What does it sound like?:
This is very pleasant surprise: counter-cultural, laidback rock and singer songwriters from the radical years of Japan when Haruki Murakami was still at high school. Basically the first legit western release ( from the Light in the Attic label) of some well-known national artists, this comp adds to previous cult genres of J-rock, such as Group Sounds beat pop, 60s girl pop, Julian Cope approved hard rock, and more extreme improv. It’s rather like a Bob Stanley compilation of 70s pastoral rock, but from the “angura” (underground) scenes of Tokyo and Osaka: young, disaffected Japanese channeling Dylan, Donovan, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young with their own take on the national mood. But it’s certainly not dealt up as kitsch or pastiche: there is some real talent and tense performances here, which the compilers have put into helpful context with translated lyrics. So Kenji Endo’s whispery ‘Curry Rice’ is actually about watching the author Yukio Mishima killing himself on TV, while Akai Torai’s pristine-sounding folk song was genuinely controversial. Other highlights out of a well-chosen 19 tracks are the women Sachiko Kanenobu and Maki Asakawa, the melancholy Tetsuo Saito, and the rousing mix of Hachimatsu Pie. The qualty of this selection is high and so much of it unfamiliar ( I had only heard of the group Happy End) that it’s well worth a go for the curious.
What does it all *mean*?
That the Japanese underground audiences always loved a good tune as well as a freak out ( something that J Cope misunderstood in his unfortunately titled but otherwise admirable book the Jap Rock Sampler); that elements of Japanese enka ( trad pop songs) and melancholy can mix with West Coast vibes.
Goes well with…
The ambience of Bob Stanley’s English Weather comp, or the Milk of the Tree anthology on Grapefruit.
Might suit people who like…
Japanese rock before J pop ( there are some of you out there); anyone curious about postwar Japan.