Various Artists-THE NIGHT GALLERY CD (Alchemy Japan, available through Eclipse Records)
GHOST (Drag City, also available through Eclipse)
Believe it or not, but if there was just about any place on the planet where I would like to be at this moment, it would probably be Japan! Yes, I mean it!!! Now, when I was a lot younger the place I would have wanted to be the most would have been Cleveland (mostly because of their two independent stations not to mention the PBS one that used to run old movies on Saturday night as well as their budding underground rock scene natch!) or New York City for the same reasons minus the stations (NYC TV in the seventies was comparatively dullsville next to Los Angeles' [even Robot Hull admitted that!], although El Lay's music scene wasn't as hep as En Why's...ya gotta trade off some things y'know!) but nowadays I wouldn't want to be caught dead in either place unless there's some major upheaval going on (like the public execution of Anastasia Pantsios or something along those lines!). In fact, I don't know if I even wanna be caught dead in the United States of Amnesia at this time...face it, them thar states ain't just what they were back forty, fifty, even five years ago and most of the people here are dummies and dullards who are either too led around by the nose-ring to the point that they actually believe the patented LIES they've been fed by their oily leaders both spiritual or political, or else they're trying to outdo each other in re-creating Paris 1929 right in the middle of their local art gallery! Let's face it, America's had it, and while I'm at it so has Europe and a good portion of the rest of the world which doesn't leave me too many places which I can inhabit in peace!
Except Japan that is. Yeah, I've heard all of those horror stories about how the place is one big sex crazed mass of decadence where any blonde on the street's liable to get her mammaries mauled by horny Sony execs, but I guess that if you're in the right place at the right time (and are rich enough to afford the highly-priced wares you can get for a fraction of the cost at Big Lots) it's a pretty nice country to be in. Besides, I'm sure Sodom coulda been a fun place for the family if you knew just where to go, but anyway Japan seems to be one of the coolest places on the planet once you feel your way around...no, I don't mean that!
And where I would want to go to while in Japan are the places where the bands that appear on THE NIGHT GALLERY CD compilation are playing! As you may have known from even a cursory spin through your fave search engine, Japan has had a fairly interesting underground rock scene that rivals anything found in Ameriga or Europe from the sixties onwards, and as you'd expect most of it has remained buried even in Japan and (if you can believe it) Japanese underground rock is even more obscure than the Iron Curtain clandestine rock revolutionaries of the same era as well as NOW, with shards of information only coming to light within the past ten or so years. From Les Rallizes Denudes to Friction to all those PSF bands onwards, Japan has had their share of good, fair, bad and dire underground aggregations just like the rest of us, and if you think I'm going to be touching on anything even remotely fair or dire on this post then you've been reading the wrong blog all these months, podner!
I mentioned THE NIGHT GALLERY before in these web-pages, and although I've had this one for well over six months by now I figure I better review it for you (I originally was going to write it up for the next BLACK TO COMM fanzine, but who knows when that'll come out!) before it's too late to capture any of you reader's imaginations or pocket books for that matter. THE NIGHT GALLERY encapsules what I would call the current post-Rallizes Denudes Velvet Underground-inspired Japanese scene...y'know, given how obscure Les Rallizes Denudes were even in Japan (despite being together for almost thirty years straight even beating out the Flamin' Groovies for underground longevity!!) it seems as if there were a number of bands that have taken the Denudes' early-Velvets image and extrapolated on it (now listen up, this is important!) WITHOUT succumbing to all of the sick pratfalls that have plagued way too many of these new (post-REM/U2) Velvets wannabes who took the introspection and cute movements from "I'm Sticking With You" to heart while shucking all the hard putsch and HIGH ENERGY that made up a huge portion of the just-post Velvet drive of everyone from the Stooges to Modern Lovers long before the whole Velvets reason-for-being in underground rock was run way into the ground. (I mean, in 1972 it was brave and unique for a rock singer like Jonathan Richman to have short hair and sing about being straight...fifteen years later his spawn just looked all the geekier for it!) I couldn't say this about anybody else, but Japanese rock of this stratum totally zones me on all levels!
LSD March starts off the CD, and they're kinda like a weird cross between Les Rallizes Denudes, the Deviants and Mirrors (second track starts off like one of Mirrors' old slow ballads, say, "I've Been Down," with a mournful violin solo ending the proceedings). They have a CD out that Eclipse (who seem to have all the best Japanese releases on the market available at fair prices) probably carries, and I might be able to buy it if just enough of you blog readers put out for a few back and current issues of BLACK TO COMM (hint!). And y'know, it's fantastic hearing something that's high energy these days and realizing that it's contemporary and not some thirty-year-old wonder from what seems like a totally different world! Doodles is a two-piece all-gal band that also seems to have the Mirrors take on early-Velvet Underground drone and power, sounding like a rock band I would have dreamed about with alarming frequency back in 1979. What I like about them is that they can play gentle with their beautiful soft femme vocals and use the Velvet template like the best bands of the seventies did (before the eighties reduced it all to cutesy-pie drek) yet still rock out in that patented BLACK TO COMM way where inner-fortitude and using the materials at hand to create rock as art as energy not necessarily with volume or crunch but with spirit means a whole lot more than the superficial applications of punk watermarks in making a sound that doesn't necessarily capture anything other than the utter vapidness of the musicans at hand. (Which is why John Fahey had always rocked out much harder than your favorite stuffed-crotch hard rock showoff act ever could.) Besides, Doodles are the right race (Asian) and the right sex (femme) and both of these are fine attributes in my book! (And while I'm at it, I think the one with the pageboy hair's cute in her own natural beauty way...she has a strange appeal even though most of you would probably think her a goof!)
Mimi No Koto have a certain late-sixties pop aura, using various 35-year-old moves in their Velvet-y make up the same way Alice Cooper did on their first few albums. However, their entire sound is still firmly planted on Velvets terra and in fact sounds like a toned-down LSD March. Chouzu have a femme vocalist and reminds me of Canadian bedroom band the Shangs (ex-Simply Saucer) with their introspective manner. Very restrained, almost like a traditional Japanese version of rock & roll and I don't mean like those geishas entertaining Willie and Joe doing fifties pop on their kotos and banjos but old Nipponese elements transformed into modern rock 'n' roll (you read correctly!) with electric instruments playing sparsely utilizing silence itself as part of the overall makeup.
After Chouzu's calm, almost Nagasa Ni Te-ish rock Up-Tight come off like the bomb was dropped right on your head! This bunch (with guitarist/vocalist Aoki the only constant member since their 1992 formation) are more or less a "brother band", acolytes of Les Rallizes Denudes taking a lotta ideas amd energy from Mizutani and company, and all I gotta say is that if we can't have a Rallizes Denudes anymore at least we can have an Up-Tight who are just as good! (There's a great though mostly-in-Japanese Les Rallizes Denudes website out there as well as one for Up-TIght where you can download a lotta their music in case you wanna give it a try before plunking down the lucre, or wanna make your own CD-R if you so desire...search 'em out because both will engross you for hours! Up-Tight's website'll also link you up to their own Velvet Underground page which is worth your while even if Japanese is your tenth language!) Up-Tight's 13:44 contribution to THE NIGHT GALLERY is "Sweet Sister," which I could safely say is perhaps this group's signature song. With a pounding "Sister Ray" backbeat and acid guitar leads worthy of Sid Bishop (not to mention more late-sixties hard-crunch guitar moves than you'd ever remember), "Sweet Sister" is only a taste of what you will be in store for when you check out the rest of Up-Tight's easily available (via Eclipse natch!) booty. And the best thing about this (along with the rest of the wares here) is that it's all happening in the HERE AND NOW and not some faded memories of a movement that you unfortunately missed out on first-hand. I mean, THE NIGHT GALLERY flashes me back to the late-seventies, when I figured out that sure, the Velvets (who had become more or less demi-rock gods to me) weren't around anymore, but there were these other cool bands like Patti Smith, the Flamin' Groovies and (yup!) Talking Heads who were almost as good so why fret? THE NIGHT GALLERY reminds me of them days when this high-energy fire was blazing through every moment of my waking being (and dreams at night) and I couldn't shake this passion I had for the Velvet Underground, sixties garage rock and these new seventies underground groups out of my system, and if this makes me a middle-aged virgin holed up in mommy's house who writes about this stuff as it I were just discovering it, so be it!!!! It sure comes off a lot better'n being the leader of a flaccid San Francisco alternative geek band or a SD blogger who loves to throw taunts of "hypocracy" (whatever that means these days!) while posting on about the "same groups" himself as if his belief and love of certain musical acts is above reproach and mine is mere soil tilling! Yeah, and I end up being tagged the evil reactionary (which to me is an oxymoron anyway, and a pretty moronic one at that!) repetitive fanzine/blog geek of all time!
Yeah, I'll never be able to get any of that out of my system no matter how long I live (y'see, I'm a big fan of JUSTICE, and to be totally frank about it I don't think I ever got a shard of it in my life!), but enough of that and THE NIGHT GALLERY for now...there's another Japanese group that I've also ignored for way too long who have a whole batcha easily-obtainable disques
(again, try Eclipse). They're called Ghost and they have a whole bunch of CDs out, some on Drag City and some on other labels, but if you want 'em bad enough you know where you can go! Ghost have been around for awhile, in fact I remember reading about 'em in a variety of nineties 'zines (by this time they were ashamed to call themselves "fanzines") and ignoring 'em just like I did with most of these Japanese wonders (though I did play and sorta enjoyed the first High Rise album!). Well, maybe I should have listened to the geeks for once, because GHOST and Ghost are fine entries into the Japanese rock & roll sweepstakes, and while I think they'd easily be washed away by the tide of an LSD March or Up-Tight in a battle of the bands they could beat most of their occidental competition all hollow!
Yeah, there are some moments here that remind me of "early-seventies introspective moosh" that you still hear on "classic rock" stations from here to Patagonia, but I gotta admit that Ghost do a better job at it than, say, the early Jethro Tull whom I'm sure some bozo would wanna compare this to. (I'm thinking of "Ballad of Summer Rounder," where at least the flute isn't of the heavy-breathing variety...maybe this could pass as one of those obscure British demos that collectors would pay upwards of $2000 for???) Ghost start out fine on their debut with a Velvets-drone track that sounds like something out of a 1970 German garage band's set list, but the reliance on acoustic numbers does lower the energy levels a tad. If I had to compare Ghost to anything it would be PARADIESWARTS DUUL, although it isn't that driving. Still, I highly recommend Ghost even with their softer takes on the new Japanese style...they may be acoustic and folky and instant douse for many of you readers out there, but they can put enough electricity into their gear to create a bit of a stir that'll shake you out of your alternative doldrums faster than you can say "Matador Records!"
So that ends my little rock 'n' roll travelogue to Japan, land of the rising underground band! It's amazing that here in the mid oh-ohs there can be a rock scene as vibrant and vivid as this, producing all of these fine groups who sound just as well-versed in the "aht" of garage band erudition just like all of our favorite save-the-world acts, so I guess that after all's said and done we can rejoice in the fact that there remains a place that we can get excited over even this late in the rock 'n' roll game! And y'know, if I were some independently wealthy pampered trust-fund kid type like J. Paul Getty III I'd jet set my way to Nippon right now and check out all these groups, have fun with 'em and even date that gal in Doodles, and sure I'm just another mid-Amerigan slob who can barely afford these CDs, but I can dream can't I???
Thursday, September 09, 2004
Various Artists-THE NIGHT GALLERY CD (Alchemy Japan, available through Eclipse Records)