start writing music. No bukkake jokes, please. [Listen to “You Are Changed”]
03. Keiji Haino (Fushitsusha, Sanhedolin) – Manjoichi Wa Muko – I’m going with the Sanhedolin record as opposed to one of his solo works or a Fushitsusha record. Call it blasphemy if you will. Keiji is one of the most well-known and respected Japanese rock, free-improv, noise and psychedelic musicians. He cites all the right people as influences (Blue Cheer, Xenakis, Charlie Parker) and his recorded output is as vast as it is inspiring. The Sanhedolin record is a ridiculously raucous affair filled with torment and constantly time-shifting. It’s like Japanese math rock, but even weirder. Dig it. [Listen to “Untitled” (Track 2)]
02. Masato Minami – Kaikisen – A Japanese folk gem from 1971 that is tangentially related to Les Rallizes Denudes because Takashi Mizutani plays some guitar on this record. This album actually went gold in Japan at the time of its release, but since it didn’t follow traditional folk trends for the era he decided to focus his attention not on developing a career as a solo folk musician but on other musical-related activities. It’s very inspired by American electric blues of the ’60s. I mean, the first track on the record is called “Train Blues,” for fuck’s sake. So he definitely got that part right! [Listen to “Train Blues”]
01. Kengo Iuchi – Inugami To Kachiku – This is the equivalent of what we in American would probably call “downer” or “loner” folk. Hell, we might even hang the “outsider” tag around its neck. Kengo Iuchi is kind of like Japan’s answer to Jandek, except he sounds like he might pick up a gun and blow his brains out at any minute. The kids over at Mutant Sounds call this stuff “Japanese acid death folk,” and I like their description which states, “The guitar which Mr. Iuchi plays and the song which Mr. Iuchi sings become a grudge and sound through our heart. And it turns into fear. It is our heart.” Not for the faint of heart. [Listen to “Joshou”]
So…what’d I miss?
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