Les Rallizes Dénudés – “Tachikawa, 12th March 1977” (2015)

If any one unwarily draws in too close and hears the singing of the Sirens, his wife and children will never welcome him home again, for they sit in a green field and warble him to death with the sweetness of their song. There is a great heap of dead men’s bones lying all around, with the flesh still rotting off them.
— Advice given by Circe to Odysseus, The Odyssey, Book XII

In Greek mythology there were a small number of sirens, daughters of the gods who lived on some small islands and who could entice sailors to jump overboard to their deaths simply by the beauty of the music they played. Odysseus was able to survive their song by having his crew plug their ears with wax and then tie him to the mast to prevent him from jumping overboard, which sounds like a lot of work to hear something that you obviously shouldn’t be listening to. Though to be fair I had to hide my Mötley Crüe Shout at the Devil cassette from my parents back in the day, so I probably shouldn’t judge. It is from them that we get the term “siren song,” which refers to something dangerous or ill advised that is impossible for a person to resist. For some people this could be drugs or alcohol, or perhaps an insatiable need for speed or an extra marital affair, things that are bound to end, in the long run, with ruin.

My siren song is the music of Les Rallizes Dénudés.

Les Rallizes Dénudés are just plain bizarre, a group of psych-rocking Japanese dudes (and at times including a dudette) whose original bass player Moriaki Wakabayashi participated in the hijacking of a plane that was then diverted to North Korea. (♠) The group never actually released an album, though their output is prodigious in the form of various compilations of studio takes and live performances. They played their last show in the 1990s and most of the former members (at least those who are still allegedly alive) are locked down so tight you’d think they were in the Federal Witness Protection Program and they don’t appear to talk to journalists. They’re an obscure cult band that seeks to maintain their obscure cult status. Which is both incredibly frustrating and incredibly alluring. Like a siren’s song.

Les Rallizes Dénudés are an itch that you can’t scratch. They’re the splinter in your mind that Morpheus described to Neo. They’re yin and yang and yinz. They’re steel wool rubbing against your skin, a tattoo on the sensitive part of your inner arm, stepping on a thumbtack, burning the roof of your mouth with hot pizza. They’re like coming around after you’ve been desperately trying to stay awake on a bus or airplane, constantly falling asleep and immediately waking up as your head falls forward, all the while slowly drooling down your chin.

And I have to buy their records whenever I see them. Which fortunately is rarely.

But it happened the other day at Amoeba Records in Hollywood, and that is how I come to find my self listening to the incessant fuzz that is the double album Tachikawa, 12th March 1977 and slowly losing my sanity. I thought maybe this was going to be a somewhat different sounding Les Rallizes Dénudés when I heard the opening track “Enter the Mirror,” which is actually quite catchy and well recorded, but things quickly took a turn for the Rallizes and by time I got around to the third song, “氷の炎,” I was obviously entering a new stage of consciousness, one in which rational thought was impossible and every returning to normality improbable. “夜より深く” is an acid-fueled lo-fi fuzzball juggernaut, an example of the Dénudés’ “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” style repetition holding together in an intriguing way, though without any of the polish of Iron Butterfly. Arguably the oddest thing that happened to me while listening to this album was dozing off during “夜、暗殺者の夜” and then being suddenly jarred awake by the pure silence that followed the song, which ended side A. I’ve never been startled by silence before. It was, to say the least, a touch unsettling.

Les Rallizes Dénudés aren’t for the faint at heart. Sure, you can probably sample them a few times, think to yourself “well that was different,” and go on your merry way. Or you might feel that splinter in your mind as your reality shatters like a broken mirror on the floor, leaving yourself chasing the dragon over and over and over again…

(♠) This is an epically bad idea because, when it’s all said and done, you’re in North Korea, which is where Wakabayashi still lived as of 2014 in isolation, though a luxurious one by North Korean standards. Kids, don’t go to North Korea. Nothing good can come of it. Though I do secretly hope that there’s a hip hop artists in that country who has a big hit song called “Gin and Juche”. That would be epic.

44 Magnum – “Street Rock ‘N Roller” (1984)

We went to Japan a couple of years ago and I did a bit of research into Japanese punk and metal bands ahead of time, so by time we hit the ground in Tokyo I had a list of probably 40 or so bands to keep an eye out for. I managed to find stuff by many of them, but one that eluded me was 44 Magnum. But their name was still filed away in the back of my jumbled brain, so there was a spark of recognition when I came across this copy of their 1984 sophomore LP Street Rock ‘N Roller over at Time Traveler Records in Hong Kong a few weeks ago, and I immediately snatched up. It was the only thing I bought at that shop, but it made the visit and the time digging worth while.

Active through most of the 1980s, 44 Magnum fell squarely into that hair/sleaze metal sound and vibe that was coming out of Los Angeles at the time with lots of hair, leather, and attitude. The songs on Street Rock ‘N Roller are a mix of some harder numbers that approach Iron Maiden territory and some slower, more mainstream tunes that make me think of Whitesnake. What’s particularly intriguing about this record is language. A few songs are done entirely in English, but most combine both Japanese and English vocals within the same song. Sometimes it’s just the chorus that’s in English, but others have a random line here or there inserted right in the middle of an otherwise Japanese verse. I thought I was losing my mind at first, but when I checked the lyric sheet this was indeed the case. The English parts are somewhat accented, but easy enough to follow.

Ten songs about love and loss and rocking and kicking ass, that’s what you get on Street Rock ‘N Roller. This one will definitely appeal to fans of 80s hair metal scene who are looking for something they haven’t heard before. My personal favorite is “Too Late To Hide,” and fortunately for us someone has uploaded it to YouTube, so you can give it a listen and decide for yourself.

Loudness – “Disillusion” (1984)

Ever since our trip to Japan last year I’ve had a bit of added interest in Japanese music. So when a copy of Loudness’ Disillusion caught my eye at a local shop the other day, I looked it up on my trust iPhone and it seemed like the kind of thing I’d like. What I didn’t like, however, was the price. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not “that guy.” You know the one. The guy who complains that the used shop has the record priced for $9.99 but he can get it on eBay and shipped to him for $9 even. My dad was a small business owner for years – I get what it takes to have a brick-and-mortar shop, which carries with it way more overhead than some dude selling stuff out of his garage or spare bedroom. I’m happy to pay a bit more because, frankly, I like having record shops to go to.

That being said, at some point I draw the line. Like when I can get it online for $20 and a shop is asking $40. So with that in mind, I bought this on eBay.

This is the Japanese version with the obi strip intact. Apparently Disillusion was re-recorded with all English vocals for the “Western” market as well, but this version appears to be mostly or possibly entirely in Japanese. One odd thing though is that while tons of Loudness albums are available on iTunes, Disillusion is not, and in fact it looks to be perhaps the only one of the band’s studio albums not available there. Huh. Weird.

From what I can tell, Loudness’ style changed a bit over time. Their early material was more like fast hard rock, growing harder through their first three albums and probably reaching its pinnacle with 1983s The Law of Devil’s Land. Disillusion followed the next year, and it has more of a refined NWOBHM feel to it, moving a bit more mainstream. More intricate, more polished, more Judas Priest-like. By the time Thunder in the East came out in 1985, they’d sort of moved in a more glam-trash direction, a move toward radio friendliness. Which is too bad, because they had the potential to be hard as nails.

The guitar work on Disillusion is pretty intricate as was the style back in the day, and while Loudness doesn’t overtly copy anyone else’s style, the guitar solo on “Exploder” sounds a whole hell of a lot like Eddie Van Halen’s “Eruption,” right down to the name. I’m just sayin’. All in all a solid effort that fits a niche for the 1980s metal fan, giving you something from the East which hadn’t been seen before up until that time. Well worth a listen.

“R.B.F. 1984″ Compilation (8”) (1984)

When I received my copy of R.B.F. 1984 in the mail the other day it completed a weird transaction, one that involved buying a Japanese record from an Icelandic seller and having it shipped to the US. To make it even odder, the format is 8″ vinyl… not 7″, not 10″, but 8″. Oh, and did I mention that two of the four bands (The Loods and Kyah (キャー)) featured on this 10-song record actually had tapes released in 1984 by K Records from right down the highway in Olympia, Washington? The internet is an amazing thing.

I’m fascinated with Japan in general, and Japanese music in particular. The music is often very precise and theatrical, and to some extent that carries over even when you’re just listening. So when I saw this record for sale by Dr. Gunni the other day it fit the bill – Japanese, punk, and the unusual 8″ size. It was a no-brainer. The record includes four bands – two female on side A, Kyah (キャー) and Heidinasch (ハイディナッシュ), and two male on side B, The Loods and Phaidia (パイディア).

Kyah kicks it off with a pair of solid bursts of pop-punk before taking things in a strange direction with “Conception,” a more post-punky religious-like droner that is particularly captivating. Heidinasch has a bit more of a tinny sound, lacking the depth of Kyah, but still playing a catchy brand of pop-punk. There’s just something about these female Japanese bands that I find interesting (though I’m sure it has a lot to do with the insistent sound of the vocals) – I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I found myself enjoying side A a lot.

The B side gives us some more straight ahead punk rockers. The Loods play at a brisk pace, low in the mix, and with a total musical economy that defines much of punk rock. “What You Say?” is just flat out a great punk song. They bring it fast and you can almost hear the sneering in the vocals. The last two songs by Phaidia were recorded live in 1983, though the sound quality is decent – they certainly sound as good as those of Heidinasch on side A. I’ve seen these guys described as “goth rock,” but that’s certainly not what they bring to R.B.F. 1984 – this is early 1980s punk rock, pure and simple.

I’ve listened to this a few times already, and it’s solid start to finish. I’m definitely going to be spinning this one right round baby right round in the future.

Les Rallizes Denudés – “Heavier Than A Death In The Family” (2002 / 2010)

I’ve written about the Japanese psych band Les Rallizes Denudés before, having picked up a copy of Blind Baby Has Its Mother’s Eyes on our recent trip to Japan. I’d first heard of them in Julian Cope’s book Japrocksampler: How the Post-War Japanese Blew Their Minds on Rock ‘N’ Roll, so was glad to be able to track down an album when we were there. Cope had great praise for that record, but even more for the double album Heavier Than A Death In The Family, which he had in the #3 slot in his Top 50 list of Japanese albums. I actually sort of fell into this copy by accident when ordering Gina X Performance from the guys over at the Medical Records label, as they just happened to have a copy of this that they were selling as well even though it isn’t one of their releases, having come out on Phoenix back in 2010. Regardless of why it happened to be there, I wasn’t going to pass it up.

There’s actually a lot of similarities between the two Les Rallizes Denudés albums I’ve heard. Both have copious amounts of feedback and veritable walls of noise that take up most of the musical space. When the vocals do come into the mix they have to fight for room, but are more or less ethereal and sort of drowning under the current of the guitars and cymbals. It’s noise… but it’s a flat out trip. It’s not for everyone, that’s for certain. Hell, I’m not even sure it’s for me. But it is interesting, and captivating in its own intense way.

After the double barreled, full frontal assault of the first two tracks, “Night Of The Assassins” is a bit of a reprieve from the sheer volume of feedback, with it’s old school, early rock ‘n’ roll beat and heavily distorted surf-style guitars that give the vocals room to have an impact – this is more of a traditional “song,” though still flat out weird. Think “Stand By Me,” but on acid. But probably not a version you’d want to listen to if you actually were on acid, because it would probably make your face melt. “Enter The Mirror” slows it down even more, casting aside most of the violent feedback (though with an ever-present background buzzing) to create a sparse soundscape that makes Mizutani’s vocals even more haunting, and even a bit disturbing. But don’t worry, by the time “People Can Choose” rolls around, the wall of feedback is back, with a vengeance. I think that bass line will be burned into my brain for days.

Les Rallizes Denudés play some wild, out-there stuff. They went to the edge and just kept on walking – no toying around here, just keep moving. It can be tough to listen to at times, but there are rewards there if you can be patient enough, and Heavier Than A Death In The Family may just expand the way you think about music by a little bit… and every bit helps.