The Heavy Experience – “The Heavy Experience” 10″

One thing you can say for sure about Iceland’s The Heavy Experience – they got the band name right.  Because their sound is heavy.  Like, really heavy.  It’s so heavy I could almost be convinced I was playing it at the wrong speed… but it’s at 45 rpm on my turntable, so unless I’m supposed to speed this sucker up to 78, I’m doing it right (to be clear, the label indicates 45 rpm….).

Though only consisting of two songs, The Heavy Experience still gives you about 16 minutes of music because these tracks are journeys.  Like a journey into a dark cave you found behind a waterfall, where the rocks are damp, the moss think, and the entrance is impossibly dark.  Throw a stone inside and you’ll here it clatter and echo it’s way down for what seems like days.  This is heavy rock from off the beaten path, out in the middle of nowhere, and if you get lost there they may never find your body.  Did I mention it’s heavy?  Well, it is.

The Heavy Experience is a five piece, and both tracks on this 10″ are instrumentals.  That’s normally not my thing, but the music is so deliberate and heavy (heavy!) that it works.  Even the saxophone adds to the depth, giving the songs a haunting feeling that will almost send a shiver down your spine.  You definitely don’t want to doze off on the couch while listening to this, because you’ll probably have some crazy Lord of the Rings-esque dreams involving elves and dark places.

Did I mention that it’s heavy?

The Doors – “The Soft Parade”

Welcome to the fourth installment of my journey through The Doors’ musical catalog courtesy of the The Doors Vinyl Box.  Previous posts can be found HERE, HERE, and HERE in case you’re interested or are just a glutton for punishment.

Originally released in 1969 at the end of arguably the most rebellious decade in the 20th Century, The Soft Parade is probably The Doors album I’m the least familiar with, at least in terms of songs.  In looking through the track list, “Touch Me” obviously stands out as an FM radio classic rock standard, but as for the other eight songs… have I heard ANY of these before?  I seriously don’t know.

The Soft Parade opens oddly, in my opinion, with “Tell All the People,” a song that sounds more like an Elvis song than The Doors.  It’s got that crooner style to it, and while I don’t mean that as an insult, it doesn’t “sound” like The Doors to me.  That being said, as I’ve worked my way deeper into The Doors Vinyl Box I’ve come to realize that The Doors tracks that make it onto the radio seem to have a very similar sound to one another… but that doesn’t mean that’s what The Doors sound like.  This is a band that covers a lot of ground, often meandering and surely sometimes missing the mark, but much broader and experimental than I ever gave them credit for based solely on my experience with the canon of well-known songs played on the radio.

When we think about “The Great” bands (and The Doors certainly qualify) we recognize the great songs and the great albums.  But even then there are records that are easy to dismiss – “I don’t know what The Doors were doing on The Soft Parade, but I love ‘Touch Me’.”  But what’s more likely, that most of the album kind of sucks other than one or two songs that we like, or that we really have no clue what we’re talking about and in fact the band moved so far past us that we missed it completely?  Do brilliant musicians suddenly start to suck just because they’re making songs that we don’t like as much as their earlier stuff?  What’s more likely true, that Led Zeppelin suddenly got pretty lame with In Through the Out Door other than “In the Evening,” or that maybe they just moved straight past us…. leaving us standing on the side of the road still holding onto our worn copies of Led Zeppelin II or Dark Side of the Moon like they’re the ten commandments delivered to us directly from heaven when in fact the bands are still making brilliant music and we’re just too dim or closed off to feel it?  This is what The Soft Parade makes me think about.  And for that I owe The Doors a debt of gratitude.

The Soft Parade isn’t a lackluster Doors album; in fact the band’s albums may be getting deeper as we move away from their debut, an album I noted as possibly having the greatest single side of music in rock history (and it does!).  It’s got country, blues, and bluegrass influences all the hell over it, but done in a way that infuses those styles with jazzy horns (yes, they brought in horns for this one) and other less obvious touches.  The Doors didn’t lose it.  We (meaning I) missed it.  If you don’t believe me, listen to “Runnin’ Blues” on side B.

Music junkies wait around for that record or live show that blows their mind, and I am one of them.  We’re always chasing that high we got from previous experiences, but we’re all really just chasing the dragon and tend to find that feeling harder and harder to capture, so it’s all too easy to retreat back to the classics, the songs that gave us that rush when we were younger when so much was new and that high was so easy to find.  But as we get older we have to work harder and cast our net wider to maybe… just maybe… get a whiff of it, and once in a while, if we’re lucky and we look so hard that it almost seems like work, we find it.  And it’s like a weight being lifted from your shoulders.  It’s like having mental clarity for the very first time.

I don’t “like” The Soft Parade; it gave me something more.  It reminded me of what is important – having an open mind.  It’s as much about the journey as it is about the destination.  If you listen, really listen, to “Wistful Sinful,” you might feel it too.  Or you might think I’m an idiot.  But I don’t care, because The Soft Parade taught me a lesson tonight, one that I needed to remember.

Flower Travellin’ Band

I’ve had very little exposure to Japanese rock and pop music.  Americans are quick to look to Europe for trends in music and bands to adore, but seldom do we look to “the East” and it’s not often that an Asian band or performer breaks through other than for a one-off like Psy and his meme-like “Gingham Style.”  That being said, a handful of Japanese artists have made it to the pages of the blog including the 5.6.7.8’s, Shonen Knife, Guitar Wolf, the Plastics, and Total Fury…. damn, that’s a longer list than I was expecting, though all those records and CDs were bought within the last two years.  I can’t remember even being aware of any Japanese bands prior to that.

A month or so ago I was searching Amazon for some music books to read and I ran across Julian Cope’s relatively new (2007) book Japrocksampler, and it seemed like a good primer into the rise of rock music in Japan through the 1970s, so I ordered it.  The 302 page hardback is a pretty good read and it appears, at least to a Japanese music novice like me, that Cope has not only done his homework but also listened to a ton of these albums from the late 1960s through the 1970s.  If you read the reviews of the book online you’ll find that Cope certainly has his detractors; but that’s they way it is.  I’m sure his book isn’t perfect and there are some mistakes here and there, but I’m not aware of anything else like it.  Cope gives us a bit of the history of popular music in Japan post-World War II, then focuses his attention on some specific bands before finally giving us his personal Top 50 Japanese rock albums of the psych era.

TANGENT! –>  I have to admit I’m not entirely comfortable with the title of Cope’s book, having long been taught that the term “Jap” is offensive and racist, something I may even be more sensitive to being that I’ve spent well over half my life in the northwest where we have a substantial Asian population.  To be fair to Cope, he also put out a seminal book (I believe in the 90s) called Krautrocksampler about the rise of the German electronic scene. Kraut is kind of questionable term when used to refer to German people… though I really have no idea if anyone actually finds it offensive or not, and frankly I’m not sure anyone even uses it any more.  That being said, “krautrock” is an actual musical genre much like punk or grunge and it exists in the common lexicon… though I don’t think the same is true of “japrock.”  We’ve got J-Pop, but that’s about as close as it gets, at least as far as I know.  Anyway, you can decide for yourself how you feel about the book’s title.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, probably the most captivating bands to me over the course of reading Japrocksampler were Les Rallizes Dénudés and Flower Travellin’ Band. Les Rallizes seemed more interesting due to their style and flat-out weirdness, but Flower Travellin’ Band sounded like they had some cool stuff going on so I decided to see if I could find any of their albums online.  eBay yielded some vinyl re-releases and I pretty much narrowed myself down to Anywhere and Satori, both of which were available for around $30-35 each… or I could get them on CD for less than $15 apiece.  Dammit!  I wanted the vinyl, but at the end of the day my frugal side took over, especially since I didn’t know for sure how much I’d like this stuff, so I went ahead and ordered the CDs, saving myself around $40 in the process.  Mind you, had I found these on vinyl at my local indie record store I probably would have bought the records instead because, remember kids, you have to support your local indie record store!  If you don’t, you’ll find yourself sitting around bitching about how you don’t have any good local indie shops to go to because they went out of business.  Buy local and shop indie.

Flower Travellin’ Band first came together around 1968 as part of the resistance to the pre-packaged, manufacturedness of the Group Sound bands in Japan.  Group Sound bands usually had all the members dressing exactly the same, much like a lot of American and British bands were doing earlier in the decade, and often performed covers.  There was a movement away from this commoditized music towards more free-form style that, while still highly derivative from American and European influences and featuring lots of covers, ensured that the artists would fall well outside the Japanese popular culture mainstream.

Cope ranked Flower Travellin’ Band’s 1970 album Anywhere #28 in his personal Top 50.  Technically six songs, the first and last are simply short (less than a minute each) intro/outro harmonica pieces and nothing more.  The core four songs are actually all covers:  “Louisiana Blues” (Muddy Waters), “Black Sabbath” (Black Sabbath), “House of the Rising Sun” (various), and “21st Century Schizoid Man” (King Crimson).  But don’t be fooled and think these are just straight covers, because they’re not; Flower Travellin’ Band puts their own spin on all of them, stretching them out into much longer versions than the originals with “Louisiana Blues” and “21st Century Schizoid Man” each lasting longer than 13 minutes, so really your six songs give you over 47 minutes of music.

And what music!  Holy crap this is some good stuff!  As Cope notes in his review:

It’s a dead cert that those who dismiss the Flower debut as a covers
album have never heard it, only heard about it.  For its grooves contain
such monstrous modifications that each track leaves the starting block a
full metre lower than the hoary jalopy originals, a Ferrari where once
was a Ford.  
(p. 270)

Nowhere is this monstrousness more evident than in the clover of “Black Sabbath,” which is hard describe as a Ferrari since it’s soooo sloooowwwww… a slow, plodding, doomed dirge of heaviness and darkness and apprehension and dread.  Joe Yamanaka has the perfect voice for pulling off this song with his high pitch that is very reminiscent of Ozzy himself.  The band made some great choices in picking these tracks as they’re all songs that fit Yamanaka’s plaintive vocal style.  Hideki Ishima’s guitar work drives all of the songs and it’s easy to hear his influences – late 1960s guitar gods like Clapton, Page, and Iommi – with long stretches dedicated to showcasing his skills with the axe.  His slow intro to “House of the Rising Sun” will actually make you think for a moment that he’s covering “Stairway to Heaven”… a song that wouldn’t be released for another year.  Add in Yamanaka’s slow wail and you have a piece that is best defined as desperate, almost painful.  The bottom line is this album kicks ass and you need to listen to it if you like late 60s/early 70s era hard rock.

As for Satori, Cope puts this 1971 release at the very top of his list of favorites (tied with Speed, Glue, & Shinki’s Eve).  It’s a more difficult album to approach for the novice, since while Anywhere offered at least a familiar framework with its covers of well-know, established rock tracks, the five tracks on Satori (all simply named sequentially – “Satori, Pt. 1,” “Satori, Pt. 2,” etc.) are all originals and a lot more difficult to pin down.  What does appear apparent, to me at least, is that while Yamanaka’s singing continues to be heavily influenced by Ozzy, it sounds like he’s been listening to a ton of Led Zeppelin III as well, particularly “Immigrant Song.”  Satori reminds me of what some type of hybrid between Black Sabbath, Cream, and Led Zeppelin would sound like if fronted by Robert Plant singing with a Japanese accent (to be clear, the vocals are all in English) who also plays a mean harmonica.

The songs are all fairly long, ranging from 5:25 to just over 11 minutes, and the longer tracks in particular have a tendency to move into some long sort of hypnotic instrumental sections reminiscent of “Kashmir,” a song that usually puts me into a trance and makes a good three or four minutes of my life completely disappear before I snap out of it.  A couple of times these sections go on for just a bit too long and I started to find them grating and annoying, but usually within about 30 seconds of that feeling coming on the pattern broke loose into something different.  The song structures are very loose and they sort of meander in and out of different styles.

I’ve got to say that overall I’m impressed with both of these albums, having just received them yesterday afternoon and already listening to each all the way through twice.  Personally I’d recommend checking out Anywhere first, unless you’re already way into prog and psych, in which case you’re probably more likely to be able to appreciate Satori right out of the gate.

Destruction Unit – “Deep Trip”

I think Destruction Unit’s Deep Trip playing on the turntable actually caused my wife to leave the house the other day.

Now, to be fair we did have some stuff that we needed to pick up at the pet store (the dog did not appear to be fazed by Destruction Unit; the only band we’ve found that he doesn’t like is Devo), though her departure was pretty sudden and emphatic.  I suspect she figured Deep Trip would be done by time she got back.

Interestingly Destruction Unit provides a warning of sorts about this possibility in one of the two inserts included with this record (more on the other shortly).

Deep Trip (DT) is extremely potent by weight and the amount required
for a single dose is barely visible to the naked eye.  Deep Trip is usually
sold on long playing vinyl, cassette or compact disc.  With all these
forms it is impossible to tell the amount of Deep Trip one is actually
consuming.  

[…]

DT may affect your motor skills.  You should not drive or operate heavy
machinery.  It is recommended to find a friend with which to
oversee dosage.

You’ve been duly warned.

The other insert is even more interesting.  You see, the reverse album jacket is an image of blotter paper, which can also be seen sort of underneath the primary swirling images on the front if you look close enough.  The insert is basically a reproduction of the cover, minus the silver box at the top with the band and record info, on actual perforated blotter paper.  Now, if you don’t know what blotter paper is used for… well… um… if you have a friend who people describe as “far out” or who wears a lot of tie-dye shirts or loves to talk about the Grateful Dead, I’d suggest you ask them.  Or maybe your weird uncle (everyone has a weird uncle).  I had a short by intense relationship with blotter paper in my teens that is best left for another day to discuss.

So what about Destruction Unit and the music on their new 2013 release Deep Trip?  I bought it on a lark when I was over at Hi-Voltage Records in Tacoma the other day, both because it seemed interesting and because one of my friends pointed out that he likes it when I review albums that are actually new on the blog.  So T, this one is for you… though I don’t think Destruction Unit is going to be making it onto your iPod.  I guess I’d describe it as psych-punk (<– there’s a hint about the blotter paper there!), with a bit of noise thrown in for good measure.  The music is intense and eerie and emphatic and insistent.  It feels like it is actually putting pressure on your brain, no in the way that the heaviness of Black Sabbath feels like a physical weight sitting on your chest, but more of a psychological pressure that discombobulates your sensory system and screws with your synapses, leaving you feeling a bit uneasy and worried that someone might have spiked your drink (<– blotter paper again!).

I’ve been trying to figure out who I can compare these guys to, but there isn’t any one one band that is more than remotely comparable.  There’s maybe a hint of Gun Club in the sound of the vocals, perhaps a pinch of Iggy Pop in there somewhere, a grain of Ghost BC, a whiff of Black Sabbath.  But trippy.  And at a punk pace.  With some echo.  Which makes no sense at all.  Could have something to do with the blotter paper.

Tracks like “Bumpy Road” are structured around a very repetitive droning sound that can put you into a trance and carry you through its six minutes without even realizing that you were listening to a song (remember – you were warned against operating heavy machinery or driving).  But that’s followed immediately by the brief burst of punk energy that is “God Trip,” all 2:02 of it in all of its post-punk speed and glory.

In general the album’s short tracks, “Slow Death Sounds,” “God Trip,” and “Control the Light” are the most punk rock songs on the album, and all of them clock in at under three minutes.  At 3:57 “Holy Ghost” is somewhere in the middle, more metal than punk, but still trippy as hell and with just a bit of surf punk vibe to it.  The remaining four songs are a bit longer, from just under five minutes to around 7:30, and these tend to be heavier into the psych and trance side of the ledger.

If all that sounds like a ridiculous mess of a description, you’re right.  But I think after almost three full listens to this record in less than five hours (!), my brain may have become permanently rewired.  Or I need psychotherapy.  Or I just received psychotherapy in a vinyl format.  I just don’t know.  But it’s far out, man…

Þokkabót – “Bætiflákar”

Man, I’m at a bit of a loss here.

I can’t find much about the Icelandic folk/psych band online, other than that it looks like they put out four albums between 1974 and 1978, including this example Bætiflákar in 1975.  This was another of my random eBay pickups from the other day and I got it for a good price, so I’m not too bothered by its obscurity.  One thing I did find online though was a news story from May of this year that includes a clip of the band playing together again in studio!  And you know what?  They still sound the same almost 40 years later.

To me these sound like drinking songs, the kind of thing you’d hear a few dudes playing if you walked into some random pub in some anonymous small European village on at dark and probably foggy night when you’ve been driving too long, are totally lost, and just want a hot bowl of something and a beer.  And the next thing you know you’re five beers deep telling your traveling companion how amazing these guys are.  Not rowdy Irish drinking songs that have the whole tavern swaying back and forth spilling beers all over each other and fighting.  More like songs for people who are drinking quietly and enjoying it.

Now let’s be clear – I’m not saying that Þokkabót are amazing.  Because I’m exactly no beers deep into my evening, and to my stone-cold-sober ears they’re fine, but nothing particularly exciting.  That’s not to say I’m not tempted to try out my theory because I have beers in the fridge, but it’s a school night and there are other records around here that sound just fine without an alcohol induced haze.

Bætiflákar has pianos and guitars and flutes and I think a goddamn xylophone (holy hell, that is a xylophone!).  The songs are in Icelandic, though there are a couple of Donovan covers here too, but it’s not like I’m an expert on him or anything.  I didn’t grow up in the age of folk or psych, so I have a hard time appreciating it fully most of the time.  The musicians are generally quite talented, as are the gang from Þokkabót, but other than the xylophone solo (yes, there is one “Dagur,” which automatically makes it the best song on the record by default) I didn’t find myself getting too excited.  Only thirsty.