Want to get your gaijin feet wet in the somewhat uncharted world of Japanese rock insanity? Start here:
VARIOUS ARTISTS | GS I LOVE YOU: JAPANESE GARAGE BANDS OF THE 60s | Big Beat UK | America had Tin Pan Alley and the Brill Building; Japan had Group Sounds, an early-’60s hit factory that spit out clones of Western pop stars but with eccentric edges. To listen to this now is to enter an alternate world where surf, crooning, and ’60s mod are given an eccentric bent.
JACKS | VACANT WORLD | 1968 | Toshiba EMI | Jacks were ahead of their time, and this release is a clear break from the GS hegemony of their day. It’s a languid, trippy headphone record full of melodrama and the occasional well-timed freakout. Opener “Marianne” is brooding and hypnotic, with a guitar break in the middle that’s every bit as bizarre and unhinged as anything Lou Reed was doing back then.
FLOWER TRAVELLIN' BAND | SATORI | 1971 | Phoenix | Disillusioned by post-war Japan and amped up on speed and Zep imports, FTB unleashed this monstrosity on an unsuspecting world, and if there’s a better hard-rock album from the ’70s, I'd like to hear it. The blazing ur-riffing of guitarist Hideki Ishima is unparalleled; though you can hear some Iommi and Page, what shines are the strange modalities and unearthly nuances. The piercing shriek of Afro’d frontman Akira “Joe” Yamanaka splits the difference between Plant and Ian Gillan while sidestepping their macho bluster. The record sweeps through electric funerals and houses of the holy seen by eyes that witnessed actual nuclear armageddon. Fans of ’70s rock who have not heard this album: rectify the situation at once.
TOO MUCH | TOO MUCH | 1971 | Black Rose | Much ink has been spilled in praise of the other big ’70s rock supergroup, Speed Glue & Shinki, which is led by Shinki Chen, the “Japanese Hendrix.” But as awesome as SG&S's Eve (1971) is, I far prefer this slab of lunkheaded protometal, with its retarded bravado and reckless abandon. On opener “Grease It Out,” bottomless vortexes of doom and despair are traipsed across with nimble labyrinthine riffs that veer from Southern-fried boogie to head-down chugfests.
BOREDOMS | OSOREZAN NO STOOGES KYO | 1988 | Selfish (JP)/Earthnoise (UK) | The past two decades have seen Boredoms turn their loose collective of sonic mayhem makers into a full-blown institution that continues to turn rock culture inside out (Exhibit A: their 07/07/07 Brooklyn “77 Boardrum” outdoor concert, where 77 drummers performed a piece of calculated rhythmic insanity). All the ingredients for their future godhead status were there on their ’88 debut, as screams, beats, and squalls of guitar fight for the spotlight.
DEATH COMES ALONG | HEAVY PSYCHEDELIC SCHIZOID GOD | 1994 | Mangrove | Like Boredoms, DCA were at times more performance art than rock band. Here, however, these gothed-out punks find a way to transmit the insanity to wax, and the results are far more in line with their ’70s hard-rock inspirations than you’d expect — even as lead singer Crow seems to channel Christian Death’s Rozz Williams.