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.