Japanese music:

Updated November 26th, 2002 .

the underground scene
club links:
band links:
CD and tape reviews :

CDs reviewed (by band): Afro Labyrinth , After Dinner , Akabushi , America Youth , Amiyumi (Puffy solo), AOA (3 releases),  Aube (5 releases), Beat Happening , the Blue Hearts , Boredoms (13 releases), new! Boris, the Brilliant Green , By Sexual , C love R , new! Coa (3 releases), Creep , Depth , Dew Under , Dig A Hole , DJ Pika Pike Pika , Elephant Kashimashi , eX-Girl (3 releases), Fantastic Plastic Machine , FxFxDx , Force , Gaji , Galactic Magma , Garadama , Garlic Boys , the Gerogerigegege , Guitar Wolf , Hachiman-Mae , Haco , new! Haino Keiji and Boris, Haino Keiji and Coa , Hallucination , Hanadensha , the Hanatarash , Harogen Lump , Hashigo , Hellchild , Hide , the High-Lows , Hi-Standard , HOHAIO , Indian No Echo Sign Bine No , Jesus Fever , Judy And Mary , Kahimi Karie , Karma Stench , Kina Shokichi and Champloose Kiss Kiss Bang Bang , KK Null , Kuro Yume , Lolita No. 18 , Love Love , Love Psychadelico , Machine Gun TV , Mad Capsule Markets , Maji , Maldoror , Mania Organ , Masatsu Genin , Masonna , Matsutoya Yumi /"Yuming" (a.k.a. Arai Yumi), Melt Banana (3 releases), Merzbow , Miru , Music Start Against Young Assault , Nagaboshi Tsuyoshi , Nagisa Ni te (5 releases), Neko Mushi , Ningen Rocket , Nivrayn , Nonpareil , Oe Hikari , Okuda Tamio (5 releases), Omoide Hatoba , OOIOO (3 releases), Pink Lady , The Plastic Ono Band , Port , Puffy (3 releases), Punku Boi , Ruins , Ruins/Hatoba , R.C. Succession , Sadistic Mica Band , Sawaguchi Miki , Screaming Pinch Hitter , Shazna , Shiina Ringo , Shincho 2M , Shonen Knife (5 releases), SxOxBx , the Southern All-Stars , Space Streakings , Spitz (5 releases), the Surfers of Romantica , 3.6 Milk (2 releases), Thee Michelle Gun Elephant , the Timers (2 releases), Tripod Jimmy (2 releases), U. (2 releases), Ulfuls , Ultra Fuckers (and Petit U.F.) (13 releases), Unicorn , United , Unlimited Freak Out Or Die , Violent Onsen Geisha (2 releases), xplanet and bethx , YBO2 , Yellow Machine Gun , Yentown Band (Chara), Yuki , Yura Yura TeikokuZeni Geva (2), Zushi Naoki . 

compilations :
Aiyoku Jinmin 21 Seki - Alchemy Records 2001 Calendar ,
Bananafish Anthology , Atom Kids , Bar Noise , new! From Koenji To Eternity, Indies Magazine CD sampler (6 issues reviewed), Land of the Rising Noise 3 , the Miracle of Levitation , Music For Retards , Noise Kills Punk Dead , Orbital Confluence , Osaka International Pirate Radio , Tadadah! Tribute Shifuku Deka , Taggle Raggle 2 , Tribute to Nippon , Ultra Coma , Wild Zero .  


Japanese music is excellent !!  Compared with where I come from, the selection of music that Japan has to offer is so dazzling and diverse that it is actually a little confusing.  Unique Japanese music exists - very traditional music played on medieval Chinese-style and Japanese-style instruments.  Folk music, festival music, farming songs, and anything else is available, and from there the myriad of musical possibilities begins to unfold endlessly...

For the modern western ear, there is even more to offer.  Every western musical trend that has ever existed (ska, reggae, beat, salsa, jazz, fusion, heavy metal, '70s boy bands, '80s boy bands, the Carpenters, etc.) is lovingly kept alive in Japan by fetishists and specialists and their exclusive clubs.  All of the big western bands are known and loved in Japan, but this is just where it begins to take off - Japan has its own version of everything the west has to offer, and then some:  boy groups to rival the Backstreet Boys, girl groups to rival the Spice Girls, pop divas to rival Madonna, super producers to rival Daniel Lanois, rappers to rival LL Cool J, whatever.

I like all types of Japanese music that goes from the mainstream to the completely unconventional.  Among the more popular types of music that are alive in Japan I find Okinawan music particularly compelling.  It has a great groove and energy that is tough to match, as well as fascinating manic singing, and a hypnotic pace.  Japanese pop music has plenty of throwaway pop sensations just like any other place, but "pop" doesn't necessarily mean "superficial", and there are plenty of Japanese bands that have earned my respect through great song-writing, among them are Spitz , Southern All-Stars, Yuming, Okuda Tamio and Puffy (a female duo that have nothing to do with Puff Daddy ), Elephant Kashimashi, Shonen Knife, and others.  See the " J-pop " section of this page.

The music that excites me the most, however, is music that others might consider loud and abrasive.  In a western context this means the Ramones, the Mekons, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Suicidal Tendencies, and dozens of others, but since I am here I try to focus on their Japanese equivalents.  I happen to live near Osaka in Japan.  The Osaka underground scene has a reputation for being experimental and loud.  This is in contrast with the Tokyo scene, which seems to focus more on major label bands and techno, although there is plenty of diversity in either city.

At this point something should be said about Indies magazine.  Japan has plenty of music magazines, but this seems to be the only one that comes with a CD (well, not the only one, there is also Direct which rather unsatisfyingly crams song excerpts from 108 different bands on the same CD, but Indies must certainly be the best).  It is comparable to CMJ New Music magazine, which also comes with a CD, but it is a smaller, thicker mag, heavier mag with better layout.  I usually keep the CD (1200 yen, less than half the price of a normal CD) and look at the pictures in the mag, then give it to a Japanese friend.  Nice pictures, usually nice songs on the CD too, each issue is worth a revelation and a discovery or two.  You only need to buy 4 or 5 issues before you have enough excellent Japanese indie music to make a great compilation tape or two.  Back issues are available at Tower Records and other music stores in Japan.  (see individual Indies magazine reviews following)

the Underground Scene:

In Japan the underground music scene is primarily centered in Osaka and Tokyo (the New York and Los Angeles of Japan), although each large city has their own bands as well.  Tokyo music has the reputation of being more about techno or dub or dance and trance while Osaka bands tend to be more about hardcore and noise, although there's plenty of exceptions to that general "rule."  I have been living in Osaka for three years now and know more about local bands, but I have had a chance to learn about great Tokyo bands like Melt Banana, Gaji, the Surfers of Romantica , Guitar Wolf , and others.

The Osaka underground music scene is primarily centered in a few live houses where good bands regularly have live performances, although most of the best shows tend to be at Bears and Fandango (see below for links).  Tons of legendary bands play these two live houses, and there are always new ones appearing.  Bands that sucked when you saw once a few years ago show up again after a ton of practice and they are fantastic!  Walk around a bit in downtown Osaka and it seems like everyone is carrying a guitar to or from practice.  Japanese people in general seem to be influenced by any music concievable, so it is possible to have KISS fans, prog rock fans, and/or rap-metal fans in the same band.  Some bands are influenced by music so obscure you need to be a musicologist to understand, but it doesn't matter because there's no shortage of great music abounding in Osaka, and Japan in general.

Cover bands are also a bit of a Japanese specialty - Kween is a Queen coverband, there are cover bands for the Clash, the Damned, the Beatles, even the Bay City Rollers!  Yoshimi of the Boredoms once did a Black Sabbath cover band called Pink Sabbath!!  The members all wore pink and they did cute versions of Black Sabbath classics, perhaps a la "Iron Man" by the Cardigans.  There's no shortage of humor in the music, although I have noticed that bands are serious about their own tunes and rarely do covers live.  This could be because of short set times - 20 bucks at the door may be a bit steep for underground bands, but you will get to see 4 or 5 bands a night, and they are almost always super professional-sounding.

There is not a lot of information available about the Osaka scene in general, outside of some of the websites listed below.  Matt Kaufman's Exile Osaka was a good source of band information, but the information in them is now getting a bit old.  He still writes a column on the music scene in the local English-language news and entertainment monthly Kansai Time Out to showcase upcoming musical events, so if you are in the Osaka area be sure to check out that valuable source of current information, as well as the Fandango and Bears schedules (links below).  Many of the bands that play in the Osaka (and Tokyo) area have released CDs reviewed on this site, so read on, or go to the concert review page on this website.

Club links:

Bears is a legendary live house in the bustling downtown Osaka entertainment district.  It is owned and managed by the Boredoms guitarist Yamamoto Seiichi, and the home of a hundred legendary performances, including the Boredoms and literally every other significant performer on the Osaka underground music scene and then some.  It is about the size of your living room and performances there are just as intimate.  BYOB, there is no bar at Bears!  A "Best of Bears" CD is available.
http://home.att.ne.jp/orange/bears/   Bears' home page - beware this opening page, it will make your whole screen shake!
http://home.att.ne.jp/orange/bears/sche.html   Bears live schedule
http://home.att.ne.jp/orange/bears/link.html   Bears links (tons of links, probably every link you need for the Osaka underground scene is here)

Fandango is located in Osaka, one stop on the Hankyu train line from the downtown Umeda cluster, in the red-light district of Juso - a pit of grunge nestled between fleshy hostess bars, love hotels, and other dubious spots.  It is a medium-size live house with a bar and a great sound system, often home to underground foreign bands touring Japan (A.C., the Dickies, Capitalist Casualties, etc.).  It tends to favor tight rockin' bands over experimental and avant-garde music.
http://www.fandango-go.com/eg/index.htm   Fandango's English homepage
http://www.fandango-go.com/eg/sked.htm   Fandango Schedule

The Mushroom is a small club in Himeji within sight of the world-famous Himeji castle.  It is the home of Coa (the two members of Coa work the door there most nights) and Port Cuss .  It is in the basement underneath a hotel.  There is no bar, but tea and juice are served.  There is a vending machine for people who want beer.  A "Best of Mushroom" compilation CD is available.  Recent news is that the Mushroom Club might soon be closing its doors, so if you live in Himeji hurry out and support them while you still can.
http://www.restin11.com/mushroom/   the Mushroom Club
http://www.restin11.com/mushroom/schedule.html Mushroom Schedule

Kansai (Osaka, Kobe, Kyoto) Area Live House Guide:     http://www.k-live.com/livehouse.html

Tokyo Area Live House Guide:   http://www.musicwire.co.jp/livehouse.html

Band links:

http://www004.upp.so-net.ne.jp/depthweb/    Depth
http://www.warui.com/stefan/pjapan/music/depth_interview.html   Depth interview with sound clip
http://www.japanimprov.com/haco/index.html Haco
http://centralscum.tripod.com/                the Ultra Fuckers (a.k.a. UxFx)
http://centralscum.tripod.com/Centralscum/UF.html   the Ultra Fuckers (a.k.a. UxFx)
http://www.ottawa-anime.org/~eyevocal/boredoms/index.html     Boredoms (fansite with extensive discography)

http://www.sonymusic.co.jp/Music/Info/36milk/    3.6 Milk

http://k.excite.co.jp/hp/u/afrolaby/    Afro Labyrinth

http://www.kt.rim.or.jp/~pctm/information.html    Analers

http://www.geocities.co.jp/Hollywood-Theater/4494/    Aska Temple

http://homepage1.nifty.com/boris/news.html    Boris

http://www5a.biglobe.ne.jp/~drillman/    Drillman

http://www01.u-page.so-net.ne.jp/ya2/t-seiji/    Earwax

http://www2.justnet.ne.jp/~moog/wolf/contents.html    Guitar Wolf

http://www1.neweb.ne.jp/wb/haino/contents.html    Haino Keiji

http://www1.ocn.ne.jp/~harasho/harogent.htm    Harogen Lump

http://www3.kcn.ne.jp/~suguri/main.html    Helicoid 0222MB

http://8248.teacup.com/mikitotsurugi/bbs     Ydestoroyde

http://ww4.tiki.ne.jp/~solaris/jf_flmset.html    Jesus Fever

http://www.geocities.co.jp/MusicStar-Vocal/9526/blackangle_001.htm    Kirihito

http://www.kiyoshiro.co.jp/    Imawano Kiyoshiro

http://sound.jp/diaspora/labcry.html    Labcry

http://www.parkcity.ne.jp/~mltbanan/    Melt Banana

http://www.numbergirl.com/    Number Girl

http://ot.hit-r.com/    Okuda Tamio

http://www5e.biglobe.ne.jp/~ruins/frame.html    Ruins

http://www07.u-page.so-net.ne.jp/cd5/h-tree/baby.htm    Speedway Baby

http://www.fujiiya.com/the5678s/    the 5678’s

http://www.acidmothers.com/amtparty/current_en.html#top    Acid Mothers Temple

http://www.bathtubshitter.com/information.htm    Bathtub Shitter

http://www.kknull.com/engframe.html    KK Null

http://mgs.jap.co.jp/index.html    Missile Girl Scoot


And now I have to say something about Stefan's picturesStefan is a guy who came to Japan, went to all the best shows, lovingly documented them on his website, and then left.  We were both at the same show at Fandango on the night that Depth, Coa , U., and the Volume Dealers played.  In my mind this was a classic concert the likes of which might never be seen again.  We were both blown away by the most junior band on the bill, Depth (a group nobody had ever heard of), and have become huge fans since.  This is the band to watch.  Stefan has interviewed Depth and put up an sound clip , check it out.


Good J-pop : Chara, Elephant Kashismashi, Guitar Wolf, the High-Lows, Hi-Standard, Imawano Kiyoshiro, Matsutoya Yuming, Okuda Tamio, Puffy, R.C. Succession, Shiina Ringo, Shonen Knife, the Southern All-Stars, Spitz, Thee Michelle Gun Elephant, he Timers, Yentown Band, Utada Hikaru, Yura Yura Teikoku.

Bad J-pop : Amuro Namie, Baiser, Da Pump, Glay, Kinki Kids, Kome-Kome Club, Kuro Yume, Lachryma Cristi, Luna Sea (Lunacy), Max,
Malice Mizer, Smap, Speed, Tokio, X Japan.

Japanese pop music exists: some of it is awful, just as pop music anywhere is, but there are plenty of great bands and performers who have no Western equal or equivalent.  "J-pop" is a term used in the Japanese media to describe big-label pop groups, and as such the scope of "J-pop" is quite wide, covering singer-songwriters, chanteuses, duos, trios, pop groups, rock groups, rap crossover, boy bands, girl bands, dance or techno, rock, rap, and heavy metal.  For me,  Puffy lead the pack - two pretty, robotic girls with puffy hair who look like twins, they sing alone or together.  Their clever producer Okuda Tamio (also a singer-songwriter and rock performer in his own right) has beefed up their catchy tunes with Beatles-esque and Who-like riffs that drift in and out of the songs.  In this way they can be compared to Oasis, but the Puffy project has a lot more humor.  They are also all over the media, starring in commercials, etc.  Apparently they were a big hit at the 2000 South By Southwest music event in Austin, hopefully this means a North American launch is imminent.  Just for a laugh, check out the http://www.puffy.com/ site, it belongs to neither Puffy nor Sean "Puffy Puff Daddy" Combs, but some cyber-squatter who won't relinquish it for love or money, and doesn't respond to threats (or at least it used to!!!). Spitz are a guitar pop band that essentially look as uninteresting as any other Japanese guitar pop band.  Strong songwriting sets this band head and shoulders above their contemporaries, as well as the strangely endearing voice of their lead singer - endearing in the same way as Neil Young where I often wonder to myself "he has such an awful voice, why is it that I love it so?"  Something similar can be said about Elephant Kashismashi , a group that writes great pop songs, albeit slightly edgier than Spitz, due to the fact that their hyperactive lead singer is probably insane. Thee Michelle Gun Elephant are making a name for themselves even overseas for their very noisy guitar rock, similar in some ways to the vastly superior Guitar Wolf , those leather-clad, loud-and-nasty uber-rockmen lunatics.  Guitar Wolf blast the world with wild ROCK, they also do great covers of songs like "Slow Down" from the Beatles, and the Stones' "Satisfaction."  Check out their film Wild Zero, a rock 'n' roll movie about 3 stupid zombies. Yentown Band is a one-time supergroup fronted by Chara for the soundtrack of the Swallowtail Butterfly movie soundtrack for the movie that Chara stars in.  Chara is a fragile disco queen who sings like she sobs, and sobs like she sings.  Her solo work is not that interesting, but Yentown Band is a piece of real magic with several standout songs as well as a fine, fine version of "My Way."  Shiina Ringo and Utada Hikaru are both teenage songstresses who really have a lot of amazing song-writing and singing talent.  Shiina Ringo ("Ringo" as in the Japanese word for apple, not as in "Ringo" Starr) sounds like a Japanese Alanis Morrissette (but much much better), while Utada Hikaru is a bit more dance and R and B influenced, but it is difficult to avoid falling in love with their incredible songs, heard everywhere all over Japan in recent years.  This is not a bad thing.  Yura Yura Teikokuare spacy rockers who write great songs and venture off on long guitar jams. The High-Lows are mildly endearing punk-pop rockers who once were the Blue Hearts , also mildly endearing punk rockers. Hi-Standard are a bunch of wise punks that sound like they might be from the west coast of the United States.  They do wise-ass covers of songs like "California Dreamin'" and the Pink Panther theme. Okuda Tamio is the afore-mentioned producer of Puffy who has several of his own albums out - fine-crafted, playful songs, rockin' tunes and ballads with a sense of humor.  He covers the '70s shlock hit "Sonny", as well as the "Lupin the Third" theme song... and does a great job of it. Shonen Knife are probably the band you have actually heard of from Japan, so it is probably unnecessary to explain that they are a female three-piece (a two-piece since the turn of the century), all three of whom sing cute songs about food and toys among other things.  Ironically, they are much better-known overseas than they are in their native Japan, or even in hometown Osaka where they have been an underground fixture for nearly two decades.  Even more ironic is that because of the last point, any other female band in Japan (particularly three-pieces) will have to overcome the incessant comparisons to Shonen Knife, the bane of any band's existence.  The only band to have escaped this tag seems to be Cibo Matto.  Check out the great Shonen Knife homepage . R.C. Succession and the Timers are incarnations of the legendary Imawano Kiyoshiro, who now has a solo career and can be seen at small 300 capacity clubs like Fandango.  With R.C. Succession, he had some success in the '70s and '80s, but it is the Timers project that is nearest to my heart.  "Timer" in Japanese means "timer," but it is also the same as the pronunciation of Japanese word for "hemp," hence the jokey attraction and the reason why the cover of "Hey Hey We're the Monkees" (as "Hey Hey we're the Timers") contains so many pot references. The Southern All-Stars are an ancient rock outfit that has provided the soundtrack for a generation and still produces major hits, nobody even seems to care how old they are. Matsutoya Yuming is the spacey popstress with the funny voice who is also belting out albums year after year, all full of great music.  She could be compared in some ways to Kate Bush, but her career has been longer and more interesting.

Having said that, I should talk a bit about some of the awful music that Japan has to offer: glam bands like X Japan, Kuro Yume, and others (keeping the '70s KISS tradition alive), pouty gothic glitter rock like Glay and Luna Sea, as well as full out harlequin-and-makeup costume pop, represented by groups with pretentious French names like Lachryma Cristi , Malice Mizer, Baiser, etc.  Pubescent Okinawan girl bands like Max and Speed (who recently broke-up) and the iconic Amuro Namie keep Lolita-complex driven salarymen happy with their boring songs (that include occasional lines of meaningless English) and hyper-dance, while boy-bands like Smap, Tokio , and Da Pump do the same for girls of all ages (and gay salarymen).  Last but not least are the singing/dancing/acting/merchandising Kinki Kids, whose name will surely lead to misunderstandings among non-Japanese who don't know that "Kinki" is the region of Japan around Osaka, known for its saucy dialects.  I probably shouldn't be so harsh - there is probably something good to be said about any of the groups I have just dissed, for example I have it on good authority that the members of SMAP are genuinely funny and talented as television personalities, but in most cases I have failed to locate what it is.

CD and tape reviews:

After Dinner "Editions" - ReR, 1990 - One of the first Japanese underground acts to tour outside of Japan, avant-garde ensemble of singer-songwriter-performer Haco, who now concentrates on her solo work (see Haco CD and live reviews ) and other ensembles such as HOAHIO .  After Dinner is not really what you would expect from the Japanese underground scene, that odd thing that many people might associate with the Boredoms and other noise experimentation.  After Dinner is quirky, eclectic, percussive and moody, more similar to the worlds of Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel than anything traditionally associated with Japan.  Wacky theater work at its finest, and containing more instruments and sound effects than your weak attention span can capture, the "Editions" edition combines the 9 tracks of the original After Dinner self-titled release (from 1981-83) and "Live Editions," which contains 9 tracks recorded live in Japan and Europe.  The After Dinner tracks tend to be quieter, mildly electronic affairs, while the live music is more dynamic and alive - well-produced and engineered nonetheless.


Afro Labyrinth (demo).       Afro Labyrinth are a great, young live band, now finally releasing music as well.    The three song demo CD is a cool little thing.     First song is grungy and slow, featuring understated rock riffing and the female lead singer/guitarist’s strange voice – it sounds like a lot of male j-pop singers, not a compliment actually, but with her she comes off a bit mysterious like Siouxsie Sioux.     Second track is simple and nearly repetitive in nature, although it does bare some teeth at points.    Third track is the chunky, riffy, smart wailer with grunge bits and real guitar power freak out.   This band smokes live and Afro Labyrinth’s lead guitar smokes, pops, and sizzles.   k.excite.co.jp/hp/u/afrolaby/


Akabushi (Red Warrior) – with Bonjour! Mademoiselle.   Strange Boredoms side-project, recorded during their only solo show at Bears.  If nothing else, it captures the feeling of seeing a live show at Bears – the close walls, the strange pre-show music, the chatting between sets, the mild applause of a small club.  Listen closely during track 5 “Jet” and you can hear scene moguls Matt Kaufmann and Jeff Bell (a.k.a. Jet Vel) talking about Canada, Lollapalooza, and the Beastie Boys.   Songs are short bursts of freaky noise that are heavy on the bass effects, grunted crazy vocals, strange guitar sound effects, and someone playing with the fader.    Longer songs that get a beat going get cut off around three minutes, keeping this a pretty short CD.   Sounds kind of like mid-period Boredoms.   


America Youth – David Lee Roth.    Gotta hand it to a band that names their album after one of the all time great rock and roll frontmen, even if it means people wonder if their CD is a David Lee Roth release.   Imagine if Bikini Kill named an album “the Velvet Underground and Nico”?   American Youth are girly beach-punk; their music sounds like the old punk Shonen Knife, but their harmonic vocals are much better.   They also write catchier songs, which mean that the good vocals are a treat.  An excellent release, although I know people who hated it (?).   The cover of Minor Threat’s (remember them?    The greatest DC hardcore band ever?) “Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White” is slow and plodding, but it is nice to hear a tribute to the masters.  Although the guitar version of the Star Spangled Banner late in the last track is interesting, if show-offy, the whole release is a winner overall.    Nice use of recorder and bass.    Thanks, ladies. 


Amiyumi – Solosolo.    What is this?    Ami and Yumi, the two girls from Puffy, release solo albums together.    Why?    Who knows.  Released together as a double CD, there are 7 Yumi and 7 Ami songs.      They still sound like Puffy, especially during the syrupy ballads, and at times their simple guitar rock sounds like tame Shonen Knife.    Producer Okuda Tamio has his stamp clearly on several songs, particularly the one that nearly borrows the riff from the Who’s “Can’t Explain.”     Up to his old tricks again.     See also Puffy . 

AOA "Domegapeace" - Comma, 1999 - Instrumental techno beat Boredoms spinoff.  This has all sorts of layers of great beats and electronics and a drone that goes on and on and gets higher and higher.  Beyond it there is some sort of other presence in AOA that takes them beyond a faceless electronica project and injects an exotic element of danger.  The jokey titles all refer to the band name, for example "USAOA", "ASAOA", and "GOAOA," the latter being the best track on the album in the way it fuses a slow startup with high BPM, an Islamic wail, and a thrashy guitar that continues for a superior seventeen minutes.  Email Comma Records or check their website .

AOA "Surfin' Cool" - Instrumental techno beat Boredoms spinoff.  I have almost nothing to say about this CD.  It left no impression on me, and was quite boring - sort of like early KMFDM CDs - you listen to them, but after they finish you have no memory or impression of what you heard.

AOA "Open" - Comma 1998 - Trippy psychadelia and hard techno beats.  One track for those who like it simple.  I liked this one better than "Surfin' Cool," not-so-short (at over 30 minutes) but pretty sweet.

AOA – 21st Century Super Fly.  One of the better AOA releases with the same relentless jumpy keyboard fluttery fluctuating beat droning on at a million BPM, then with wild buzzing stuff laid on top of it.  Fun and interesting listening.    Three tracks, with the first two blending together, 22 minutes long.   The opening is the best, with plenty of energy, also great digeridoo blastings as well as cool James Bond guitar riffs, before it hits electroglide.    One of the better AOA releases.   

Aube "G-Radiation" - Fever Pitch, 1995 - Sampled glow lamps turned into noise.  The tape (a split with the abysmal Smell and Quim from England, whom I won't be reviewing) begins with static and a haunting drone, then escalates into several buzzing climaxes.  When I first heard it, I had no idea what was happening to my world.  This may be distortion and feedback, but I listen to it all the time on my walkman and find it more beautiful than Mozart.  I challenge anyone to agree with me.  Email Aube mastermind Nakajima Akifumi and say hi, or order his recordings through his G.R.O.S.S. label.

Aube + Cock E.S.P. "Maschinenwerk" - Charnel Music, 1996 - Sampled from Cock E.S.P. source music.  Aube dial twiddler Nakajima Akifumi creates four songs of buzzing noise and various background rhythms.  This is great stuff, but I think that Aube works best on even longer pieces, i.e. one thirty minute song (G-Radiation) is more cohesive than the four (between ten and twenty minutes long) tracks found here.  Email Aube mastermind Nakajima Akifumi and say hi, or order his recordings through his G.R.O.S.S. label.  Check out Charnel's website , or email them.

Aube "Blood Brain Barrier" - Yterbium, 1999 - On this release, Nakajima samples brain waves for 5 tracks, each over ten minute in length.  He manipulates the source material into different patterns, applying them in two layers and changing them subtly into various rhythms.  Gorgeous music to make you forget you are alive, sometimes dramatic, but not electric or electrifying.  Email Aube mastermind Nakajima Akifumi and say hi, or order his recordings through his G.R.O.S.S. label.

See also Orbital Confluence compilation CD.

Aube "Bar 2.1-A" - Live recording of Aube's "Orbital Confluence 2000" performance of May 5th, 2000 on monphobic analogue sequence synthesizer Firstman SQ-01 is a limited edition (of 117) black CD-R Aube sold at the May 5th 2001 live concert.  Comes in a snazzy slim CD case with a nifty graphic of Nakajima-san printed on the face.  Very minimal and quite interesting, this is a 30-minute live performance of Aube at his Tangerine Dream-iest, bold and furry short waves or long waves bouncing back and forth inducing catatonic states and deep sleep.  Very nice.

Aube – Live in Montreal 2001.  G.R.O.S.S. CD-R.   How minimal can you get?    Two long long tracks.   First track, 31 minutes long, recorded at a silo in Montreal, Canada.      Ten minutes of wind sounds.      Aube probably didn’t need to be there for that, but then the sounds build up until ominous rattling sounds arise, high pitched siren, breathing-like sounds, scratching, thumping, spooky.      Second 24 minute track recorded same day at Centro Social Espanol.    Tweaky subtle sounds to creep your friends out with.      Not to be listened to in any conventional way…    

Beat Happening "Beat Happening" - K Records 1985 - Not officially a Japanese band (they are from Olympia, Washington), this album was crafted while the band were hanging out in Japan, slackers like myself, observing life but not pretending to be very talented.  They sampled Japanese sounds, then made nifty songs that sound like they could be recreated on a tuneless guitar and a beat box.  Lo-fi doesn't get any lower than this.  Lead guy Calvin also started K Records.

the Blue Hearts - Rock and roll group of high caliber, in the same league as R.C. Succession, to whom they can be compared to both musically and lyrically.  Best known for their rockin' cool anthem "Linda," when the Blue Hearts broke up a few years ago they reincarnated as the High-Lows , a band that still puts out a CD or two a year.

Boredoms "Vision Creation NewSun" (2 CD set) - WEA 1999 - Anyone with money to throw away can buy this box set, which includes a t-shirt, a sticker (whoo, whoo) and a built-in circuit board that gurgles (whoo, whoo).  No booklet, just mysterious icons.  The first CD contains nine tracks, the second three (one of them live).  It is great trippy droning semi-techno music that is unrelentless and hits climax after climax - percussion, guitar, chanting the lyrics "vision creation new-sun" over and over again.  This may be the Boredoms, but it is subdued, wild, unmatched by any other group around, and hauntingly beautiful.  Put it on the walkman for those one-hour journeys - you are guaranteed to forget where you are.  For more Boredoms information check Dave Watson's excellent Boredoms information page for discographies, pictures, etc.

Boredoms "Vision Creation NewSun" (3 song CD) - WEA 1999 - Two songs from the Boredoms, one from the Uordoms.  First Boredoms is a remix/excerpt from the Vision Creation NewSun set, called "Suncidal Cendencies (and a funny mock Suicidal Tendencies logo on the inside), second Boredoms is Moonsidal Cendencies and it's Yoshimi singing and mellow electronic sounds.  Uordoms is a live track and it is mostly taken over by spastic, manic drumming, making this the best (also the longest) song of the three.

Boredoms "Rebore 1" - A "greatest hits" (have we no sense of irony") collection of recognizable Boredoms songs, remixed seamlessly by UNKLE into a blend of great mood moments.  I usually see greatest hits packages as a death sign of a band, so I wonder if the Boredoms will survive this one.  Called "Vol. 1" on the spine, I wonder how many more we can expect.  Good luck, guys.

Boredoms "Soul Discharge" with early Boredoms bonus tracks - Zany and funny.  Yelling, screaming, sound effects, hooting and hollering, cheap keyboards, percussion, and every type of music (even Hawaiian slide guitar!) sewn together in a messy collage.  Will not give you a headache, and will probably make you smile.  Each song is a wacky vision of B-movies sped up to warp speeds.  No words can describe what goes on in the world of the Boredoms, but this early music of theirs can probably be considered novelty material considering the ways that the music world has changed, and how the Boredoms themselves have changed and probed other styles of music, reinventing themselves again and again, and never unoriginal.

Boredoms "Chocolate Synthesizer" - The closest the Boredoms will ever come to producing rock and roll songs might be found on this release, although it is also true that they are up to the usual madness that ties together Chocolate Synthesizer, Soul Discharge, Pop Tatari, and other early music.  This one contains more loud riffs and fewer guitar effects... for the most part... it is still a very strange album.

Boredoms "Pop Tatari" - WEA 1992 - Shards of breaking glass - musically - and spasmic guitar bursts from the days when the Boredoms were the epitome of anarchy, and when lead singer Eye was this close to (accidentally) killing himself onstage.  The first track, "Noise Ramone," is 30 seconds of high pitched sounds - one tone for ten seconds, a higher one for the next 10, and the highest for the last 10.  A gentle chord is heard and some soft Gremlin sounds, then the whole band explodes in fury; and it is stop and start for the next 60 minutes or so.  The band has continued to evolve since "Pop Tatari", and it is a good thing that they did - this music is practically unlistenable unless you are a musical masochist or extremely open-minded.  Boring it ain't, though, making this one the band with the most ironic name around.  Heh, heh...

Boredoms "Super Roots/Super Roots 2" - Goofy guitar and sound effect experimentations from the Boredoms, hooray.  Funny riffs and screaming, punctuated by percussion and some trumpet.  Some tracks percussion and vocal only, no lyrics only yells.  Some songs fast and hooky, lots of Yoshimi female vocals screaming like Kim Gordon.  Fun Super Roots anthem.  Song "titles" are typical early Boredoms insanity.  Sampled cicada sounds.  Ragtime music, burping, drinking and distortion.  Psychadelic blues wanderings.  Long pauses.  Noise Ramones, a 30 second burst of 3 high pitched tones, originally the opening song on "Pop Tatari," appears here as a "remix," essentially unchanged.

Boredoms "Super AR" - Hmmm...  The personal favorite of a few friends of mine, I find this one a little boring (the Boredoms boring?  Never!).  It starts off majectically, with a big crashing riffy and percussive intro, then another, then another, then another, then another.  It changes all the time, but it doesn't really change.  Then it changes.  Big goofy ranting and raving.  Grrr-aaah!  This is the album that marked a change in the Boredoms sound from ealy spazz-core to later trancy/trippy psychadelic edgy noodlings.

Boredoms "Super Go" - A limited edition CD-EP in a puffy pink package, with songs "shine in" and "shine on."  The two songs on it are apparently from the "Super AR" sessions.  "Shine in" is almost 20 minutes long and has lots of Yoshimi vocals "shine in, shine on, shine in, shine on...", drums, keyboards and sound effects.

Boredoms "Super Roots 5" - Wow!  After listening to a few Boredoms releases, I was wondering if they could shock me again, but they did it.  One 64 minute long track that starts off with some low sound-doodlings - there is a scream and the whole band bursts out as one in a musical explosion, as each member plays their instrument to its capacity, yet somehow act in unison to hit climax after climax... before they finally relax and allow the listener to come down out of an euphoric state.  Some might consider this musical static, but I thought it was dreamy...  The Surfers of Romantica show that I saw in Bears was similar to this, confirming my theory that I was having a Boredoms-like experience in an intimate setting similar to the heyday of the Osaka live experience - you can't get that at the Fuji rock fest with 500,000 of your closest friends, can you?

Boredoms "Super Roots 6" - WEA 1996 - Not an album that makes an impression right away, I almost sold it before giving it one last listen and finding out that I actually liked it enough to keep it a while longer.  Mellow studio doodlings, none of the musicians playing on it break a sweat, and people relax and feel groovy.  Long silences.  Some electronics.  Cool.

Boredoms "Super Roots 7" - WEA 1998 - Wow.  The Boredoms work their way through the Mekons punk chestnut "Where Were You."  A jangly punk riff going apparently in the background, the velocity never alters during most of the 32 minutes of this release.  The musicians work it from every angle with all sorts of electronic equiptment, vox, and just plain nuttiness.  Breaking it up into 3 tracks (4 minutes, 20 minutes, and 8 minutes) doesn't mean anything, it is still just one long jam and freakout.  Almost entirely instrumental, it is the riffiest, jangliest Boredoms release so far - by a long shot!  Endless and entrancing. Some of the sounds of Super AR and Vision Creation New Sun can be heard here too.  Get it!

Boredoms "Rebore vol. 1" - WEA 2000 - Isn't it one of the nails in the coffin of a band when they release a greatest hits CD?  But isn't it inconceivable that the Boredoms could even have a greatest hits package?  With their recent songs so long and trippy, it would have to be a 5-CD box set.  In this case, they called in the guy from UNKLE to put a neat little package together.  Plenty of groovy, ambient tracks - mostly electronic noises and percussion, with rare snatches of vocals from Eye or Yoshimi.  Great stuff that just goes on and on and on and on...

For Boredoms side-projects see also Akabushi , AOA , DJ Pika Pika Pika , the Gerogerigegege , Hanadensha , the Hanatarash , Omoide Hatoba , OOIOO , and Unlimited Freak Out Or Die . (a.k.a. U.F.O. or Die)

Boris “Amplifier Worship” – Mangrove Records.  Prog rock for metalheads.  Think Kyuss, the Melvins, even Pink Floyd’s strangest moments.  Boris is known for releasing CDs that include only one 73-minute track, just the kind of thing I really love.  Amplifier Worship is 63 minutes long and has 5 tracks named “Huge,” “Ganbou-ki,” “Hama,” “Kuruimizu,” and “Vomitself.”  The CD art is green and shows a wax frog and a plush frog in various poses.  The members of the band are all graphic designers and it shows.  “Huge” is 10 minutes of broad cords and sound effects with some screamed vocals.  “Ganbou-ki” is 15 minutes of nasty drawn-out bass-heavy plodding slowness that fizzles away, then picks up mighty mighty.  After some clicking sounds, “Hama” is the fastest and tightest tune on the CD with vicious hardcore-esque bass-heavy singing and grinding the song slows down, then picks up again before smashing out!  Shortish at only 7 minutes.  “Kuruimizu” is also a fast punchy number with plenty of screaming at first, reminds of recent Music Start Against Young Assault.  Becomes 14 minutes of mellowness.  “Vomitself” is huge huge bass sounds – it continues unchanged for 17 minutes.  Cool.  Check out the stylish Boris homepage www.inoxia-rec.com/boris/ with nice pics of sexy guitarist Wata and her Orange guitar amplifier stack. 

the Brilliant Green "Los Angeles" - Well produced from nice J-Pop band that has learned some lessons from Lush and My Bloody Valentine.  Good sounds, broad chords, good feedback, excellent female vocals, nice instrumental title track, but not too threatening.  Nicely hovering at the proper catchy point, i.e. just before annoyingly catchy.  Nice songs and they won't stay in your head all day!

By Sexual - Culture Shock    Big hair visual kei band.    All members have Robert Smith (of the Cure) hair, colored blue, green, gold, and yellow.   The CD is full of cool pictures of them in various poses.    Musically it is weak pop-punk, although the lead singer is not as bad as most.  Funny rocking moments, fast pace, good bass, occasional big guitar sounds.    Production value is good, but Shazna is a bit better.    Hoppy Kamiyama plays synth on some songs.   

C love R - demo - Two demo tapes actually, 2 songs and 4 songs.  Plenty of blank space on each tape so that all 6 can be fit onto one, making this a nice 6-song demo.  Good hard-riffing power pop with cute vocals.  Maybe that's not really a good things, but C love R pull it off with infectious likeability.  Good one, girls.

Coa "Smell Me Smell My Grandfather" - Japan Overseas - Coa are two lovely ladies from Himeji, Bill and Eddie: Bill on drums, Eddie on bass.  Coa means "terror" in Japanese.  Coa is aptly named, because these two mild-mannered women put out the most terrifying music I've ever heard with just a drumkit, a bass guitar and scary vocals.  Eddie plays that guitar like a guitar and wallops it to death.  Live and in their prime, Coa could definitely give Motorhead or the Rollins band a run for their money.  See also the Land Of The Rising Noise CD and various live reviews .  This CD has 11 tracks, including an Unsane cover, and is 30 minutes of sonic terror.  Having said that, it is a little difficult to find a place for Coa in your living room, and it is still better to see them live.  If you can't do that, make sure you have a good system and turn it way up LOUD!

Coa "Your Chill Lobe To My Sound Sleep" - Tocuma Japan Communications, 1998 - The second major Coa release, this one has more diversity than their brutal "Smell Me Smell My Grandfather."  Starting off with the ambient "Matsuri" that has simple bass sounds repeating themselves, to a simple drum pattern.  The atmosphere begins to speed up slightly, and there is some buildup achieved as the sounds of a Japanese festival drift in.  It is a long, subtle song, it creates a great mood and sets up the rest of the album - 4 ravage and plummet songs that shred up the bass and drums and mike equiptment, a la their previous release, a funky sound collage called "Traffic Mess," and the three versions of the title track of keyboard doodlings (all various lengths), making this their more diverse and interesting release and most recommended for the casual listener.

Coa “Sea Urchin Character” – Gyuune Cassette.  Coa is back with more music, this time six tracks that play for 36 minutes.  The first track “Teorema (intro)” is just that – a storming Coa songs that is instrumental, big and bassy and scary… and short.  They often play it in their live set.  “Dead Generation” is one of the long tracks and it starts out slow and spooky, peppered with spooky flute.  It grows and looms and soon you hear an organ, then the trademark Coa scary vocals.  This goes on for 14 minutes of dirge-out.  The next three pieces are called “Cell Division” parts I, II, and III.  Symbolic of the birth of a new human life?  Biology?  “Cell Division I” is pop/jazz/folky and a very pretty uptempo piece.  Naturally it picks up in intensity and is full of complex beats.  Sounds at times like a Rush instrumental – “La Villa Strangata” perhaps?  The bass flares get intense and it breaks dramatically into “Cell Divion II,” a shorter piece that is a full on Coa bass and drum assault, peppered with strange static and then… trumpet!!  Taking a cue from Yoshimi of the Boredoms, perhaps, but it sounds great!  Part III is a variation of Part I and is nice and dreamy.  Final song “Teorema” is straight out Coa mayhem with the full gutsy attack bass, violent drum ambushes, horror vocals – with the odd walking bass jazz sortie.  Coa still sounding great and putting out some of their best and most interesting music on this release. 

Creep "my self portrait" - Tag Rag 1999 - Creep are a male four-piece.  Their debut CD “My Self Portrait” starts with a sample from the Spawn cartoon that leads into a simple instrumental.  With the second song the real action begins and the group launches into six songs of tight, maximum buzzing frenzy.  Each song intense, although there is a change in pace between the songs to give variety to the overall feel of the album.  But after the last song ends, don’t take the CD out of the stereo right away - five minutes of quiet are followed by first one, then another bonus song!  The first is a Nirvana-esque fuzzy blur, while the last song is an actual Nirvana cover, “All Apologies”, ironically one of the worst covers of any song I’ve ever heard.  See also the Ultra-Coma CD and live reviewEmail Tag Rag to contact Creep.

Depth "bare things" - Tag Rag 2000 - Depth is a female three-piece with each member contributing vocals.  Their debut CD “Bare Things” is a symphony of great songs and a heavy guitar crunch.  The album’s moods hit various points on the musical map – riffy, loud, fast, plodding, melodic, somber, or orchestrated harmonics with beats – but the group’s trademark sound is still fast dense hooks and terrifying vocal dynamics. “Cage,” possibly the best track on the CD, starts off with a tight intro, then some Godzilla vocals from the bass player, followed by an even more horrifying screech from the guitarist… and the song takes off from there.  This could be Japan’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” to blow the scene wide open if the population at large is ready for it.  It’s easy to pile on the adjectives with this release, but is also important to remember that this band is more Sepultura than Shonen Knife.  See also the Ultra-Coma CD and various live reviews .  Check out their website , or email guitarist You-ko or bassist Ryo (a.k.a. Karina).

Dew Under - demo - J. Mascis inspired power pop songs that buzz and bang through three original songs as well as a Derek and the Dominos cover.  The demo doesn't sound very inspired despite the strong song-writing and tortured vocal textures, although this is certainly a band that can make an impression live.  Look for greater things from this rock trio in the future.

Dig A Hole "Cleaner" - Tag Rag 1997 - Dig A Hole are a band I saw live and thought that they sounded a lot like Fugazi - a tight, excellent band that doesn't like to speed up too much but is always interesting and produces a fine grind.  On this CD, a somewhat younger band sounds a bit grungier than they do now, with some Rage Against The Machine-like moments.  It is heavy, plodding, tight, and the lead singer works his voice up into quite a pitch.  Good, solid Japanese hardcore, all right here.

DJ Pika Pika Pika "Planetary Natural Love Gas Webbin' 199999" - Comma 1999 - Wacky wonky strange DJ mix of world beat sounds, beats, and strange electronic effects and keyboards by DJ Pika Pika Pika, a.k.a. Eye Yamatsuka, lead "singer" of the Boredoms.  There are 26 tracks listed, but it plays like one long mix.  The direction of the music verges and diverges and changes slowly but surely, with only the beat constant throughout.  Later even silly disco sounds abound.

Elephant Kashimashi   "Ashta ni mukate hashiru" - Like Spitz , Elephant Kashimashi write albums full of one flawless guitar-pop song after another, the only difference is that they possess a speed-freak of a lead singer who keeps the pace frantic and charged.  The one tape of theirs that I have, Ashta ni mukate hashiru, is just one frantic fantastic endless collection of one great song after another.  Great great great songs on this tape.  By the way, "kashimashi" means something like "thrashing about."  Good name!

eX-Girl – Heppoco Pou.      So anyway, how do you begin to describe eX-Girl (which has nothing to do with Kim Gordon/the Beasties Boys or the X-Girl clothing line/shops)?   After some thought I come up with “neo-primitive Nina Hagen”!      Not to pigeon-hole them with this awful (and unlikely) pigeon-hole, and who besides me will admit to listening to Nina Hagen anyway?     eX-Girl still stand a chance to be hip, though, as their outrageous tri-vocal yelping style is odd quirky, and bizarrely infectious.     Heppoco Pou, their first release, is probably my favorite, with wild funky songs – repetitive guitar tracks and strange vocal arrangements are typical of ever track, yet there is plenty of variety on this release, which knows how to be strange without making the listener squirm.      Strange vampy English story telling the way Shonen Knife wouldn’t do it.   Thick turntable noise provided on two tracks by Otomo Yoshihide, and their cover version of James Brown’s “Sex Machine” is pure magic!!      Ten cool tracks, eX-Girl members play all instruments as well as sing! 


eX-Girl – Kero Kero Kero.  More strange sounds from the strangest girls vocal band in Japan.      Banshee wails, Amazon/Navaho war yelps, walls of electronica, primitive drum beats and echoing guitar cords.       Nice!   Hard and heavy drumming, quirky cords, time and mood changes aplenty, annoying a capella theatrical nonsense (“Tofu Song”), witch-like chanting (“Dazzle”), etc. whatever.    Not as good as Heppoco Pou, but with great production values and wildly interesting nonetheless.    Final song “Space Mushroom” is a wild 13-minute ride, not to be missed!     


eX-Girl – Big When Far Small When Close.  More incredibly strange music from weird vocal trio eX-Girl.      This time nearly all of the 8 tracks on this 25 minute release are done a capella , one of my least favorite musical forms.     Sure, a bizarre “Alabama Song” is fine, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the “Sex Machine” cover eX-Girl does on “Heppoco Pou.”     As for “Alabama Song,” Bowie and the Doors do the Brecht/Weill classic better.  Boring.     Don’t buy this one before other eX-Girl.   


Fantastic Plastic Machine – Goofy funny dancy creative tunes of the studio mix variety and in the Pizzicatta Five vein.   A bit annoying on first listening, but tends to grow with repetition – a good sign or not?  Nevertheless there’s a bit of opening bombast, a relaxed cover of the Eurythmics’ “(Must Be) Talking To An Angel,” a story told in French and simultaneous English translation by female voices (sexy and majestic, respectively), English big beat funk, strange German pop (with an edge, to save it from being truly horrible), a Bowie-esque folk ditty, and other retro ‘50s game show theme oddities.   Very funky in parts.    Strike a pose! 


Force – Super scary bad hardcore/grindcore/death metal.  Heavy riffs, nasty black grinding and mean distorto-vocals.    Difficult to enjoy this in the comfort of your home without cranking it.  Better to see live.     Lots of energy and pummeling drums.     You know the kind.   Yum.  


FxFxDx (Free From Disguise) – 4 song demo tape – Funky groovy pop songs in the Love Psychadelico vein from Roco (of Helicoid 0222MB and Gara Gara Hebi, etc.) and a few of her friends.    Drawling vocals, groovy bass and guitar and snazzy drums, interspersed with fuzzy noise and screaming.   Great blistering guitar solos and strange effects.    Sounds good already. 

Garadama "Garadama 1" - Alchemy Records - 7 slabs of sludge in the vein of Blue Cheer, Black Sabbath, Rollins Band and Killdozer... but much louder and slower.  Some of the songs may sound familiar, but all seem to be original.  This group is very cool live.  Nasty!  "Heavy bass and gravelly vocals" describe this riffin' CD, and as does "loud and slow."

Gaji "Focus/Fluid/Daub" - I hate to be nasty, but I have to say that Gaji come off much better on CD than they do live.  Crazy guitar sounds crunch together and make a hypnotizing chanted soundscape.  Lead singer Yuko makes it all sound a bit like BowWowWow at times.  The band is tight and fast and heavy, and this CD showcases their talents well.  Now I just wish that they could pull it off live...

Galactic Magma - "Automeal"  So similar to the Manic Street Preachers that they are practically interchangable, certainly in the vocal department, "Automeal" is a strong 6-song mini-album full of good songs and good long instrumental jams.  Another band that lives by their stellar live repuation, they could be one of the up-and-comers.  Technically they are already there.  Cool name too.

Garlic Boys "Love" - Surprisingly listenable rock, pop, pocore, hardcore, and all-around well-produced well-written nuggets by this diverse and strangely-talented Japanese group.  "Love" offers 12 strong songs all good enough to earn places on your favorite mixed party tape, some of which might even remind the listener of the mighty GWAR (but not the goddafful Green Jello/Jelly).  I love "Love."

the Gerogerigegege - 6 songs, mostly extreme bursts of noise guitar fury with yelled intros, mostly about 20 seconds long, and with titles like "I'm Not in Love," "Light My Fire," "Boys Don't Cry," and "Sheena is a Punk Rocker."  The latter is a longer song that is mixes muted distortion with slabs of Masonna-like noise.

Guitar Wolf - Guitar Wolf are a rock sensation.  These dedicated soldiers have left no stone unturned in their search for the purest rock sound and image; now the search has been a success, because without a doubt (pshaw, how could there be?) Guitar Wolf are ROCK 'n' ROLL!!!   Check out their Planet of the Wolves release, which would be great on the basis of the name alone, as well as Jet Generation .  The music is even better than their album titles, with paint-stripping full assault original songs like "Motorcycle Baby" and others, not to mention a savage cover of the Beatles' most savage rock 'n' roll song "Slow Down" (it doesn't matter that the lead singer hasn't bothered to learn the English lyrics properly, godamit , because this is ROCK 'n' ROLL!!! ).  They do other covers, including "Summertime Blues" and "(Can't Get No) Satisfaction" on other albums, should be fun.  If you can, try to catch them in the Japanese zombie movie Wild Zero (see reviews on the movie page ).  Best rock 'n' roll band in Japan, probably the world.

Hachiman-Mae – 4 song demo tape – Quasi-instrumental feedback guitar over plucked shamisen, and/or drum machine and groaned vocals.  Groovy and intertwining, but ultimately not very interesting. 

Haco "Happiness Proof" - Haco nearly approaches pop songs on this release... but she rather goes after a Devo sense of the word.  Catchy songwriting and strange electronic sounds, English and Japanese lyrics, crescendo and decrescendo, pauses, whispering, hard beats, accoustic guitars and other surprises are all part of the fun. Still moody, still quirky, still crazy after all these years.  See also HOAHIO and After Dinner CD reviews, various live reviews , and the official website .

Haino Keiji and Coa "You Should Draw Out The Billion And First Prayer" - Horen Records, 2000 - Seven tracks, some long (12 minutes) and some short (2 minutes), recorded in the Himeji Mushroom Club as a collaboration among noise geniuses Haino Keiji on guitar, and Bill and Eddie of Coa on bass and drum.  All tracks titles are lines from a poem, perhaps by Alan Cummings?  Alternating styles on each track, one track is classic feedback, another is something that feels middle eastern, then it is back to sqruonky fuzz ag-ain, later exotic stringed instruments and keyboard, etc.  Something called a "cretan bulgari" sounds pretty funky!  Lyrics consist mainly of goofy grunting and groaning.  Some of this music is relaxing, some distorted into nether realms (see also the collaboration track on Land of the Rising Noise 3 ), some of it quirky and complicated.  Good stuff.

Haino Keiji and Boris “black: implication flooding” – INOXIA Records.  9 tracks, 72 minutes on this 1997 creepy music collaboration from the master of twisted guitar Haino Keiji and heavy rock trio Boris.  Screams, prayers, curses and long song titles like “a rise, a moment before something unexpected is on the verge of starting,” etc.  Moody tunes never pick up beyond atmospheric noise, this sounds like a one-day on-the-spot project a la Haino’s collaboration with Coa (see above).  Stands out for its creepy vocal howls than anything else.  Dark grindcore and song fragments fuel the madness.  Haino Keiji also plays something called an “electronic sruthibox” on the first and sixth songs, as well as a “wave drum,” and “ethnic oboe.”  I guess this is the strange wailing instrument that sounds like bagpipes.  Haino only plays guitar on three of the nine tracks and they are the last three.  Long sqruonky noodlings, whiny and fuzzy and shaky.  Last tracks are intense buildups.  Unfortunately many songs are fragments and are faded out after several minutes.  Very interesting release, but generally unsatisfying.  Best track is track eight, which is eleven minutes of dinosaur noises and runs into track nine which continues for twelve minutes of the same but with grunting.  Ends with a bang! 

Hallucination - demo tape single "Waiting For The Rain" c/w "Darkness" - Badass rockin' blues a la Cream or the Animals or who knows which of a dozen other London-based '60s bands.   "Waiting For The Rain" is stacatto chords and a head-nodding beat with high male vocals, "you let me down now baby, you went and let me down."  "Darkness" is a moody song that starts of ooooh ooooh folky, spooky.  Check out the "Heroin"-like near-Sterling Morrison-ish guitar solo crescendo!

Hanadensha - "Astral Pigmy Wave" - Circle Sunshine Records - First in a three-part series of EPs, unfortunately I haven't been able to find it in the stores yet.  The other two in the series have titles that indicate what the mood of the EPs are, like "Accoustic Mothership" is spacey, and "Doobie Shining Love" is hippy and trippy... which can only lead to speculation what "Astral Pigmy Wave" might be like!

Hanadensha - "Accoustic Mothership" - Circle Sunshine Records - Second in a three-part series of EPs.  "Accoustic Mothership" has four instrumental songs on a space theme, the first being an odd collection of spacey helicopter sounds, the second track "Acid River" is a huge fat fuzzy mess that's a space-ship coming out of a time warp.  "Elemental Jam" is long spacy sounds grounding in and out with squeaky guitars flying back and forth.  "Accoustic Mothership", the last song, is 17 minutes of pure fun - trippy noodling gurgling sound effects somewhere between recent Boredoms and AOA , or perhaps more appropriately it's Sonic Youth doing Tangerine Dream.

Hanadensha - "Doobie Shining Love" - Circle Sunshine Records - Third in a three-part series of EPs, and as the title indicates it is mellow funky music.  First song "Doobie Shining Love" is all bass-line with "doobie doobie doobie" lyrics chanted, a trippy sleepy mellow tune.  SEcond track "Star" is similar to the first and last track "Sersky Rainbow" is again fat fat chords like "Acid River" on "Accoustic Mothership."  At just over 17 minutes the CD is a bit on the short sice, "Accoustic Mothership" being well over 30 minutes of music.

the Hanatarash - Yelling and the throwing of objects, banging on metal objects, an unlimited freak out of the third kind!  Swathes of vibrating noise.  A wild mix of samples from "Bastille Day" by Rush as if it were a radio ad for a punk rock show, with all sorts of squealing sound effects thrown in.  Rush providing a blistering beat to somebody elses song, as if it were DJ sampled material, how strange!  Also yelling and noise over top of some kind of r 'n' b track.  Space sounds, groaning.  A helium-voiced cover of "God Save the Queen" covered with noise and distortion.

Harogen Lump – 2 song demo tape – No mistake, they want to be called “Harogen Lump” and not “halogen lamp.”  Good furious female hardcore, raging attacks and good guitar thrust in the Helmet vein with a bit of Sonic Youth dissonance and unpredictablility.  Screaming out like Depth and all that intensity.  Crunchy and near industrial.  Several songs actually quite catchy.  To learn more check their homepage .

Hashigo /xplanet and bethx - Funtime Records - Split CD of psychadelic instrumental music from Tokyo band Hashigo and Bethlehem Pennsylvania.  Electric and accoustic guitar instrumental doodlings and feedback with some spare voice samples introducing some songs.  Ambient, mellow, relaxing, and a pleasure to listen to.  So what if it isn't exciting?  Several songs go on for over 10 minutes - and why shouldn't they?  Send them an email or check their site .

Hellchild "bareskin" - Howling Bull America, 1999 - Is it grindcore or is it death metal?  Either way it is fast, fat, and furious: guitar riffing splitting at the seams vocally growling double drumming madness.  Similar to label-mates United , but just a little more diverse and interesting. 

Hide – Best Of .     Hide (pronounced Hee-day, not Hyde) is the ex-singer of X Japan who committed suicide a few years ago in a grisly, suspicious auto-asphyxiation accident.   The nation went into mourning and current prime minister of Japan Koizumi Junichiro, then a minister of some sort and a huge X Japan fan (check out his stately attempt at heavy metal hair), managed to get a museum devoted to the band built somewhere.   Hide is considered the charismatic star of the band, and many believe his solo efforts are better than any of the band’s music and other members solo projects combined.    He worked with Paul Raven and called one of his projects “Spread Beaver,” an outrageous term that means nothing to most Japanese (although X Japan fans have been clued in).   Hide’s solo songs are fast and punky, snazzy, hardcore, reggae, industrial and punk nuggets.   Still the occasional power ballad, but nobody’s perfect, right?     

the High-Lows - the High Lows are a rock 'n' roll band from Osaka, comprised of former members of the punk band the Blue Hearts .  To place them next to Tokyo contemporaries Guitar Wolf, they don't really stand up, but they are a tight outfit that really knows how to rock, if at a slightly older, slowed down pace.  Weak point is their lead singer, who sounds extra limp, but each song is good in its own way, spiced up with harmonica or slide guitar be it as it may.  Occasionally funky, fresh, or loud.  Go go, High-Lows (probably a sexual reference)!

Hi-Standard - "Angry Fist"  This group first came to my attention while listening to tunes in a small pub in San Sebastian in the Basque region of Spain, the same pub that played Pixies songs.  The Hi-Standard song was a punked up version of "California Dreamin'", for me the first of what has already become a tired cliche of snotty California punk bands shredding classic songs.  Hi-Standard do it again on "Angry Fist" with the unnecessary "Have You Ever Seen The Rain," but they make up for it by covering the Pink Panther theme - faithfully at first, then a la ska, finally in full assault pop-core.  This is a hidden track at the end of the CD.  The rest of the CD is original tunes of snappy, fast, anthemic tight hardcore, good to listen to before heading out to the pub but not really too memorable.

HOAHIO "Happy Mail" - Sounds, repetition, decorated with Haco's strange singing.  Very quiet, very bare minimal sound collages, some of which make use of strange and modified Japanese koto sounds.  Make you feel like you're at an imperial court a long tim ago (and in a galaxy far... far away).  One moment of electric excitement appears near the middle with the electric "Less Than Lovers, More Than Friends," but even that is deceptive - the lyrics and the riffs are repeated almost unchanged throughout the six minutes.  Check out Stefan's HOHAIO review and pictures .  See also Haco and After Dinner CD reviews. 

Indian No Echo Sign Bine No "Virgin Demo" - The recent Osaka sound is often characterized by intense trios, but among them Indian No Echo Sign Bine No is one of the most unique as they forgo the singer-guitarist for a singer-violinist!  Their 8-song demo CD is a vivid symphony of tight, artsy, mostly instrumental songs, full of wild effects, swinging moods, innovative use of the electric violin, and one of the best rhythm sections around!  The violin doesn't always sound like a violin, often tricking the listener into thinking of the stles of moody guitar masters like Jimmy Page, Steve Howe of Yes, and the Edge from U2.  The CD opens with a electro-violin , then picks up with moody Bauhause sounds and long haunting violing sounds, all peppered with voice samples.  The two songs that make use of vocals do so with "aaaah" Nico sounds, or a strange ringing chant.  One track is a drumless piece that seems to be a variation of a Russian classical theme, and the remix at the end blends all the sounds themselves together.  As good as this moody demo is, it still pales in comparison to a live show by the group - watch the violinist shred the horse-hairs sawing at her instrument, try to keep track of the variety of sounds it can produce, and feel the wild rhythm section that would be a match for all the best in Kansai - Coa, Depth, and Music Start Against Young Assault included!

Jesus Fever - "Dozens of Great Views" - Cooler than either Jesus Jones or the Jesus Lizard are Japan's Jesus Fever, a rockin' psychadelic trance guitar pop trio powered by rythm guitar, lead/distorto guitar and super snazzy drums.  The female lead singer of the band is that rare bird in a guitar band of any stripe, a singer with a truly gorgeous voice!  The vocals are mostly in English, sound syrupy smooth, haunting, wailing, and beautiful.  Half of the six songs on this release start off as mellow ballads that build up in intensity until they are finally punctuated with a blistering storm of distortion that makes full use of all the inventive guitar effects they have at their disposal; apart from these, one other song is crunchy all the way through, another is fast-paced and "Waiting For The Man" groovy, and a third is simply a sweet ballad.  Jesus Fever are two thirds of Music Start Against Young Assault , which drops the second guitar, picks up a bass and spares the vocals.  Amazing to see either one of them live!

Judy And Mary.       J-A-M, Orange Sunshine , Miracle Diving , the Power Source, Pop Life.      Many people consider Judy And Mary the best J-Pop band.    Diamonds among the shit, because for all the cool music coming out of the Japanese art and underground scene, mainstream big-label pop is about as bad as it gets.  Judy And Mary shine at the top along with Spitz, Elephant Kashimashi, Okuda Tamio, Puffy, and a few others.  Judy And Mary are a guitar rock/pop band with a polished sound and a talented female lead singer who sometimes kicks out the jams, cranks it up a few octaves and sings pretty high.  In the insert on one of the CDs it says “caution, this record contains many back word messages.”    Gotta love them for their sense of humor.    They must be having a ball making this music.     The first release J-A-M is very punk/rock, with fast paces, blistering guitar and squeaky vocals, sung mostly in Japanese but with English phrases tossed in.  First song starts off like the Ramones “Judy Is A Punk Rocker,” but it’s actually their own song “Judy Is A Tank Girl.”     Not a bad little tune.    Lots of fun music.  One of the songs is “Baby Q,” I wonder if this is where the Baby Q dancers got their name from, ditto for Lolita A Go Go, because both are also great tunes.    Cool, punchy, simple, unpretentious pop songs that sound slightly familiar.    Orange Sunshine is less rockin’, more close to Yuki’s squeaky vocals than the music, production seems to be notched up a bit too.    Well, what can be expected.    Still plenty of fun, freaky, spunky, jumpy, poppy, groovy numbers.     Title trck “Hello! Orange Sushine,” “Christmas,” and “Hyper 90’s Chocolate Boyfriend” are the most upbeat tracks.     Last track “Dynamite” sounds like “Judy Is A Punk Rocker” as well!    Good tune.    Miracle Diving starts off strong with sharp, catchy pop songs – snazzy.    The Power Source starts off strong and has good pop songs on it.     Judy and Mary have their look and feel down pat and effortlessly put out a platter full of great tracks.   Awesome.   Pop Life isn’t any different either.   Judy and Mary can’t disappoint.  

Kahimi Karie - Kahimi Karie is a woman who sings in a whispy, soft, girly voice.  Her songs are reminiscent of Jane Birkin, Chara, or even Pizicatta Five, with a very minimal guitar and electro backup, almost lo-fi and Beck-like at times.  She sings in English, French, and Japanese.  Get any of her recordings, they're bound to be good, especially if you like minimal sounds with a bit of a jazzy/electro feel.

Karma Stench - 2 song demo - Nice name.  Karma Stench are a band that play around Osaka regularly.  These nice guys gave me a free demo since I missed their band.  The songs are short and sharp, grunted vocals over slithery guitar tracks, noodly and eccentric but not too unconventional.  I am at a loss to who to compare them too, maybe that's a good thing.  Solid guitar rock.

Kina Shokichi and Champlose - Champlose represent Okinawa music in my mind.  It is punchy and fun and full of odd female harmonies and lots of "hep, hep, hep, hep" stacatto notes.  Their song "hana" (flower) is a classic in song, interpreted in Chinese and other languages (a CD of versions in a dozen languages is also available - look for it).  Nearly all the songs are fast, driven, and hypnotic, full of fun harmonies that will keep you in a good mood for the entire duration of the album.  And when it's over, you can listen to it all over again.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang – 2 song demo tape – Shredding nasty mondo rock ‘n’ roll, very of the Thee Michelle Gun Elephant vein.  Good psycho mondo guitar squalls.  Must be fun to see live.  If this is just a demo, the band shows some promise.  With song titles like “Morning Jet Blues” and “Rock Rider” you can already tell they really aren’t about subtlety.  One of the band members slipped it to me for free at the Speedway Baby live show a while back, thanks bud! 

KK Null "GeV" - Staalplaat Records - Energized and noisy, these 17 tracks represent 48 minutes of the best bloots and blurps from former Zeni Geva member KK Null.  A seamless blend of industrial swirls and Dr. Who sounds including digital heartbeats, robotic worker bees, pinballs rolling, drunken hummingbirds, furnaces, teleporters, crickets in a laser attack, alarm bells, champagne glasses in a room of energizer bunnies, malfunctioning androids, a locust attack, an intruder alert and scurrying spiders, inside an elevator shaft, near an over-heating refinery, digital bungee jumping, the Star Trek engine room, a pumping house, a chainsaw lightning attack and so much more.  It's also computer talk for R2-D2.  Very distracting, very fun.  This album has one of the most beautiful pieces of cover art I've ever seen, it could be in a museum.

Kuro Yume "Masturbating Smile" - Among the bad J-Pop are Kuro Yume, "Black Dream," the big hair and make-up glam metal visual kei guys, a poor-man's X-Japan.  Good hardcore beats, some heavy metal guitars, but not recommended.

Kuro Yume "Ice My Life" - Big hair stylin' silliness from poser musicians.  Lead singer has the characteristic early Nineties nasal vocal style.  Hard to listen to.

Lolita No. 18 – Yaritamin.    Lolita No. 18 is best described as a “snotty girl punk band.”   They are tight and fast, the lead singer sings like a cartoon character and must have plenty of attitude.   Yaritamin is their fast rockin’ tribute album (think Bowie’s Pinups or the Ramones’ Acid Eaters) and they sing in Japanese the Ramones “Warthog” (great song, good cover), the Buggles “Video Killed the Radio Star,” the Shangri-Las (?) “Be My Baby,” Shonen Knife “Riding On The Rocket,” R.C. Succession’s “Boku no suki na sensei,” “Love Letter,” and others.    Pretty good. 

Love Love "overfeed" - Love Love are a scum band that sounds a bit like Coa .  They mix it up - subdued funky bass-heavy sweetness and guitar rock, with harsh, grating, shrieking vocals.  The best thing that they do is go on long, meandering jams.  One of them adds the sound of someone munching on something.  Munches have a great beat, and it works its way right into the song.  The CD begins 30 seconds after you press start, so don't be fooled into thinking that your CD player is messed up - it is just Love Love playing with your minds.

Love Psychadelico - "Greatest Hits" - Major label debut of "out-of-nowhere" hippy pop band could fool you into thinking they are a Swedish pop band like Ace of Base or the Cardigans if you didn't notice the occasional Japanese verses between the vibrant, jaunty English vocals.  Eleven original songs, some of them with familiar titles like "Lady Madonna" and "Your Song" show that the band definitely has a sense of humor that extends past the ironic title of this debut CD.  Exiting, interesting, catchy, if not entirely original, the production of the seemingly stripped-down bare sound of the band is actually slicker than they probably need, with the vocals mixed to be more prominent than anything else, almost as if it were recorded in a karaoke studio.

Machine Gun TV – TV Violence.    The other MTV.   Strange sound effects and samples, then bizarre spacy rolly funky music with dreamy beautiful female vocals.   Good crunchy industrial/industrial-dance/pop/noise sounds.    Seven very cool songs full of noise and harmony, dance and dissonance – a perfect blend.  Bliss.   Whoever mixed/produced this is a genius.  

Mad Capsule Markets -    J-Rap techno hardcore in the ATR/Slipknot/Kid Rock tradition.    One of the strangest phenomenon on the Japanese national music scene, these guys must be totally insane to produce fast-paced music this mixed up and strange.  Wild techno sounds with heavy guitars and angry rapping characterize most songs.    Biggest weakness is the vocals – that kind of rap just doesn’t really grow on you.  Some attempts at a “ballad” and a typical “punk” song, but it’s still the madness that keeps you listening.  Cool album art shows the MCM white killer robot posed with the musical instruments the band play – as if they were band photos.   Better than seeing a booklet of the Rollinsband posed in Anton Corbin photos by a long shot. 

Maji "Sacrifice" - Ohno Masahiko, Jeff Bell and friends live at Bears in 1994 - noise, guitar feedback, screams, loud drumming, and various insanity.  This sounds better than I have described it, lots of spooky "haunted house" theremin-like female vocals that go on and on.  Dig, dig, dig.  The famous toddler Minga Wu does the inner sleeve "artwork."

Maldoror "She" - Ipecac Records, 1999 - Sound effects, grunts, groans, birds chirping, Looney Tunes effects, electronic noises, and other nonsense from Mike Patton (ex Faith No More and Mr. Bungle) and Akita Masami (from Merzbow).  36 minutes of madness. Email Ipecac records and say hi to Maldoror.

Mania Organ – Perplexed Nicaragua Overdrives.   Wild, wild, wild bass sounds, guitar punk, grunting and groaning, fast drumming, nutty nutty nutty.  Grunting and groaning screaming.  Great fast turn-on-a-dime sounds a la Melt Banana, with the bass more dominant than the vocals instead.  Like Coa playing for Melt Banana and some drunk guys doing vocals.    Huge, unpredictable sounds, sometimes even sounds like jazz!   Freakout!  

Masonna "Frequency L.S.D." - Screeching noise.  Almost unenjoyable.  Enter the music and become a part of it.  It will give you power.  This kind of music is unreviewable, you just need to listen to it.  So exreme and abrasive, listening to the whole piece in one sitting is a challenge for anyone.  Doesn't sound like it was created by humans, but may in fact have been picked up from an intergalactic transmission, of the sound of "high frequency screaming grass," if you know the stories of Roald Dahl ("the Sound Machine").  I dig this music a lot.

Masatsu Genin "Ki iroi Lamp Highway" - Majestic Sound Records, 2000 - Punkabilly.  This 4-song E.P. is loud and fun, full of loud guitar riffs and other fun sounds.  Each song contains enough diversity and good riffing to keep it interesting, but with each song under 3 or 4 minutes, it is a bit short.  These guys put on a great, energetic live show with all the prerequisites (tattoos, crazy hair, jeans and leather, jumping up on the speakers and into the audience, and sweaty naked torsos), see also my live review .  Send them and email and say hello.

Matsutoya Yumi - The reclusive (never appears on TV) queen of Japanese pop/jazz-lite for the past 20 years is Matsutoya Yuming, getting on in years somewhat, but still coming out with an album a year and touring on the strength of her superior pop music and unique voice - she once went to Mongolia to study Tuvan throat singing!  Every couple of years she has had huge monster hits, some of them making appearanced in the films of Miyazaki Hayao (Kiki's Delivery Service, etc.).  While her songs are usually good, and her voice is better, the music is sometimes dragged down by dated production values - 1995 recordings sound very 1995, 1985 recordings sound very 1985.  Her early '90s CD U-Miz is chock full of great songs, some of them ballads, some of them Spanish influenced (like Madonna?), etc.  Her greatest hits package Neue Musik is fine too, although a little flat at times.

Melt Banana "scratch OR sniff" - Meldac Records, 1997 - Words like "spastic" and "hyperactive" go a long way in describing the Melt Banana sound, at least on this Steve Albini-produced release.  Barked female vocals (prominent in the mix) over guitar and electronic sound effects that make their music sound like a poodle lost in an '80s video arcade.  I want to hear more Melt Banana, because I think I might be missing the point with them.  I guess I haven't discovered the secret that others have raved about.  I prefer Space Streakings - just as manic, a little more interesting and infective.

Melt Banana    – Cactuses Come In Flocks.   Prime raw Melt Banana, the pounding rhythm section, the guitar as special effect device, and the chirped vocals.    All at blinding speeds.   Raw and underproduced, sounds like Operation Desert Storm.    Ringing bells, smashing smashing, strange song titles, moody Interstellar Overdrive moments, laughter.    A band with its own chic.  

Melt Banana "Charlie" - A-Zap Records, 1998 - What else can I say about Melt Banana?  While one Melt Banana record or CD in the collection and one Melt Banana concert experience is considered essential to a worthwhile existence, this release ponders the question "are two really necessary?"  Charlie is a fine CD, and only proves that Melt Banana cannot slow down.  They will always be the epitome of the fastest, most exciting band you have ever heard anywhere, and they will never be anything but.  At least it can be said that the full Melt Banana effect is not really diminished on CD, since their music is as unrelentless on CD as it is live.  So after some worthy consideration, this release proves that you can never have too many Melt Banana CDs in your collection.  They will blow you away, they will blow your friends, your family, your neighbors away.  It is hard to find the words...

Merzbow - Repetitive spaz-songs drift on many levels - electronic bloops repeat, smash smash beat repeat, distortion and rumbling created, fourth layer of soaring Chinese orchestra drifts in, there are sound samples and other insanity too.  Crunchy machine sounds going back and forth, Ultraman and other things flying around the room.  High pitched industrial sqruonk.  Witches howling from cliffs.  Air raid sirens.  Alien hordes attacking, broad and crunchy.

Miru "Miru collection 1: Ao" (demo tape) - Slight and wistful music.  Dual female vocals and harmonies, eccentric musical instruments like accordions, triangles, and various metronomes (!) create an atmospheric background of exquisite delicacy.  This is not exciting music, but it makes me feel like I am walking on the moon, or at least on a space-walk, and there is really no music like it.  The packaging is beautiful too - tape case covered in blue felt, silver words and images printed on it, the tape itself is painted black (so you can't look through the tape window) so it is all just one vast mystery.  Miru.

Music Start Against Young Assault - "Rabbit Express" - (GYUUNE CASETTE)  An album of the year for people who like long, ambient jams, a la Radiohead, the Kraut Rock bands, King Crimson, the Velvet Underground, Sonic Youth, with other songs seemingly influenced by the Melvins, Nonpareil, the old hardcore bands, whatever.  Cool riffs may build up to noisy feedback jams, but there is always a catchy, repetitive riff.  The three musicians (bass, guitar, drum) work together fantastically, intertwining with each other in strange ways.  Five of the eight songs on this album are long jams, the others are short Ween-like hardcore shockers and all of them are compelling be they gentle and enticing or fast and furious (or both together!).  The best track on the CD is the second, "Pit Inn," also a standout live track in their shows. It builds up with a sharp riff, march-like drums and a living/breathing bass line, before it comes alive with shredding power riffs.  Whispy/wheaty vocals are used sparingly throughout, sometimes whispered, sometimes chanted or yelled, the band really gets most of their power from their instrumentals.  And when the vocals are as repetitive as the riffs themselves, they are just like any other instrument as well.  Get this album, but look hard - it's not  available everywhere.  MSAYA are also two thirds of the group Jesus Fever , which drops the bass, picks up a second guitar and uses a female vocalist.

This article appeared in the February 2001 Kansai Time Out magazine under the title "Rabbit In A Rush."

    Music Start Against Young Assault is a band from Kyoto that is blowing the socks off of anyone who has seen them play live or bought their first release “Rabbit Express.”  The trio of musicians push the understanding of their guitar/bass/drum format way beyond guitar rock norms into a techno realm of repetition and slow change that is trance-inducing, relaxing, and beautiful.  Repetitive riffs pile on and change, then get layered in feedback, whispered vocals are added, and the resulting stew is like nothing else.  And if seeing MSAYA in action isn’t good enough, their guitarist and drummer are also two thirds of Jesus Fever, a wistful, emotional band also playing live around Kansai.  The members of the band live and work in Kyoto and Osaka, their guitarist DJs at clubs under the name Cloudhead, and their busy drummer is in Rashinban with Boredoms Guitarist Yamamoto Seiichi and is a tour support drummer for Shonen Knife.
    “We started this band around the winter of '95,” says MSAYA bassist Koji Uchida, “and guitarist Okazawa and drummer China already played as Jesus Fever.in '95.  I stopped playing for a while with my band at that time called Screaming Pinch Hitter since I wanted to start a new band with other people.  I wanted to play more popular and happy music than I had played in SPH, which was a heavy and progressive style of music.  I like music like Big Black, Helmet, Godflesh, Sonic Youth... but also XTC, the Smiths, Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, King Crimson, Cluster, 23 Skidoo, Can, etc.  At first, I started the new band "No Contract" with just our drummer.  After Okazawa joined us, we changed our band name to "Music Start Against Young Assault."  We played faster music we called ‘progressive punk.’  But now we like slow- or mid-tempo music.  Our style has changed, but spirit to ‘make pop music’ has not changed.”
    The band certainly is smart like a punk band, but progressive like a flexible and experimental group of musical artists.  Koji compares the repetition, regular pace, and slow changes to the experience of riding on a train.  “That describes our playing style.  I want to be about the images that we see when we are traveling on a train with many beautiful sights.  It may be like travels inside my head with the music.”
    But how did the band get it’s long, unusual name?  “We chose it because it sounds interesting, there is no meaning. but some reasons for the word choices.  China often said ‘Music start!’ when we drove in a car, to switch the car-stereo-system on.  AYA (from MSAYA) is taken from a cute girl's name.  She is our friend.  She plays in OnOff now.  At that time we chose it for our band's name.”
    MSAYA’s first CD “Rabbit Express” was an indies hit when it was released in Japan last fall.  Five of the eight songs are long, repetitive numbers that are either groovy, catchy and riff-laden, or energetic, experimental and scratchy.  “Pit Inn,” in particular is a long, infectious song that builds up quietly from a great riff and grows like a think alive into something astounding.  The remaining three songs are fast hardcore numbers that have more energy than groove.  “Rabbit Express” also has one of the best covers of any Japanese CD released last year as it combines a plastic inlay with the color cover for a great 3-D effect.  Catch Music Start Against Young Assault live February 11th at Bears in Osaka, or February 25th at Kyoto Metro.  Look for MSAYA and Jesus Fever’s CDs and appearances on compilation albums like "Nova Feedback" and "Satori Distortion 2," as well as new compilations coming out in 2001.

Nagisa Ni te - "the True World" double CD - Blues Interactions 2000 - Strung out, tortured, fractured, melancholic blues folk; Nagisa Ni te is wrangled, off-key, throttled music that is hopelessly endearing.  The male and female vocalist of Nagisa Ni te (means "at the shore") can neither sing properly nor play their guitars very well, but their tuneless songs have more emotion than other artists muster in their entire careers, so this is actually no insult to the band - I love them!  The 2 CD set, which is an international re-issue of a 1999 release and complete with English lyrics and introduction, is dominated by the opening songs of each CD "the True World" and "the True Sun" respectively.  Essentially versions of the same endless song (over 25 minutes combined!), this is a recorded version of the 23-minute live version they offered on the Orbital Confluence CD and the piece the often perform live.  The simple riff, often repeated, is so elemental it will never fully leave your system, the guitar picks up and subsides like the moodiest Pink Floyd song, and the male and female vocals intertwine like ivy.  Other songs on the CDs are mute, silent pieces that can at times be barely noticed, at other times fill the room with vibrating off-key harmonies and sad groovy vibes.  Perhaps band master Shibayama Shinji describes his band and this release best in his introduction:  "From the beginning our methods were stiff, but although we have gradually found ways to enjoy ourselves, we seem to remain as clumsy as ever.  The three records we have released as Nagisa Ni te are each in their own ways stiff and imperfect in form.  But our most fervent wish is that perhaps some listeners will hear in them a feeling similar to that you get when recalling dreams that oddly stick in the mind, or when seeing the wind raising tiny ripples on the surface of the water."

***NOTE***   See also article on Nagisa Nite from Issue 10 of Ointment On The Souls Of My Shoes zine. 

Nagisa Nite – “On The Love Beach” – Blues Interactions – The band’s first release begins with a bang and one of their best songs, “Me, On The Beach,” a Neil Young flavored ditty that is soft, hard, wry, instantly hummable, and full of heart-wrenching agony.  Near the end it explodes briefly in feedback confusion, before lulling out with great acoustic guitar work.  The songs on this album are as strong as you must expect from this incredible band, but are rougher and at times a little wonky in their experimenting with quirky guitar sounds.  A sixties presence/influence is also very near the surface.  Somewhat dominated by Shibayama-san’s male vocals, Takeda Masako mostly just has backing presence.  Her vocals are the somewhat unbalanced, enchanting force that drives later Nagisa Nite albums.  Amazingly, the song “Nagisa Nite” doesn’t have any lyrics.  It is followed by the anthemic “They,” which is also enhanced by Zushi Naoki’s spiralling guitar.  Wow!  Altogether this is a very interesting, eclectic release, full of great sounds and uncompromising experimentation.  Great folk songs, nostalgia, sweet autumn music.  The CD packaging of this CD, as with all Nagisa Nite releases, is amazing – a card stock case with a CD in a slip jacket, a booklet of Japanese and English lyrics, the CDs have nice personal pictures printed on them.  All images on the CDs and CD jackets are of Masoko and/or their two dogs Kumao and Malo. 

Nagisa Nite – “The True Sun” – Blues Interactions – “The True Sun” is a live recording recorded in July 1997 in Tokyo, and as with most live recordings it will be of interest to fans only.  Although the recording is pretty good (you can hear cars driving by outside the club), the in-between song banter is listless and dull, not to mention long, needless and barely decipherable.  It is interesting mostly to hear very different versions of some of their best songs, i.e. songs recorded stunningly with the band’s male vocalist Shibayama are now given an experimental treatment with the band’s female vocalist Masako – notable “”Me, On The Beach” from the first studio release “One the Love Beach” and “the True Sun” from “the True World.”  In other words, the first studio album was mostly his, the second live album is mostly hers.  Of the nine songs on the CD, five appear on other albums, three only appear here, and one appears on the latest release in a different version and sans a few lyrics.  “Morning Glory,” a 7.5 minute song on the latest “Feel” release is given the full twelve-minute treatment here, with an added coda, and called “Morning Glory – River.”  “My Story,” “Gentle Japanese,” and “Mysterium Conjunctions” are also beautiful songs that don’t appear on other studio albums.  A lot of Nagisa Nite’s live charm lies in the listless, haphazard, lazy, sloppy manner in which they perform their gorgeous songs (missed notes, broken beats, warts and all), all of which is represented here, although the effect is a little different – at a live show it has a strange, gentle charm, whereas on CD it could come off as crappy and unprofessional. 

Nagisa Nite – Feel (Blues Interactions 2001).   The band s latest release is “Feel” balances lyrical duties between Shibayama and Masako just as it balances pretty ballads and tight pop structures with strange experimental moods sometimes all within the same song!      The opening song is a sweet little thing that is hacked apart by first a sudden, howling, squeaky guitar solo, and then just as suddenly the organ gives way to peculiar burbling organ sounds.      Two songs are such strong pop songs that they sound oddly similar, perhaps because they are both sung energetically by Shibayama-san.     Duets like “Speed of Fish” go on endlessly, with elongated strum-out and “seaweed guitar” solo by Boredoms guitarist Yamamoto Seiichi and English vocals by one Tim Barnes.  The oddest songs are sung by Masako, such as the oddly distant voice and guitar tune “Piho” and the one-guitar-cord-strum “Song For Malo.”      It doesn t get much simpler than that.    

Nagaboshi Tsuyoshi – Singles.   Famous for his “Kampai” song that every young Japanese musician learns to play early on, this folk rocker is kind of like the James Taylor of Japan or something.    Mushy songs that sing about sentimental subjects (and occasionally strong Japanese national images), he’s been well loved for over twenty years.    

Neko Mushi – “Kai Ran Ban” – 6 song demo CD – Spooky performance art groove from one of the strangest bands I’ve seen live in Japan, rivaling even the enchanting Miru.  Neko Mushi (which means Cat Bug) are a band from Hiroshima that make their music by combining walking bass lines with accordion and percussion and various vocals, mainly provided by the gothic kimono-clad accordionist and her fragile child-like sobs, yelps, snickers.  To learn more check http://nekotama.jp.org/

Ningen Rocket – Ningen Rocket makes strange, jangly, simple songs with off-key vocals.     First song is merely guitar and bongo and vocal.     Silly stuff, but the guitar playing is pretty amazing in an atonal crackly sort of way.   Most of the release is guitar pickings and pluckings, really fun and energetic and fresh music. 


Nivraym – Ruins side project.   If quirky freaky Frank Zappa-style music annoys you, you probably won’t like Nivraym either.   Funky startup that reminds of the Dissidents Euro-Moroccan-beat project of a couple of years ago.  Other spots remind of ABBA and Zappa and Mr. Bungle and a blenderful of prog-rock bands.   Maybe that’s Rick Wakeman playing keyboards – sure sounds like it!   Best songs are the long funky guitar-based tracks.  

Nonpareil - "Gold Gold Scientist" (demo tape) - Six songs from wacked hardcore group Nonpareil.  When I saw these guys play live I thought that they had a savage guitar drone that reminded me of Helmet meets Godflesh, but upon relistening it seems more like they are an eclectic guitar noise outfit, mixing up their sounds and their beats with feedback, funk, rap, guitar noise, drones, and anything else that they can fit in.  Funky and hard-driven.  Lead guy Hayashi sings in English and has an iron screech that can can lower into a snarl or a mutter a la David Yow.  He's a nice guy too - everyone who saw them live that night got a free demo tape.  Snazzy gold paper cover on it too.  Thanks, guys.

Oe Hikari - "the Music of Oe Hikari" - Several piano preludes, seemingly in a baroque style (I'm sorry, I know nothing really about classical music) by the son of Nobel Prize for Literature winner Oe Kenzaburo, the child who was born with brain damage that became the subject of both his father's masterpiece A Personal Matter and his uncle Itami Juzo's film A Quiet Life .  Slight, pleasant music, the feeling of gentle melodies massaging the soul.  I can't say if this music is exemplary of it's style, but I do know it sounds nice.  Hooray for Hikari!

Okuda Tamio - Okuda Tamio is the faceless rock superstar of Japan.  He was once in a well-loved little rock group called Unicorn , and nowadays he has achieved great success as the producer of the Japanese supergroup Puffy , but at the same time most Japanese would pass him on the street and not recognize him.  His solo albums seem to have some popularity, yet it's not easy to find someone who listens to him.  Who buys his albums?  His first solo venture was Shopping, a rock 'n' roll doo-wop co-production with folk superstar Inoue Yosui, it is full of good rock licks tempered by meaty production.  Catchy songs, like most of Tamio's production, the songs that work best are the ones sung by Tamio himself.  While he later becomes more and more confident in his Beatles/Who aping skills, there are still a few George Harrison-tuned guitar sounds on this release, not to mention some in-song chuckling a la Paul McCartney (the cute one).  Shopping is followed by 29 and 30, presumably released when the artist hit those ages.  29 is a good album, with strong rockin' songs, but nothing too memorable.  Oddly enough, Tamio's backing band on this release is the same as Keith Richards solo band - the X-Pensive Winos.  Not too expensive for Tamio, I guess.  I wonder how that collaboration happened.  30, with it's Saturday Night Fever poke on the cover, is the better album, with good rockers and hummable ballads, one of Tamio's best songs "Sayonara," and some of the funnier lyrics (he rhymes "honey" with "Sony" in one song).  It also has a funny, slight cover of the '70s hit "Sonny."  Who sang that song originally? Matatabi (Japanese for "wanderer") is his strongest release, full of all the stylistic flourishes Tamio is known for (Beatles and Who references, even a bit of Sergio Leone) and strong songs.  The album opens with an echoing wolf howl, a cool sound that sets the album on the right note.  "Tegami" (the letter), one of his strongest songs, is a snarling, grunged out rocker that was once used effectively in Japan in a commercial for cell phone company Tuka that starred Tamio proteges Puffy, it is also a highlight on an album of highlights.  Gold Blend is his newest album of songs, all quite strong without any of them being really distinguishing.  Go, Tamio, go!

Omoide Hatoba "Daiongaku" - Omoide Hatoba, which means "harbor of memories," is Boredoms guitarist Yamamoto Seiichi's experimental project.  Aparently Yamamoto thought of the name when he realized that every sappy enka song he has ever heard always mentions the old "harbor of memories."  "Daiongaku" is a nice collection of songs ranging from a hardcore/Suicidal Tendencies opening assault barrage to snazzy slide guitar, rusion, raga, Krautrock beats, and a folk song "Marine Snow," which appears in an accoustic version on the Alchemy Records compilation reviewed below.  Can't forget the cool capitalism and the lack of freedom lecture sampled on top of the music here too.  Nice stuff.

Omoide Hatoba "Black Hawaii" - Beck-ish "Fixin'-to-die-rag," wild guitar sounds, twisted hick-rock rap, and a fuzzy ground out yet rather faithful cover of "Anarchy in the U.K."

OOIOO - Wow!  Greath rhythms pulling you along and creating a new tribal world for you to plug into.  Yoshimi of the Boredoms leads a cast of zany female musicians creating an electric world that is also like none visited before, even in the recordings of the Boredoms.  More like a real band with real song structure, they write melodies and have choruses, but sing in strange languages, also using their tongues to yelp, yodel, and shriek instead of articulating real words.  Check out the fat bass sounds and the cool guitar effects.  I want to call this "neo-tribal techno," since that term pooooosibly describes them better than any other I can come up with...

OOIOO "Feather Float" - Polystar Records, 1999 - Wow again!!  If you think you have heard everything, then you haven't heard OOIOO yet.  What are the shock milestones in your musical live?  Well, "Feather Float" begins with bird sounds, and goes off into strange dimensions from that.  I call this "neo-tribal techno," because it doesn't sound like it belongs to this civilization, yet it is distinctly "plugged in" (i.e. it is not "unplugged").  Well, whatever ironies there may be, this is cool classy music with Yoshimi of the Boredoms leading an all-female cast of freaks creating a new world - great songwriting, great rhythms, blistering bass sounds, funny stocatto sounds, some distortion in just the right place, but most importantly yelping and yodelling and squealing and the mood and sound of the deepest rainforest.  This surely sounds like nothing you've ever heard before, except maybe the other OOIOO release.  See also live review .

OOIOO "Green and Gold" - Polystar Records, 2000 - A new album released at almost the same time as the new Boredoms "Rebore."  Fine neo-tribal techno from Yoshimi of the Boredoms, this time she gets a bit more ambient than neo-tribal, and the tunes stretch out and out without ever picking up the fever picth of other OOIOO releases.  There are a few standout tracks - opening track "moss trumpeter" has the pure trumpet tone and infectious grandeur of an Olympic theme, and the fourth track "mountain book" managed to build up a nice head of steam after it's simple beginnings.  Mellowing with age or whatever, Yoshimi is not as spastic as usual on this release.  Listen, strech, mellow, and take some time to flip through the green and gold-hued picture-book thoughtfully included in the packaging, perhaps the best I've ever seen in a new release.

Pink Lady - Funky sassy retro sounds brasher than anything comparable in the west, Pink Lady embody the super idol sounds of the late seventies, early eighties J-pop scene.  At the time, images of Pink Lady were as omnipresent as Coca Cola advertising, turn on the TV any time of the day or night and there they'd be.  Twenty years later, their music holds up very well indeed, much more than could be said of their contemporaries.  Somehow a blend of early Madonna, ABBA, and the Supremes, the two girls Mie and Kei sing together, sassy and bold, funky loud pop anthems of staggering proportions.  Check out "Carmen '77," the opening line being a defiant "My name is Carmen!"  These women are the obvious inspiration to recent sassy look-alike singers.  I wish I understood what they were saying.  Maybe another couple of years in Japan.

The Plastic Ono Band – Live in Toronto.    “Ladies and gentlemen, get your matches ready… the Plastic Ono Band!”   I guess this album, released in 1969, is from an age before lighters.   John Lennon announces that this is the first time they play together.   Still, the Plastic Ono band is a helluva band!   They turn through old standards like “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Money (That’s What I Want)”, “Dizzy Miss Lizzy,” and “Cold Turkey,” before hitting “Give Peace A Chance,” which most everybody has probably heard… probably more than once too!  Now, years later, it is fun to rediscover the overlooked gems on the album, which is John and Yoko inventing Japanese noise music.   As the band cranks out feedback, Yoko wails away on “Don’t Worry Kyoto (Mummy’s Only Looking For Her Hand In The Snow)” and “John, John (Let’s Hope For Peace)” as if they were a prototype for Hijo Kaidan (another husband-wife noise team).   Long, long minutes of pure wailing from a possessed artist – pretty amazing.   Come to think of it, Lou Reed did Metal Machine Music way before Masonna, proving that there is nothing new under the sun, just that Japanese noise musicians will have an audience when they create noise in Japan whereas in most countries noise is a tape-only thing for the real freaks.    And in the seventies, famous Western musicians released their noise on major labels.   

Yoko Ono With Plastic Ono Band – Feeling the Space.  An album for the sisters.  Yoko sings mellow folk songs, a la James Taylor, each one with a message, which is surprising for most people who only know her as a possessed wailer.    A dozen groovy tunes that tell stories.    John makes an appearance as a doting husband at the end of “Men, Men, Men” when she says my “ladies and gents, I’d like to introduce you to my lower half, without whom I would not be breathing so heavily.    Honey junes, you can come out of your box now,” to which John replies “yes, dear.”  “I learned to stutter” is a speech that introduces “Coffin Car,” where she explains that as John Lennon’s wife she was treated like shit and even Lennon’s friends tried to cut her legs out from under her, the frustration led her to develop a stutter (?!).  Good, mellow music from a strong feminist, all with an excellent message in English – not the artist’s native language!  Go, Yoko, go. 

Port – Don’t Think Feeeeeeeeeeeeeeeel!      (formerly known as the Port)      Four tracks, 45 minutes of insane funky keyboard guitar drum new jazz funky disco long jams.    Wild.  Beginning off light and fuzzy, progressing through long instrumentals and short vocal bits into long repetitive jams.  This has the feel of techno, while being done live on instruments instead of banks of computers, something I see as a mini-trend in the Japan music scene with bands like Music Start Against Young Assault and Jesus Fever doing similar things live with long, repetitive jams.    The Port live are something to see, intense energy and great riffing huge tunes.  Great.      Check out their interesting homepage http://osaka.cool.ne.jp/port333/ to see what kind of crazy instruments they play, among other things.     

Puffy - No, this is not Puff Daddy.  Puffy is a pair of girls who sing together or solo.  They have flat voices, poker faces, a twin look (although they're not related), and have extremely catchy songs.  They are the brainchild of producer (and solo artist) Okuda Tamio , who fills their songs with Who and Beatles flourishes.  Their first full release is Jet CD, basically a collection of their singles, plus a few other songs - each tune plays with different moods and productions, but they are all good songs at heart.  The first song "Jet" starts off with huge Who-like riffs, and production values that attempt to out-do the most savage Pete Townsend bombast.  The song soars.  The second song "kore ga watashi no ikeru mitchi", one of their biggest hits, starts off with a riff that combines the opener from "Pinball Wizard" with the riff from "Won't Get Fooled Again," then picks up with its own material.  It's one of the catchiest song I've ever heard, and Tamio further decorates it with the odd stolen bit from 5 or 6 Beatles songs, often as bridging devices.  It's all pretty shocking stuff.  "Cake is Love" is a dumb electro ballad, but catchy enough.  "Ai no Shirushi" is a catchy little number contributed by another pop supergroup, Spitz (they do their own version on a later Spitz album).  A pop ballad, a smoky jazzy number, spooky goth rock, folk, doo-wop, disco.  The follow-up to Jet CD is Fever Fever.  It falls a little flat, with neither the hot production of Jet CD nor the strong song-writing.  It is still good for a hit or two, though.  Funny early Beatles production on some songs with Tamio himself singing backup instead of John and George.  Did I just hear some "Elenor Rigby" orchestral strains spicing up that accoustic folk song?  Other songs good sixties lounge.  Is this guy the Japanese Phil Spector, or what?  Filled with stupid sounds - sampled conversation, gurgling, etc.  Some competently sung English songs.  Get Jet CD!  2000 saw the release of another Puffy CD, Spike .  This one comes off a bit better than the limp Fever Fever, but not quite up to the standards set by the great first album, Jet CD, but still solid: catchy pop songs, groovy rock-pop, and playful disco.  Again Okuda Tamio does production, this time with some help also from Andy Sturmer.  Fewer Who and Beatles riffs ripped off on this one, but there might have been a bit of a Sex Pistols vibe stolen here or there.  See also the Amiyumi double solo project.  

Punku Boi – My Life Is Only Killing Time Between Masturbations.   A guy and his bass guitar, grunting the vocals and plodding out a steady bass rhythm, this is one demented release.   Who knows what on earth the lyrics could be about…   

R.C. Succession - Snarling folk music from Iwano Kiyoshiro.  Although lacking the snazz, humor, and drama of the classic Timers CD, the more popularly successful R.C. Succession is still really quite good. The Best of R.C. Succession 1970 - 1980 is full of jazzy '60s sounds and snarling folk.  Check it out.


Ruins – Tzomvorgha.       Goofy prog rock.    Bass guitar grooves, squeaky guitar, demented Mr. Bungle-style lyrics.  Grunting and groaning and squealing.  Fast and funky hardcore, changing it up interminably.  Man!  Cool bass.    Some of it is goofy, it gets mellow with nice female lyrics, twisty and windy.  Incorporating pieces of other song, of which I recognized a bunch of Black Sabbath songs like “Iron Man,” “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath,” and others.    Madness.  The lyrics and “singing” and chanting almost never let up!   


Ruins/Hatoba – This Ruins and Omoide Hatoba collaboration contains some of the strangest music ever recorded.  Cool funky opener is followed by typical guitar scum and screaming, wild intricate rhythms and bizarre drumming/vocals being highlights.    Nice blues and Hawaiian guitar.    Scummy early Boredoms-like noise.    In the land of Oz, where the ladies smoke cigars!    Funky gloomy batty atmospheric at times.    Cover of Kraftwerk’s “Trans Europe Express” with guitar and drum machine and muttered vocals.  Also included is twenty minutes of vocal babbling in ten-part harmony is a definite head-scratcher – skip!!  Weird Mike Oldfield-like pop song at the end.    Still not sure where Omoide Hatoba leaves off and Ruins begin...  


Sadistic Mica Band – Cool name, huh?   Strange E.L.O.-type band that was popular in Japan some years ago.    From pure candy-pop with English and Japanese vocalists to blistering blues rock guitar poppers, a band that will try anything.    Fun songs, including goofy blues, funky rhythm and jazzy spaz styles all decorate the cute and funky pop songs these musicians have created.    Nice, fun music.  “Don’t go to Houston, come to Tokyo.”   Each song is in a different style, as I’ve noticed these tricky producers like to experiment with styles – Puffy and Sawaguchi Miki have gotten this sort of jack-of-all-trades treatment before.    Wild samba, funky folk/novelty, doo-wop Puffy prototype music, odd new wave disco, majestic Pink Floyd opulence in an instrumental guitar solo, euro-rock love duets, cock rock, various guitar pop, and who knows what else went into the mix.  Fun stuff.   Strange, I’ve had this CD for over 5 years, but I am only finally really listening to it now that I am reviewing it for the homepage.    Go figure. 

Sawaguchi Miki "Big Boobs" - Alchemy Records, 1999 - If this is her first musical release after reinventing herself, former porn star Sawaguchi Miki seems to be trying a bit of everything to see what works best.  She's got surf-ska, straight pop, bossa-nova inspired beat, pure rock, covers, disco, noise experimentation, and a bit of this and that.  Most of her songs work well, as can be seen by the two covere "Get Straight" (Greg Kihn and Joan Jett writing credits) and the Janis Joplin standard "Mercedes Benz" that is quite moving to hear her do - very faithfully and passionately (great music, not-so-great pronunciation and enunciation, but who's counting).  Basically, 7 of the 9 songs on this release are "good", which is more than even some established bands can muster.  Miki also seems to have surrounded herself with very capable musicians.  The rather tasteless CD booklet shows her posing and pouting in her lingerie with a guitar, the last picture shows her topless (demonstrating what she talks about in the English title.  The Japanese title, also the name of the final track, is "sleep with your head in my chest."  Awwwww...).  Check the Alchemy Records website or send them an email .

Screaming Pinch Hitter - "6 Song E.P." - Energetic, sloppy, metallish hardcore in the Fear/Iron Maiden vein.  The pace is unrelentless, and some songs include girlish vocals as well as everything else.  Star bass playing by Uchida Koji now in Music Start Against Young Assault .

Shazna "Gold Sun and Silver Moon" - BMG Records, 1998 - Shazna is a trio of glam rockers that are part of what is called visual kei in Japan, i.e. bands that have a tight visual style - usually lots of make-up, sclupted hair, musicians really theatric and into their instruments/performance/little world playing over-produced guitar pop.  Shazna is headed by Izam, a man who has long aubergine hair, dresses theatrical, applies heavy make-up and actually looks like a pretty girl.  The other two members in the band look like Marilyn Manson and Jon Bon Jovi.  Izam used to be a major celebrity on Japanese TV and even had some solo success, but in recent years has been effectively black-listed for various shenanigans that he got up to.  His story seems interesting, and his music isn't too bad either.  Shazna may be one of the best of the visual kei, or at least their singer has a pretty good voice and doesn't sound like he's passing a turd the way other visual kei singers do.  My version of "Gold Sun and Silver Moon" is a box set which, in typical Japanese major label excess, has a snazzy silver/gold box, 2 CDs (where one would do), a booklet with lots of pictures of Izam (and a few pics of the other two), and a mini-CD that has some of the Shazna songs done on a xylophone.  The songs are pretty good - some of which are frighteningly catchy, all of them are well-produced.  Somehow it sounds a bit like mid-'80s groups like Simple Minds.  Opening song "White Fairytale" has snazzy electronic sounds and sassy brassy backup singers like some sort of "First We Take Manhattan" or latter day Pink Floyd.  Dreamy pop tune "Secret Love" reprises with a pretty wild guitar jam, showing what the band can do when they set their minds to it.  Major hit "September Love" was actually a hit for someone else fifteen years ago.  The mini-disc?  An exercise in bad taste - just plain awful.

Shiina Ringo - Ringo means "apple" in Japanese, but so what -0 this girl is good.  Coming out with an album of vicious feedback-laced songs that she wrote when she wasn't even twenty yet, this young thing quickly became a sensation in Japan.  The first thing people will think of when they hear her snaky songs is how much she reminds them of Alanis Morrisette, but this is all irrelevant because in fact Shiina Ringo is much better than Alanis.  Dramatic or sad, vaudevillean, dramatic, or just plain insane, all of her songs are pop songs at heart that have been given the ultimate treatment in presentation - perhaps as the brainchild of a savvy producer, perhaps through the wiles of Shiina Ringo herself.  I wonder if we'll ever know.

Shincho 2M – Speed By Disneey   Folk pop prog punk.   Opens with the repartee “Plack Sabbath,” “I think you mean Black Sabbath,” “do you know?”   Folky funky songs that change up a lot.   Good music, sometimes jaunty and catchy, but ultimately a little annoying.    Lo-fi, jazzy, scummy.  

Shonen Knife "Shonen Knife" (Japanese version) - Giant Records 1990 - Great pop and punk songs.  21 classic songs that can't be touched by any critique.  Everybody must listen to this sincere music.  Lots of people think that they are naive and sing about hackneyed subjects like cute toys and food.  So what if they do, if they are making primal pop in the age of over-production, I say more power to them.  Check out their great fansite .

Shonen Knife "Get The Wow" CD single (English version) - August Records 1993 - Four songs from the big-produced sessions that made Let's Knife, their full-of-great-songs 1993 big label debut.  Nice acoustic version of "Fruit Loop Dreams," as well as a swell Beach Boys cover "Don't Hurt My Little Sister," as a bonus track.  Check out the Shonen Knife homepage .

Shonen Knife "Brand New Knife" (English version) - MCA Victor 1996 - A Japanese version exists with songs that have Japanese-language vocal tracks.  The songs themselves seem unchanged instrumentally, but somehow the Japanese versions are more interesting...  I dig this CD a lot, as most of the songs are catchy, hot, good.  "E.S.P." is as catchy as anything, "Buddha's Face" is the scariest thing that they have ever done, and "One Week" is a cute little song I often use to teach English lessons.  Does it get any better than this?  Check out the Shonen Knife homepage .

Shonen Knife "Happy Hour" (English version) - Universal Records 1998 -  A Japanese version exists with songs that have Japanese-language vocal tracks.  The songs themselves seem unchanged instrumentally.  Some people dissed this CD, but I thought it was a step up from their previous album, not that there was anything wrong with "Brand New Knife."  Maybe they are sounding more mature?  This must seem quite ironic, considering their next album, sans bassist Mitchie, Strawberry Sound.  Check out the Shonen Knife homepage .

Shonen Knife "Strawberry Sound" (Japanese version) - Each review for a Shonen Knife release should probably say mostly the same things - this is one that will be a little different.  A frustrating album - with this one they lost their long-time bassist Michie - but the Knives manage to make their new release sound both like that familiar old band, but also venture into new territory with new novelty songs.  They also come off as brave, as well as vastly stupid.  What do I mean exactly?  Well, certain songs on this CD sound like the fresh Shonen Knife of over 10 years ago with slightly heta (unprofessional) mixes.  This is perhaps a good thing, even though it looks like they spelled "Japanease" incorrectly on the liner notes in order to artificially recreate this aura.  Certain other songs sound like something the band has never done before, but they use this album to add all the gimmicks that work to make their catchy songs stand out just a bit more and more.  They may have lost their bassist, but they do not suck yet.  Are they the undiscovered Beatles of Japan?  One thing that really bugs me about this release is how they announce "side 1" (track 1), "side 2" (track 8), and "side... arre?!?" (track 16).  Maybe this release should have been inspired by okonimiyaki (whatever-you-want pancakes) instead of strawberries, or at least pizza - there's really a bit of everything.
Old style: "Wild Life", "Nya Nya," "Super Big Black Bass," "Punk Rock Star," "Sesame," "Mayonnaise Addiction" (sounds like the Beatles' "Rain"... which Shonen Knife covered on their 712 release in 1991 - but has a creepy segue at the end).
New style: "gokiburi" (funky, soul, brass section), "CM Song" (whispered lyrics, moog, fuzz bass), "kaikir gemu" (orchestrated, sappy), "Chinese Disco" (as it sounds), "Mosquitos" (heavy metal), "Synthesize" (bad instrumental with all the pre-programmed Carl Sagan sounds - when did SK do an instrumental before?).
Check out the Shonen Knife homepage .

SxOxBx – Leave Me Alone (includes “Don’t Be Swindle” release).  S.O.B., standing for Sabotage Organized Barbarian (!?), was considered Osaka’s greatest and hardest working hardcore band.   To listen to “Leave Me Alone,” which is 30 minutes long and contains 27 of their best songs, it is easy to understand why – short, brutal, intense songs with maximum mayhem and noise that never allow the listener to feel that the music is dated, clichéd, or boring, it all evokes a sense of breakneck early Suicidal Tendencies (in pics band members wear ST gear), Stormtoopers of Death (S.O.D., get it?), and the great great Minor Threat.    The cover art is very like S.O.D. with Sargeant “D” of the S.O.D., or Suicidal Tendencies “Join The Army”… or Eddie the Head on all those Iron Maiden covers!   Song titles like “SDI & ABM”, “”Violent Anger,” “Influence of Slime,” “Histeric To Temptation,” “Let’s Go Beach,” “ Fuck Or Die,” “Speak Mouth Fuck You,” and last song “To Be Continued.”    Title song S.O.B. is only 5 seconds long!     The way of writing S.O.B. with Xs has bled over to other bands like Ultra Fuckers (UxFx is the hip euphemism for the band) and maybe Yamataka Eye’s short and short-lived grindcore band Xox.     This is unrelenting music that doesn’t slow down for anybody.   Exxential.    The SxOxBx story is not a very happy one, though, since the lead singer and inspiration of the band, after being busted for drug possession (he was found carrying some LSD) and harassed by the police who found his list of fan club members and their addresses and began questioning SxOxBx fans and associates for drug connections, killed himself by jumping in front of a subway.   An event that shocked the community, SxOxBx is one of those legendary bands that should never be forgotten.


the Southern All-Stars - Japan's ultimate geezer band is still rocking after twenty years.  Comparable perhaps to the Rolling Stones in terms of presence and longevity the Southern All-Stars, or "sazan" as they are affectionately called in Japan, can still produce number one hits into the new century keeping the toes of the nation tapping.  Their appeal undeniable, bluesy rocky pop with strong/characteristic male vocals, occasional female vocals, strong jaunty pop songs and the occasional ballad, a "best of" should be part of anybody's record collection.

Space Streakings "Nana Toku" or "Seven Virtues" - Skin Graft Records, 1994 - Hyper-kinetic.  If you took this jogging, you would speed up and whiz past like Steve Austin, the Six Million Dollar Man.  Heavy percussion, dangerous guitar, 200 r.p.m. bass, electronics and distortion, voices coming from every direction.  I don't know what else to say about the Space Streaking.  There never has been anything like them and there never will be... unless you think of Atari Teenage Riot with a group presence and "song structure."  Core reactor reaching critical mass!

Spitz - Not much can be said about Spitz beyond the fact that they write more flawless guitar pop songs than any other group I know anywhere!  They are without a doubt Japan's best guitar pop band, constantly surprising this viewer with their excellent songs.  The lead singer has a smoky voice that is instantly addictive, the production is staid, the band tight, everything everything everything good.  Since the albums are all full of fantastic songs of every guitar pop stripe - slow or fast, frantic or whistful - the only way to really distinguish one excellent Spitz album from another is to listen whether the production values date them or not.  Earlier songs are full of noodly guitar solos and quirky early '90s production values, while later ones get tighter and more to-the-point.  The group released a best-of B-sides, Ka-cho-fu-getsu (flower bird wind moon - images that represent each of the four seasons), probably the second album a casual listener should buy after getting the Spitz Greatest Hits package.  This is the release where the band does its version of "Ai no shirushi", a version written by Spitz but more famously recorded by Puffy . Hachimitzu (honey) is perhaps their best studio album, containing a line-up of at least nine perfect pop songs, with just a teeny bit of filler to keep it from being inhumanly perfect.  If you like Spitz' singer's smoky voice, you double your pleasure, because it is in full expressive force on this album.  Wow! Indigo Chihei sen is a good, if somewhat middling, album with nice songs on it.  Fake Fur has a bit of a punch and the usual number of high quality Spitz songs, including one standout track near the middle that is sweet to an overpowering degree and impossible to forget.  The year 2000 saw a new Spitz CD Hayabusa released after a short hiatus.  Again, every song is good.  Spitz is invicible.  Their songs have been covered successfully in Japan by Puffy and Karashima Midori and who knows who else.  Get at least one of their CDs, if not all of them.

the Surfers of Romantica - "On" - ZK Records, 1997 - I'm still trying to figure this CD set out, because it's definitely the strangest thing I've ever come across.  A CD, a mini-CD, all for 3000 yen.  The CD has 2 tracks, so you can listen to it one way, but if you skip forward a different score plays.  There is a theme to the recording - because every now and then you hear the same "ba ba bammmmmmm" sound.  There is strange drumming, strange guitar, strange voices, strange loops and studio tweaking, etc.  It sounds like the Boredoms did in the '80s, but much strangers.  This seems like a different group than the one I saw live, which started a jam and just let it build up and climax again and again, it was a glorious thing.  In the studio they screw around - and they screw around hard!  Very interesting if you like puzzles, role-playing games, or spending a week trying to digest a piece of music.

Thee Michelle Gun Elephant - Hyperactive snarling start and stop nasty riffing guitar rawk!!   May sound powerful to you or me, but in truth these guys will never be a match for Guitar Wolf.  Which poses the question: how can four guys with the right attitude make less noise than three?  Any Thee Michelle Gun Elephant (great name huh?) release is worth owning, but having them all might be a bit of overkill.  Good luck finding even one in the stores.

3.6 Milk – Self-titled.       Sony Records.    Great great great punky pop songs by one of the most promising young bands to come out of the Kansai.   This is their third release, but first for a major label.      Nothing innovative here, just flawless songwriting and presentation.    100% pure fun, these guys love making music and you don’t have the chance to doubt it for a second.   Mostly sung in English, every song is a good one!      “Sky” is full of good vibes and a great crunchy chorus “look up in the fucking sky.”   “Mi-to’s Bar” is a song written for the best bar in Osaka, which sadly closed in May 2002, which only people who have been to that amazingly comfortable and friendly bar can understand.   3.6 Milk t-shirts say “My life is Mi-to’s Bar” on the back.      Classy!   Catchy nugget “California,” is a good 3-way vocal bomb, and the great “LBDA” is a tribute to hanging out with band favorites Long Beach Dub All-Stars.      Funny/silly stuff with the odd “54 46 That’s My Number.”     Lyrics mostly in English.    Some guy from the LBDAs also does the funky album cover art.      www.sonymusic.co.jp/3.6milk/


3.6 Milk – Keep Walking.  Sony Records.      Worthy 5-song EP with a cool acoustic party mix of “Sky”, one of the best songs of their previous self-titled release, plus a fun collaboration with reggae dude Barry Micron.    Gorgeous/nasty cover art, again from somebody in the LBDAs.    

the Timers - "Fujimi no Timers" - More loud and nasty punky rock 'n' roll from the "Times" and their aging superstar leader Imawano Kiyoshiro, masked and merely identified in the credits as "Zerry."  Tight, funny songs about helicopters, garbage, cancer-ridden dying TV announcers, and North Korea (sample lyric "what a strange place, let's go check it out").  The plucky twangy rock and rockabilly is as always dominated by Imawano's brash, unmistakable, the guitar chops indominable, and the beat funky and wild.  No covers this time, but a The snorting live title track appears in a 10-minute version and reprise.  The Timers will never die!

the Timers - "the Timers" - This classic one-shot album was masterminded by the great Imawano Kiyoshiro, who is better known in Japan for his work with the slightly less interesting (than the Timers) but commercially successful band R.C. Succession.  Their single self-titled release is full of so much hilarious rock 'n' roll stage folk it is hard to know where to begin describing them.  The name Timers is a pun on the word "timer" (hence the sound of alarms at the beginning of the album) and the Japanese soundalike word for marijuana, "taima."  So the first song on the album is a cover of the Monkees "Hey hey, we're the Monkees," done like "hey hey, we're the Timers, and we love 'taima.'"  Another Monkees cover, "Daydream Believer" is OK, as is the Ventures' snipped "Walk, Don't Run," but the real gold in the release are funky, driven songs about potatoes and yakuza , not to mention a song where Imawano gives advice to the prime minister of Japan, or the sung-in-English "Lonely Japanese Man."  If you understand Japanese, this album will leave you rolling, and if you don't you will be humming along to the whole of it, infected by this man's insane energy.  Now in his fifties, Imawano is still around, a Japanese Neil Young, Keith Richards and Mick Jagger rolled into one, doing punk versions of the Japanese national anthem.  Balls this guy has, and "the Timers" album may be his swan song.  Do yourself a favor and get it!

Tripod Jimmy - "No Vacation" - Excellent mixed gaijin/Japanese party band, Tripod Jimmy's first release is a good college rock blend of hardcore/rockin' tunes with the odd soulful bluesy mellow tune to give it a bit of variation and appeal.  Deft guitarwork and nice riffs with some pretty decent vocals and funny lyrics.  The CD begins strong with the anthemic hardcore track "Automated System" and the energy of "Fat Boy."  "Hammerknife" is a mellow thing that nevertheless does break out into Sonic Youth-ish guitar assault.  "Tanimachi" is a hippy tune that I didn't really dig at first, but nevertheless knuckled itself into my mind and now plays in the soundtrack of my mind on occasions!  "Junky Monky" is the most infectious song on the CD, chanty the way "Automated System" is, but also sounding like the '50s novelty song "Charlie Brown" as done by the Mekons or Ted Nugent.  Tripod Jimmy play regularly around Osaka, they're a lot of fun to see and party with, so if you have a chance get out and go see them!

Tripod Jimmy – “Planet Mongo” - With their newly released third CD, Tripod Jimmy tightens the screws and delivers forty minutes of screaming punk nuggets, thirteen songs that funk just the right way.  Just out of the starting gate the first five songs blur together and maintain a freaky hit-the-clubs momentum.    Crunchy riffs rifle back and forth; lyrically the band seethe venom and fires barbs at all of human stupidity, all the while laughing at their own drunkenness.  Tight production and triple vocals keep things interesting, even after the hangover hits in the second half of the disc and things get more serious.    (this review originally appeared in the Kansai Time Out, November 2002). 

U. "Guitoo" - Tag Rag - Kyoto band U. is one of the seminal bands of the Kansai music scene, and this is their first Tag Rag album.  This album explodes from the first track on with unparalleled energy, shrieking like a migraine headache with raw aggression.  It is intense as anything I've ever experienced and can only be compared to the best of the MC5, or a double dose of early Ministry.  Tight guitars, blazing vocals, fierce drums, abrasive sounds all fitting together in a way that has energy and swing, meaning that the agression is focussed and not pointless.  This band once opened for Fugazi in Osaka, what I would give to have been at that show...

U. "Line" - Tag Rag, 1998 - "Line" is U.'s second Tag Rag CD and it is as different from its predecessor as "Never Mind The Bollocks..." is from "Dark Side of the Moon."  "Line" is spooky and moody, and full of very long songs.  At least half of the tracks are masterpieces, deserving their rightful places on your car's mightiest mixed tape.  See also various live reviewsEmail Tag Rag to contact U.

Ulfuls – Best Of .      Ulfuls are a super popular J-Pop band that sing shiny happy pop/rock songs.   They come from Osaka and got their start at Fandango in Juso when they were all part-time waiters in Indian restaurants like Chai in Umeda.      The music is gutsy and funny but ultimately perhaps a notch below someone like Okuda Tamio who, ha ha, I probably like better.     “Banzai”, “Ii Onna”, and “Osaka Strut” are the best songs.     Check out the disco bass lines.     Good cover of “What a Wonderful World” with competently-sung English verses and funny Japanese verses.     Still, boppy, energetic music with lots of momentum.     Very popular in Japan, especially after their chronically overplayed “Ashita ga aru” song (a cover, actually) was released.   

Ultra Fuckers - "Bring My Eye" - A split 20-minute tape the Ultra Fuckers (UxFx) did with an American band called Prehensile Monkey Tailed Skink (perhaps?) that I know nothing about.  Ten minutes for each band.  I bought this one from Kawai on the stairway to Bears after they played a show there.  It is funny and interesting, flattened-out lo-fi noise and sound and distorted E.T. vocals.  The classic-riff-that-a-two-year-old-could-have-come-up-with from the Stooges "I Wanna Be Your Dog" is stolen, not for the first time I bet.  Funny, wacky, strange, unnatural sounds, not quite like their live performances.  I heard from lead Fucker Kawai that the Ultra Fuckers should have two new CDs out.  If you ever see them live, try to get a t-shirt, they are the rudest things I have ever seen and he only sells them in ladies sized!  Back to the tape, PMTS are not too bad either.  They have funny "lyrics", like a news announcer saying "ladies and gentlemen, this just in - Richard Nixon is apparently innocent! "  Are they a '90s scum version of the Monks?  Or are they King Missile?  At the end of the song they get snooty and give out their thanks (sounding more like "fuck you very much" than "thank you very much") to the tune of music.  Maybe this is old, but I haven't heard it before so I will consider it original just this one time.  Check out their Central Scum and UF websites, as well as the Lost Frog Records bulletin board .  Email Kawai from the Ultra Fuckers and say hi, he speaks great English.

By the way... the Ultra Fuckers have a new side project called Petit U.F. - consisting of Kawai and Norio, one half of the Ultra Fuckers.  A home-made CD-R E.P. called “Dance With ME, Rock With You” has been released – it has color-photocopied inserts and it is a mess of beats, funny lyrics, and fuzzed out riffing guitar.  The music is awful, of course, the lyrics completely incomprehensible, but it is as fun as anything I have every heard.  There seems to be some sort of a twisted beach theme to them - the Beach Boys as interpreted by Ministry and Pavement.  These guys are great.  Nine songs.  All of the even songs are 4 or 5 seconds long, while the odd songs have some substance to them.  The best one is track 7, "Ambitious Bride."  It is just that.  Track 9 is a karaoke version of track one.  I have no idea how or why.

Ultra Fuckers Box – Lost Frog Records.  Limited Edition of 2, containing Humanity of UF, Ultra Fuckers/Prehensile Monkeytailed Skink “Bring My Eye,” Karaoke Bootleg 2, and A Tribute To Evangelion .  Available at the Ultra Fuckers 10th anniversary/Scum Nite 10 at Bears February 11th , 2002.   I bought one, Jeff Bell of Beauty Pear (see Exile Osaka 5) bought the other.    His is splashed with sochu that I drunkenly spilled on it, but mine still looks nice.  The four tape releases in it are available out of the box, though, so I don’t know if it was such a good deal.  I wonder if I’ll ever get a good offer for it on Ebay if I put it up.      After I bought it the three members of the band came over to me and thanked me personally for buying it.      I got them to sign it – Kawai drew a stick guy with a gun and wrote “BxBx Gun.”   This is a sassy personal remark, since every time I see them I heckle them to play “B.B. Gun Song” until they finally do.     I’m glad he remembered.    Actually, the “owner” of Lost Frog Records, who was there playing with the Surfers of Romantica that night, came over to me and thanked me personally as well, I think he even gave me a deep bow!!      Humanity of UF is a lo-fi 20-minute tape that comes in a zip-lock bag with a color-photocopied insert.      Very crappy, of course, but also very un-pretentious.      Lo-fi sounds, radio samples, Kawai talking into a mic about nothing, bizarre fuzzy hardcore, distorted voice experiments, some crap ‘80s pop that is clearly not UxFx, and that’s all she wrote.      “Bring My Eye” is reviewed above.      It is good fuzzy strange noisy UxFx, perhaps their best stuff.   Prehensile Monkeytailed Skink is good too, especially the “Richard Nixon is innocent” stuff and “we’d like to thank the other bands for sucking so much.”     Tribute To Evangelion is very strange music.     Two 60-minute lo-fi tapes with a color photocopy insert in a bag, it’s music from the influential anime series Evangelion… that I haven’t seen.   A memorable theme, then with the Sinatra classic “Fly Me To The Moon” done over a dozen different ways.   Only one track by Ultra Fuckers, other collaborators are Tabata’s Human Insect, Fossil Fuel, Osaka SS, Ono Yasuhiko of Solmania, and 25 others I don’t know much about.   Very odd noise/groove/sample/pop/punk/funk/satire music going crazy, not to mention dialogue samples that might be from the series itself?     But I wouldn’t know, would I?     Punch Head sings a strange, lewd version of “Fly Me To The Moon” called “Punch Me To Your Head.”    Ultra Fuckers song “Sync-La” is a short muttered thing, hard to notice.     Of the many versions of “Fly Me To The Moon,” AxTxFx/Z.T.T.’s torture speed version of the song is probably the best, although other odd versions are good too.   Karaoke Bootleg 2 is a 1995 recording on a 90 minute tape, comes with a photocopied song list and a color-photocopied art instert in a zip-loc bag.   41 strange songs by 26 bands.   Most bands only offer one song, but the Ultra Fuckers offer four!    (Surfers of Romantica one, Mania Organ two, Coa also two).    All songs great fuzzy lo-fi scum and odd sounds that may or may not be Hawkwind derived – mellow guitar, insane guitar, wild bass, shrieking, etc.   Things like Bitch Bootleg are very strange and talky.    The Coa tracks sound like an attack of horny dragons thowing huge boulders and toppling buildings – sheer terror.    Zip Code Review sounds like Sonic Youth.     O.A.C.’s “H.M.DNA (nature mix)” is probably the strangest/coolest thing I’ve ever heard – blistering hardcore with the sounds of birds twitting in nature, jets flying overhead.   What is the message here?   Cool surf rock from the Won Wons.   Utopia’s songs are mainly drumsticks hitting together as to call out a song (but with no song), then strange burbling keyboards and riffs.     Silly little numbers.    The Ultra Fuckers songs are the same as are on the Retail Karaoke EP.    Man, I didn’t need to buy that one then!!    A funny hardcore song by the Surfers of Romantica, then bizarre novelty songs in English by the Rudy Schwartz Project like “Creation Science Polka,” and “An Orange Is Nothing But A Juicy Pumpkin.”     Sample lyric from the former: “Carbon dating makes us cringe, we’re the right wing lunatic fringe, Jesus died for our sins, creation science polka.”   Silly and annoying.  


Ultra Fuckers – Beyond The Fuckless – Central Scum Osaka.      I got this at an Ultra Fuckers 10th Anniversary show by trading a Nina Hagen CD (“Freud Euch,” the German version of her 1995 release with Marky Ramone collaborating, a good one).      A CD-R in a slipcase.     Comes with a cool little sticker.     Wild band music, it almost sounds like ‘70s music or early Stooges.   Lots of drums and grunting and lurid guitar.   Some songs end abruptly.  Nice guitar work here.  Better than listening to Deep Purple! 


Ultra Fuckers – Retail Karaokei EP – Lost Frog.  Strange produced noise and screwing around.      A remix album?   Moody music that they could never lay live with a guitarist and drummer and Kawai yelling his head off.   Mixed and matched.  Dislocated voices, buzzing, feedback, strangeness.   Funny track 7 with manipulated crowd sounds.      Still the best (or most representative of their live show) Ultra Fuckers songs are on compliations like “Land of the Rising Noise 3” (Charnel) and “Tribute To Nippon” (UMMO).     

Unicorn - catchy '80s rock from Okuda Tamio 's old band.  Sometimes sounding very dated, sometimes just tight punk or rock or funk or whatever.  Tamio not quite yet revealing his Who/Beatles apeing tendencies, although those are really just around the corner or under the surface. Clever production nonetheless, as that little bit of raga rock shows.  Pick up their Best Of... at the very least, and get the whole stripe of their career.  Several of the later songs seem to have cheezy vaudeville sounds, a la the the cheezy J-vaudeville rock of the awful Kome-Kome Club (who, to give them some credit, did have a few good songs), but most of them are good, solid, fine, well-done J-retro rock.

United "Distorted Vision" - Howling Bull America, 1999 - Grindcore from Japan.  Fast and furious, but not very interesting.  Heavy, crunchy, lots of guitar and grunted vocals. 

U.F.O. or Die (Unlimited Freak Out or Die) - "Cassettetape Superstar" - Public Bath/Time Bomb Records 1993 - 23 slabs of outrageous noise from Eye and Yoshimi of the Boredoms, one CD with 8 "sides" (Side A to Side H), there's plenty of sound effects, samples, screaming, yelling, screeching, barking, snoring, power chords a la the Stormtroopers of Death, fat bass lines, static, and nonsense lyrics.  This is the Boredoms side project most similar to the Boredoms (circa Pop Tatari and Chocolate Synthesizer) themselves, this U.F.O. or Die release is 42 minutes of sheer hell.

Violent Onsen Geisha "Teenage pet sounds" - Polystar Records, 1996 - Officially three tracks, but in fact many mini-songs stiched together - sounds, electronics, samples, distortion, cheezy sounds, long silences, extended snickering, xylophones, blues guitar, groaning... it's all here.  The cover is sexy too.  Fifty minutes of "music" and "noise" for the price of an E.P.  It's nutso.

Violent Onsen Geisha "nation of rhythm slaves" - suiteisupuesto! recores, 1996 - Madness.  Comes in a stylish box with retro illustrations.  Funny song titles.  Grunting and groaning and strange sounds.  Straight covers of sixties songs like "Going Down To The Country" by Canned Heat (?) and some old Japanese enka songs.  Done straight?  Lots of lo-fi noise doodlings.  Beware the second half of "Roll Over 'Love - Stylist'" - especially if you are wearing headphones - because the low sounds suddenly amplify and become five minutes of shrieking noise and elephant calls.  "Satelite Contrast," on the other hand, is five minutes of barely audible keyboard gurgling.  Best track is the funky first song "Dream Punk Rocker Part I," which moves and sways with a bit of anything, especially the nice chunky bass.  Funky and scary.

xplanet and bethx /Hashigo - Funtime Records - Split CD of psychadelic instrumental music from Tokyo band Hashigo and Bethlehem Pennsylvania.  Electric and accoustic guitar instrumental doodlings and feedback with some spare voice samples introducing some songs.  Ambient, mellow, relaxing, and a pleasure to listen to.  So what if it isn't exciting?  Several songs go on for over 10 minutes - and why shouldn't they?  Send them an email  or check out their homepage

YBO2 – Alienation.    Early work from KK Null (Zeni Geva, Monster DVD, etc.) and Yoshida from the Ruins, their first band.    From 1986, in the days when Sonic Youth was still a young band, these gloomy metallers hit spots that sound like the Cure meets Killing Joke in Kabuki-cho.  Opening track “Amerika” takes the words from Simon and Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair” but makes it sound like the opening verses of the Cure’s “Pornography” until it becomes fierce Einsturzende Neubauten rage – over 12 minutes of madness.    Great opener.   “Boys of Bedlam” is a cool sentimental tune that changes pace and becomes nasty.  Ghoulish, grimy, gloomy.    Long songs.   Naturally, this is all much greater than the Cure, Sonic Youth, Killing Joke, or Simon and Garfunkel!  Lucky CD hounds have found this in the 100 yen discount bins around Osaka.   

Yellow Machinegun - "Spot Remover" - Howling Bull America 1998 - Premiere Japanese female hardcore.  This female three-piece play abrasive hardcore, reminding me most of Babes in Toyland, Genitorturers, and D.R.I.  Songwriting is not so great, but they make up for it in noise and attitude.  All songs are fast and under 2 minutes, with the exception of the last one which is an 8 minute long grunge ballad!  I like this stuff, even if it doesn't catch my interest.  Yellow Machinegun seem to be a bit of a hardcore mainstay in the Osaka area, and have opened for American bands like Rollinsband, the Melvins, Limp Bizkit and Suicidal Tendencies when they played there.  I saw Yellow Machinegun play a few times, check out the review .  Recently the girls have released a split single with Stormtroopers of Death.   Reports are that their new albums are sounding better and better.  

Yentown Band - Yentown Band is a one-off album for a rock 'n' roll side project by wistful dance-pop superstar Chara as accompanying music for the Iwai Shunji film Swallowtail Butterfly that she starred in, playing a Chinese prostitute named Rico who goes on to found the fictitious Yentown Band.  It is too bad that the Yentown Band is not a real band, because the music that they made on this single album is better than any of Chara's usual stuff.  It is tuneful, solid, rockin.'  Mellow songs like "Sunday Park" and "Swallowtail Butterfly" are perfect ballads, and rockers like "Mama's Alright" are fine too.  Chara even sings in Chinese on one song.  Their cover of "My Way" is also pretty good, especially if you have seen the film and enjoyed it (see reviews on the movie page ) and understand what significance that song has to the film.

Yuki – Funky tunes from the lead-singer of Judy and Mary.  Somewhat similar to their splattery punky pop guitar rock sound with her pubescent vocals, but also with a bit less edge and a mellower sound.    Influenced by various other (non Judy and Mary) songwriters.    Bjork-like sounds, techno-inspired, rappin,’ a bit of this and a bit of that, including a nice ballad.    Yuki solo is like Chara in Yentown band.    Good listenin’. 

Yura Yura Teikoku - As in "Yura Yura Empire," these boys serve up solid psychadelic rock sludge, characterized by bored vocals over moody guitar and snaky bass and jazz drumming.  Great stuff, especially when it rears its ugly head and becomes a freaked-out strorm of feedback.  The Yura Yura boys seem to have a bit of a cult following in Japan despite (or because of?) their quirky, unconventional style that jumps around unpredictabibly.  Some songs end abuptly, others start abruptly, others still wander all over the place.  Having said all that, it should also be added that they write pretty decent songs.  Check them out.

Zeni Geva - One of the mainstays of the Japanese underground scene, Zeni Geva bursts out with nasty drum rolls and guitar feedback and grunted vocals like Prong, Ministry, Corrosion of Conformity, and maybe a bit of Rush on "New Flesh."  "Kettle Lake" is a mellow/moody song with Steve Albini on gitar/vocals, telling some stupid story about a missing girl, the song picks up and roars.  Metallic songs often have that noise tinge with shimmering distortion playing throughout.

Zeni Geva – 10,000 Light Years.  Scary mean nasty groan-core from KK Null.  Never gives up on negative angst and energy, but always tight and through steamroller development of astral skull crush.      Null makes his guitar sound like Black Sabbath and Helmet, while his odd German accented English growling is never awry.      Hope you have the stomach for this sort of thing.     Titles like “Implosion,” “Blstrosphere,” “Interzona 2,” “Trannycide,” “Auto-Fuck,” indicate pyromania and some sort of disestablishmentarianism.      All right Zeni!!!   



Aiyoku Jinmin 21 Seki - Alchemy Records 2001 Calendar - Alchemy 2000 - 13 songs from 13 bands with a 13 month calendar (January 2002 is called "Deathcember", ha ha) with songs from the Incapacitants, Masonna, Solmania, Garadama, Yamamoto Seiichi, Sawaguchi Miki, Hijo Kaidan, the Nihilist Spasm Band and Aya Ohnishi, Merzbow, and Jojo.  Tons of great songs including noise from Masonna and Solmania, a creepy dirge from Garadama (an acoustic version of "Out the Window," which also appears on their CD ), mellow folk "Marine Snow" ( Omoide Hatoba version found on "Daiongaku" release) from Boredoms guitarist Yamamoto Seiichi, and some silly/creepy twisted giggling from ex porn-star Sawaguchi Miki.  The Hijo Kaidan song is a live excerpt and has the band at full throttle, a good representation of the sustained onslaught that is their live show.  The Nihilist Spasm Band has an old guy ranting angrily about the things he can't do, and Jojo's song is a slow, creepy love song called "Love Love Love."  May be hard to find.

Atom Kids - 1998 - Various groups and solo performers singing the songs made popular by the animated versions of comics created by the Japanese inventor of manga, Tezuka Osamu.  For those who don't know this giant of pop culture, he could be called the artistic Stan Lee of Japanese comics.  To call him a comic Disney is a discredit to him - he made cute stuff for the kiddies, but also spearheaded educational and mature themes.  Tatsu-wan Atom (Astro-Boy) is the only character who might be familiar to western audiences, but Osamu-san wrote and drew dozens of series, finished hundreds of stories, and created thousands of characters.  Besides Astro-Boy, he is also the father of Black Jack, the Jungle King (prototype for the Lion King) and hundreds of others, including historical stories and biographies of the Buddha and Hitler!  Anyway, this release chronicles the theme songs to the cartoon shows that followed his comic creations.  In this way they are similar to the Schoolhouse Rock and Saturday Morning Cartoons tribute albums that appeared a few years ago.  Great tunes by techno, electronic and rock and roll groups, including grizzled Keith Richards-type Imawano Kiyoshiro (collaborating with some young blood and sounding great), the Boredoms, Cibo Matto, Shonen Knife and Sean Lennon (the latter two attacking the still-popular Astro-Boy them, Japanese and English versions respectively).  Even actor Asano Tadanobu (husband of singer Chara and star of the fantabulous Shark Muscle Boy And Peach Hip Girl ) who usually doesn't sing gets in on the act with a pretty good version of his own.  Compilations and tribute albums by Japanese bands are a great way to get introduced to the various sounds of different anonymous bands, but this one is a cut above the rest.  Get it.

Bananafish Anthology   Twelve tracks, with Japanese and Taiwanese ravings by Climax Golden Twins, angry groanings and noisy cataclysm from the Nihilist Spasm Band, soaring buzzing white noise from the machine with intermittent variations by Justice Yeldham and the Dynamic Ribbon Device, lite minimal twiddlings and whistlings by (in spite of) Flaming Creatures and Deepkiss, Tangerine Dreamy keyboard moan by Monde Bruits, minimal buzzzzz with crow cawing byyy stilluppsteypa, ten minutes of clicking and whirring by and digital industrial gunshots by iancu dumitrescu, bass and screaming and feedback by sufi mind game, heavy twisted distorted crap noise with some studio wanking with voices by Witcyst, voice mixed with scratchy noise by Crank Sturgeon, a novelty folk song with guitar and silly lyrics by Mike Boner that ties for “most annoying song on the disc” with the silly “Friends Psychic Hotline” gag call by “nationally known comedian” Neil Hamburger.    Best tune is probably the iancu dumitrescu track.   


Bar Noise – Bar Noise was the legendary micro-bar devoted to noise and scum.   This is a document of some of the live performances that took place in this bizarre establishment, run by the leader of noise-freak ensemble Daimyo Gyoretsu.   18 tracks by performers like New Mexico, Qutie, 36, Nan, Yahatamae, Mutant, Anglers, Kevin Sharp and Friends, Kouzui, Solmania, and the mysterious Prisoner No. 6.  New Mexico is strange feedback noise machine-guns and screaming, 36 is long shrieking guitar noise, Nan is drumming, Yahatamae is spooky raw guitars and keyboards and harmonics, Mutant is talking and noise, Anglers sing a rude song about tits, Anglers do simple guitar with wild sax, Kevin Sharp screams distortion and parties like Andrew W.K. with screaming and bar yelling like it must have been fun, Prisoner No. 6 is vocal echoing with guitar zounds, Kozui is ten minutes of long repeto-noise with vocals, Solmania is twelve minutes of long noise.   Sounds like it was recorded in a noisy bar – oh, it was! 

From Koenji to Eternity – Eleven tracks by seven bands is the first release by Inoxia records, Boris’ label.  Boris’ track is one of their earliest recording – it is 3 minutes of lo-fi with a girl chanting “they can’t feel me,” then a minute of bass-heavy Boris hardcore insanity.  Korean Buddhist God plays scratchy nutty doom-laden grindcore with screaming and other groovy nuttiness.  Lots of white noise.  Gaji’s track starts off with bass and drums with the vocals sounding like they are coming from another room, then gets funky.  Two songs by KONK and KK Null, “Godzilla” is a bit of noise hysteria with scary vocals and hard marching beats, while the second track is mellower and more like a squeaky late-night call to the shrine that throws in some spooky guitar noise over the repetitive theme.  OAC (what does it stand for – surely not Ontario Academic Credit?!) does three tracks of Minor Threat meets Minutemen fast hardcore.  Mustard Masturbation plays funky bassy tunes with slacker vocals.  Kind of Dinosaur Jr.-ish.  Kirihito does a whirly spooky drum-smash vocal-modulated gloomy industrial-ish dark track. 

Indies Magazine 19 CD sampler - 21 tracks and good songs by Potshot, Registrators, Symbionese, Sea Meal, Coa, U.G. Men, Stale Fish Grab, Dessert, Real Reggae, Abestie Boys, Watanabe Mamoru and the Davies, Xarts, Clock System, Hypercube.  Potshot play good times catchy punk-pop, Registrators more of the same with fun swooshy guitar sounds.  Symbionese also hit the anthemic pop-punk knot on the head with a strong song, and Sea Meal slay the other bands on the CD with the catchiest nugget - a slow bass intro, cute female vocals, then all hell breaks loose.  Coa's "Traffic Mess" is a fun jazzy instrumental with a walking bass-line, comes off as someting from a Sixties crime show.  Only a few of the requisite nasty Coa sounds rear their ugly head.  U.G. Men make it nasty with a short sample of some really nasty hardcore.  Stale Fish Grab turn up the riffy noise with chanting and screaming, and Dessert pile on the speed - rolling bass, heavy riffing, double drums and hoarse vocals.  Real Reggae are nasty and loud, with a stop-and-start rhythm section and distorted vocals, gripping.  Abestie boys are a lot of fun with goofy punk... or is it hard rock?  Watanabe Mamoru and the Davies do Okuda Tamio-style '60s and '70s derivision you'd swear that it was Puffy producer Tamio-chan himself.  Xarts are loud, hard, snotty punk with a brass section.  Xarts keep it fast with more rock 'n' roll, the softest male vocals on the whole CD.  Finally, Hypercube unleash a bit of nearly Nirvana-ish catchy pop fuzz, a song that has enough diversity and catchiness to keep anyone interested.  Plus Hypercube seems like a cool name for a band.  Final verdict: plenty of punk, noise, and good time rockin!

Indies Magazine 20 CD sampler - 19 tracks with good songs by Death Surf 2000, Holidays, Boris, Stab 4 Reason, Plug, 2nd plus1, QP Crazy, Drop One's Load, Rapture, Weed Head Monster, Taiho, Force, One Star, the Ken.  Death Surf 2000 start the set off with a slick bit of catchy experimentation - the track moves from raga rock into a techno-ballad before it dissolves into hardcore... then moves back to the raga rock.  Holidays is good, catchy punk pop.  Boris lay it on thick with heavy, ugly fuzzed-out grindcore-rap.  The song ends early, and the rest of the track is just backbeats.  Say what?  Stab 4 Reason give up mindless punk, catchy enough, while Plug annihilate with a perfect, infectious hardcore tune covered in nasty vocals.  2nd plus 1 start off with crunchy cords, then reveal themselves as rap/noise artists.  QP Crazy are more like strange industrial metal than anything else - think Skrew meets Megadeth.  Drop One's Load, who seem to have found their name in a Japanese-English dictionary, do catchy rap-punk with plenty of diversity and even a chorus.  Rapture is anthemic punk and nothing more.  Weed Head Monster is frantic metal-rap, they seem to be in a hurry to get somewhere.  Taiho are the real thing, rolling, indestructible hardcore with unshakeable riffs.  Same thing goes with Force, growled hardcore that makes way for no one.  One Star changes the pace utterly and offers the disc's most interesting, most amazing, inspirational track.  Over a lazy shuffle beat and electronic noises, female leads repeat the line "you know there's something I want to tell you, ah well maybe I shouldn't say this, oh come on, I'm listening..." over and over again.  It's infectious, the disc's standout sleeper hit.  Finishing things off is the Ken, wacky novelty pop from demented minds seeking like.

Indies Magazine 23 CD sampler - 20 tracks.  Standout tracks showcase the sounds of Hi-Speed, Boat, Moonwalk, Bentroot, Stone Edge, eX-Girl, Ruffians, Kikai Dote-san, Delaware, Tetsu Ken.  Goofy novelty keyboard lo-fi circus music from Hi-Speed and wonky kiddy guitar pop from Boat start things off a la Beck and Hanson (respectively) would.  Moonwalk take over, purring female vocals whispering over heavy chords, sweet.  Bentroot keep it spooky, with snakey bass sounds to build up atmosphere before crashing chords and screaming take over.  Goth metal?  It's still not entirely humorless.  Tatsu Ken (iron fist) at the end of the CD do something similar, except with just a bit more intensity.  Stone Edge are L7, with a thundering KISS-inspired anthem called "".  I had a chance to see them live once, and they pack a punch.  Nice hair too.  eX-Girl are all about freaky atmospherics - screaming and cooing over guitars, drums, electronics.  Ruffians offer one of the best songs I have ever heard on an Indies sampler, the perfect pop song that is instantly hummable, yet knows when to snarl in just the right places.  Excellent production too.  The Kikai Dote-san track is also a nice one - sounds like a bunch of ghoulies grumbling in a nightmare you might have had, that is until it becomes a fuzzed out distorto-freakout.  This one is good, but very hard to describe.  Delaware sound like hell - the most unprofessional-sounding band to ever appear on an Indies CD.  So very bad it cannot help make the listener smile.  Some punk, pop, and avant-garde music to be found at the end.

Indies Magazine 24 CD sampler - 19 tracks from worthy young bands breaking their backs on the local scene, like Kojima, Moga the 5 Yen, Minor League, lenf, Mondo Condo, Dig A Hole, AOA, Wormdedup.  Kojima start the disc off on the right note with a shredding punk anthem, oi oi.  Moga the 5 Yen do their version of the punk anthem, a little less buzzing and with goofier vocals.  Minor League do a Misfits imitation, lenf grunt and groan over heavy distortion, and Mondo Condo work a jazz riff with a wacky antidote before they play their NYC hardcore hand.  Dig A Hole scream and play their instruments as fast as they can.  Whew!  AOA excerpt from their long Domegapeace opus, a whirling riffing bubbling wailing electro salsa that just gets better and better.  I liked it so much I bought the disc and it doesn't disappoint.  Wormdedup do hardcore with perfect Brian Johnson (from AC/DC) type vocals.  That could be a bad thing, but these guys make it sound fantastic and life-affirmingly powerful!  Plenty of electronica and jazz on this disc as well.

Indies Magazine 27 CD sampler - 22 tracks from the likes of Bloodthirsty Butchers, NAHT, Jackie and the Cedrics, WEDGE, Grest, Switch Trout, fudge, Wrongside, Kenzie and the Trips.  Bloodthirsty Butchers start it off with some sort of heavy guitar ballad.  The Bloodthirsty Butchers are apparently garage legends in Japan, warranting even a tribute album that includes songs by some big-name acts, but that doesn't mean much to me yet.  Naht does good screaming power pop, nice rolling bass lines.  Jackie and the Cedrics are supposed to be Japan's best surf band, and they offer the full thing, motorcycle roar and all.  WEDGE have a huge sound, it rolls all over the place on yet another heavy guitar ballad.  Rock 'n' roll!  The middle of the album is mostly filler songs, but better bands like Grest make an appearance near the end with an infectious fast punk anthem.  Oi, oi.  Switch Trout also have splashy surf rock on the brain, and fudge work their way through guitar pop territory.  Nice.  Wrongside are metal rappers who have found a way to wrench interesting sounds out of their guitars and bass.  Kenzie and the Trips cap the sampler with anthemic punk, special guest appearance by Johnny Rotton... maybe.

Indies Magazine 41 CD sampler - 18 tracks from hard working bands with a lot on their minds like Mad 3, 4 Hong Kong Knife, 6 Hellchild, 8 Dive, 9 Mo'some Tonebender, 10 cuthbarts, 12 Epoxy, 16 ARC, 17 Stainless, 18 Kakusha.  Mad 3 start it off with nasty rock 'n' roll that sounds like hip Pink Panther theme music, what a rush daddy-o.  Unfortunately it's faded out rather briskly (which they do again with the bustin' Polysics track, giving us a slight 32 seconds of their unhinged electric madness).  Hong Kong Knife offer heavy, riffy, fuzzy, great instrumental rock 'n' roll, the kind that refuses to die.  Hellchild is icky grindcore with all the sludge and distorted groaning vocals on top.  Dive goes weird with tight, fast guitar and electro sounds and moans before the oddball rappers take over.  Good, tight droning stuff, but hard not to remember Rage Against The Machine as the song goes on.  With a jazz twist?  Mo'some Tonebender is mellow songmanship, good chords and a nice autumn texture, which explodes finally in... rage.  Next up, cuthbarts set you up nicely then hit you over the head with big Weezer chords.  Epoxy are whimsical and mellow, soft and slow, then big and large and catchy guitar pop.  ARC's sound is fresh on this album, nifty, infectious '60s dreamy rock ballads, good vocals.  Stainless just wanna riff and take over your mind with infectious guitar pop, while on the other hand Kakusha are sweet female vocals over a bit of piano - oh my retro!

Land of the Rising Noise -Charnel Music 1999 - A great Japanese noise and scum sampler, long songs by 12 bands put together by Mason Jones and his Charnel Music label in San Francisco.  Spooky sounds, drumming, guitar feedback, beats, sound effects and other warblings, theremins, or just plain abrasive noise are part of what's on offer from these bands.  The songs are not exclusively noise or "noisy," with at least one pop song, a grungy rock song, percussion exercises and techno beats.  Highlights are: a great, haunted opening track; one of Coa's best songs ("Session", a collaboration with Keiji Haino) which is one long guitar and drums instrumental jam - it starts off fast and furious and doesn't let up the pace, possibly the best thing I have ever heard from Coa; also a rare Ultra Fuckers recording "Prince of the Land of the Rising Sun" which combines their trademark lo-fi with gurgly lyrics, quirky change-em-ups, and a stolen riff or two.  If you are listening with headphones, beware tracks 2 and 8 - they're killers!  Check out Charnel's website , or email them.

the Miracle of Levitation - Gentle Giant Records - "Experimental sounds from the United States and Japan" the label says, and so it is.  With a line-up of all the usual suspects like Yamatsuka Eye and Otomo Yoshihide (in Ground Zero, the latter also solo), U.S. Maple, 7000 Dying Rats, Ruins, Jim O'Rourke, and a very brief Melt Banana, it's a huge messy pile of sounds of the rawest sort.  With most songs modestly at the two or three minute and just a few under one minute there is flow and variety, there are also just a few over eight minutes in length!  Wanky, wonky, angular and strange, nearly all songs have some sort of guitar noise, some screaming, and crashing drums.  The most song-like of all the offerings is "I fount a place to have my kittens" by U.S. Maple.  Insane noise agitation from Pencilneck.  Long weirdness from James Plotkin and bluesy slide from Akiyama-Sugimoto.  Wonky hardcore from Cult Junk Cafe.  Industrio-guitar hardness from Lumbar Trio, and wonky noodling from Altered States.  Most songs have interesting song names like "Children Recognizing Meat as a Main Dish," "If I can't Understand it, I'll Crush it," "Event Horizon," "This is What We Do To Our Enemies," and "Big Fat Fucking Zero," that rather look like they were all penned by the same hand...

Music for Retards - Lost Frog Productions 1998 - 32 songs by 21 Japanese and American hardcore/grindcore/punk/noise bands, all of which must be difficult or impossible to find elsewhere.  Great funny screaming novelty-core songs by That One Band (from Phoenix, AX) "Fuck Druid" and "Anarchy In The Ukrane," blinding ultra-short (under 20 seconds) grindcore tracks by Cheese Flag and XOX (a Yamataka/Yamastuka Eye of the Boredoms), and other ultra-strange bands like Hardcore Dude, Stand On The Earth, Nuce Dudes on Ludes , Mexican Power Authority, Hashdum, Breathilizor , 1, Hardcore Dude and others, with their representative songs.  Check out the Lost Frog website , or email them.

Noise Kills Punk Dead – 67 song anthology that has a bit of everything noise-related (and not all of it Japanese – noise from Europe and North America and Taiwan too).    Roosters crowing, sound effects, garage scum with screaming, funny jive ads, Colonel Sanders outtake, hip hop, zillions of other eclectic noises.  This is not hard Masonna noise, but eclectic and goofy Runzelstock and Gurgelstirn noise with plenty of avant garde thrown in.  Saxophones too!!  The Daimyo Gyoretsu track is just a woman repeating the name “daimyo gyoretsu” over and over again.    DG is Japan’s strangest noise band.    Lotsa cool names like Diamond Shamrock, Pyroclastix, NOISIA, the Void Organization, Inkpot monkey, Wart Wamsteker, Urban Jungle Series, Cortex Bomb, antimatter, Arthur Loves Plastic, Magmax, Cyborg, the End of Time, All Mouth No Trousers, Liviiing, Crut, Hypnochrist, Permanent Voltage, and others.  Some silly wasted wax hick conversations, some stupid Tom Jones Coke ads, but also some fun.   Funky buzzo psychadelic rap, psychedelics, jazz, speeches, “Take Me Home, Country Road,” “Stairway to Heaven” skipping around remix called “Stairway to Royalty Payments” by the Evolution Control Committee, “care to revise your statement sir/wanna change your bullshit story” by Radio Slave, low-fi buzzings, funny burblings, cool garage punk from Permanent Voltage, and then some!  

Orbital Confluence - Neurec, 2000 - Music by Auge, Nagisa Nite, and Naoki Zushi.  I got this CD when I went to see these three musicians perform at a concert in neighboring Ashiya on May 5th, 2000.  Aube presents his concert of the previous year, in this case 25 minutes of manipulated samples from the creaking hall in Chuo-in in Kyoto.  This ancient building is installed with floor-boards that are specifically designed to be creaky as a security device to reveal intruders.  Aube samples it and manipulates it so that it sounds like crickets, echoes, distortion, heartbeats, bells, approaching behomoths, insects scurrying, and static.  It tells its own musical story - not very enticing, exciting, or captivating... but interesting.  As usual with Aube, the sounds are layered, complex, and bizarre.  Nagisa Nitte and Naoki both 2 songs each from a concert recorded in Bears recorded with the same 3 back-up musicians, giving a full sound to their turgid folk songs.  They are beautiful, relaxing, couldn't be slower, and hit the nail on the head each time.  The first Nagisa Nite song is 15 minutes long and has everything you can possibly imagine a folk song to contain (it blends with the next song, a variation of the first, making it a full-on folk suite).  The last Naoki Zushi song is solo, and was originally recorded in 1981 and just mixed this year!  Email Aube mastermind Nakajima Akifumi and Naoki Zushi and say hi.

Osaka International Pirate Radio - Exile Osaka, 1996 - This CD comes with a mini-zine that gives a bunch of background info on the bands that appear (which every compilation CD should do) as well as other stuff that could have appeared in the pages of Exile Osaka (but never did) like the poetry of Munio Makuuchi and a lowdown on the strangest Japanese TV shows.  A labor of love from zine publisher Matt Exile featuring lots of Japanese bands and some American bands of all different stripes: strange rock and roll, unusual hardcore, sound manipulation and sonic "games," spoken words, noise, and other oddities.

Tadadah! Tribute, Shifuku Deka – P-Vine Records – Double CD that is a mysterious tribute release to… to what it is a tribute to I haven’t figured out.  Cool artsy booklet has drawings and “Tokyo Peeping Hole” pictures but no real information outside of contributor profiles and contact/email/homepage stuff.  Nevertheless, lots of great songs from tons of fine Osaka bands and a great deal for only \2500 if you can find it.  The first disc opens with the crap blues and horn from Takahashi (cool gruff voice, though), then a very short Seagull Screaming Kiss Her Kiss Her track that is a lot of fun, followed by retro fun drolling drone in French from Panicsmile, a song that also packs teeth courtesy of Takeda from Kirihito.  More crap yelling rock and sloppy electro effects from Hueinu, and a beautiful Neil Young-ish song from Nagisa Nite –mellow beautiful rhythms and a jarring, intense, short guitar solo!  Field have a cool retro rock popper, catchy as anything else on the release, a short blurb of strange noise, some funk, and finally some traditional music.  Disc two leads off with very cool fusion instrumental jazz funky vibes that get pretty intense.  Better than any other fusion I’ve heard, admittedly limited as that is, while the second track is a quirky Yamamoto Seiichi number, “Maharuba,” that is fully of gurgly mellow sounds that might make you very sleepy.  Low level white noise in the background.  Crazy Ken Band play R & B pop that doesn’t interest me – hear that sort of stuff on the radio all the time anyway…  Helicoid 0222MB pull off a cool drum, bass, guitar vibe that gets a little nutty with talking guitar effects and a nice pulse.  Feedback and echo vocals too, good jam.  Sakana’s “Blind Moon” is a haunting ballad to rank with the best of them, beautiful female vocals and funky guitar – acoustic background and electric flourishes.  the Osaka Monorail Theme from James Brown wanna-bes – the utterly amazing Osaka Monorail!  Someone from Number Girl has a riffy blow-out with distorto-vocals, so-so nice, annoying horn though.  “Indonesia” by the Fox is way better, a bubbly pop song that must naturally be compared to Pizicatta Five.  The final track, by Kojima, is nearly classical music – nice piano stuff, then a waltzing refrain with big crashing drums – boom-boom-boom, boom-boom-boom, boom-boom-boom-boom.  Funny how I bought this for the Nagisa Nite and Osaka Monorail tracks, hoping that they were exclusive – they weren’t.  It even says so on the back.  But the CD is pretty cool anyway.  CD cover mimics the Black Sabbath “Paranoid” cover, which is another big plus in my book.  Thank you, whoever you are. 

Taggle Raggle 2 - Nine tracks by nine excellent groups.  Onoff's track is a long one, making them sound like a mid-'80s pop group until it becomes a wild OOIOO-type jam.  Drillman have a mellow song that twists and turns, trippy.  Extra points for ripping off/incorporating the "hoo hoo" backup singing from "Sympathy For The Devil."  XOYO also have a mid-'80s pop sound, perhaps more electro new wave or Kraftwork electrified workmanship. Spasmom 's "Sunshine Speaker" is a hardcore that grunges out, repeating the title over and over again.  It works swell!  Grind Orchestra do goofy vaudevillean salsa beat and punk it up.  NASCA Car throws together a sound collage that includes all sorts of wacky sounds and samples bundled together chaotically.  The electronics bleep along at the end like Tangerine Dream, it's a mess.  Try to see them live, they put on a frantic show.  Kirihito are like XOYO, banging away on drums and noodling out on the guitar and chant their lyrics.  A hardcore version of a mid-70s Yes jam.  U. 's "Line," at 11 minutes, is the longest track on the CD.  It is a crunchy long space warp of a song that soars all over the place, absolutely addictive and trance-inducing.  The liner notes say that U. broke up in August, a damn shame.  Jesus Fever close the CD with a long, sweet, shoegazer song built out of a repetitive jangling two-chord strum, the song builds up until it soars in intensity like an update on the Velvet Underground's "Heroin."  Sure am hoping that Jesus Fever have a full length in the works for some time soon.

Tribute to Nippon - UMMO Records - 18 tracks from 18 bands that have some connection to the UMMO label.  Generally mellow sounds, strange manji-laden (left-hooking Buddhist/Hindu swastika, not Nazi swastika) artwork and insert/notes with a distorted 10,000 yen bill - Fukuzawa Yukichi with his face on upside-down!  A NASCA Car/Surfers of Romantica collaboration results in reggae, there is Canto-pop from Spanner, sampled Buddhist chanting and electronics from Jeff Bell's Empty Orchestra, Shonen Knife meets Chiba Matto via Helacoid 0222MB, wild electro-funk from ATR (the Boredoms member, not Atari Teenage Riot), a NASCA Car/E.T. collaboration to recreate the Japanese national anthem, hardcore from Drawers, folk from Fumio Kosakai of the Incapacitants, funky Pizicatta 5 silliness from THE FOX, nervous energy set to a slow metronome beat in "Y2KK" by KK NULL, "King of Heart" spaz-scum from the Ultra Fuckers with the Suicidal Tendencies references and a Butthole Surfers "Human Cannonball" refrain, moody Pink Floyd from Voo Doo Broo Yoo, Osaka enka from Nagisa Nite, very mellow songs from Port Cuss and Yamamoto Seiichi, plus lots of groovy beats.

Ultra Coma - 23 songs by 9 Japanese hardcore and sludge bands.  Tight and disciplined, or sloppy and loud, the bands all sound good, if somewhat similar.  Standout tracks are by great sludgy and dense numbers by Depth and Creep , the only bands who seem to have a career apart from this compilation, and have released their own music on Tag Rag records, both reviewed above.  One of the two Depth songs "Plasma" is only available on this release.  Might be difficult to find outside of Osaka and Tokyo record shops, since it seems to be a vanity project that the bands chipped in together to release (hence no sign of a record label).

Wild Zero – Soundtrack.    A film about thrill, speed and stupid Zombies, starring Guitar Wolf.  Thrash and Chaossss!!!!    The great psycho of them all!    Brutality of Screen!!! For STEREO phonographs.    And all this on CD too!!   25 rockin’ skuzz tunes from the unbelievable zombie/trash/transsexual/ultraviolent camp film, from artists like Guitar Wolf (of course), the Pleasure Fuckers, Charlie and the Hot Wheels, Zeros, Chelsea, the Ramblin’ Rose, Oblivians, the Phantom Surfers, Greg Oblivian & the Tip-Tops, Mad 3, Teengenerate, the Kids, the Vikings, Devil Dogs, and S.D.S.    Guitar Wolf are unhinged and pure feedback on the first and last track, the Pleasure Fuckers more like tame Misfits skronk, Charlie and the Hot Wheels are friendly Sex Pistols derived doo wop punk (sounds like a Japanese guy singing in English – could it be?), the Zeros are simple and raw punk, Chelsea over the top fuzzy feedback, a funny bit of beat-box pop singing from the movie itself (the weirdo manager listening to auditions at the beginning of the film), Stones-inspired rock from Rambling Rose, hard raunchy stripped down rock by the Oblivians, surf rock from the Phantom Surfers, early Elvis-ish Memphis swamp ballads from Greg Oblician and the Tip-Tops (very pretty), fast and heavy surf rock madness from Mad 3, fast rockin’ punk from Teengenerate, the Kids do pure simple rock ‘n’roll, while the Vikings do bass heavy nasty fuzziness – rather Guitar Wolf.    The Devil Dogs do beery pub rock, and S.D.S. offers the only thrash tune on the CD – very fast, hoarse, ugly, near heavy-metal tune called “Brain Invader,” how a propos.  

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Peter Höflich

last revised December 12th, 2000
All original writings copyright Peter Hoflich, 2000