CAUTION.1/Japan Underground/Hanadensha C A U T I O N

Japan Underground

by Mason Jones (mason@charnel.com)

HANADENSHA

The Boredoms have gotten quite a lot of press in the U.S. over the past decade, since they first made a splash with their Pop Tatari album, released over here by Shimmy-Disc. Not as well-known, however, are numerous side projects by the members, including Eye's Hanatarash and UFO or Die; Yamamoto's Omoide Hatoba and Novo Tono; and Yoshimi's OOIOO (though their new album has just been released domestically). We're here now to talk about Hira's long-running group Hanadensha.


Boredoms bass player Hira is the vocalist in Hanadensha -- the name means something along the lines of "Electric Flower Car". The group first appeared with two albums of heavy, psych-tinged rock on Osaka's Alchemy Records label, before making a remarkable transformation into a formidably lysergic entity releasing some of the most spaced-out music I've encountered recently. Aside from an early change of guitarists, the lineup has remained quite stable: Hira on vocals; Aoyagi on guitar; Yokota on bass; and Tatekawa on drums. On the recent spacier releases, keyboardist Ieguchi joined the group.


Unfortunately, nobody has yet licensed any of the Hanadensha records for domestic release, but perhaps someone will wise up and realize that they're too good to not be available over here. Here's a summary of the band's discography. To find these releases now, I recommend trying some of the good mail-order outlets such as Forced Exposure.




HANADENSHA The Golden Age of Heavy Blood CD (Alchemy Records) The band's debut album, from 1992, contains eight songs including two tracks taken from the West Psychedelia compilation LP released around 1990. This is heavy, pounding rock that resembles some of the old Amphetamine Reptile releases but perhaps with more of a psychedelic orientation. The vocals actually remind me somewhat of Unsane, while the rhythmic chug is in the vein of early Helmet. It's pretty good stuff if you're into heavy rock, though "Blood Star" is probably the undeniable highlight. It's got a much spacier feel to begin with, before it turns into a heavier 70s-tinged psychedelic rock anthem -- a good one.


HANADENSHA Hanaden Bless All 2-CD (Alchemy Records) This big double-CD is from around the same period as their debut, with a slight lineup change. Guitarist Noma is gone, and bassist Aoyagi has switched to guitar, with Yokota joining as the new bassist. The style's still similar heavy psych-tinged rock, with perhaps a bit more riffing and less wah-wah psychedelia. It's overall still good stuff, though a couple of tracks stand out. One the first CD, "TTT" is pretty spacey, while "Deepfreezemania", from the second disc, is a sleep, echoey song with harsh, weird vocals over layered, haunting singing.


HANADENSHA Narcotic Guitar CD (WEA/Warner Japan) After several silent years, Hanadensha reappeared in 1996 with this amazing release on, of all things, a major label -- no doubt thanks to Hira's Boredoms association. Subtitled "Imaginary Movie Soundtracks," this album is almost a complete change in style from the band's previous releases. It's almost totally non- rocking, even though the band's lineup is the same (with an added keyboard player). This is a monumentally spacey album, all echoing synthesizers with any drums or guitars processed and made part of the overall groove. The metallic-printed cover art could not be more psychedelic (it was designed, like all of Hanadensha's releases, by Masahiko Ohno, long-time designer of albums from Alchemy Records and other labels), and the music follows suit, with song titles like "Star", "Space", "Sweet/Sky" and "Sea/Smoke". Some of the songs are like spacey lounge jazz ("Sun/Sex"), while others are slowly pulsing drone-rock that groups like Portishead could only dream of making. "Star" is slow surf-rock from Alpha Centauri; "Salamander" is a percussive song that suddenly pulls the drums out from under you and leaves you floating amidst glinting synthesizer bubbles. Really, this is an unbelievably good album for a drifting mind, even without drugs. With them...well, you're on your own.


HANADENSHA Astral Pigmy Wave CD (Circle Sunshine) In 1997, Hanadensha went for broke with a trilogy of totally psyched-out, drug-induced space music EPs. This CD, the first, has two very long tracks. "Astral Pigmy Wave" itself is 18 minutes, starting with chanting pygmies (I suppose) over spacey synthesizer drones. It slowly changes to murmuring sounds, burbling liquid tones and elongated noises. "Herb Tower" is 21 minutes of continually reverberating electronic sounds, occasional guitar notes delayed to infinity, and dreamy synthesizers. Late night sounds for stoned floating.


HANADENSHA Acoustic Mothership CD (Circle Sunshine) The second of the trilogy boasts four tracks for 38 minutes worth of space out. "Brazilian Morning Fever" is a brief opener with clicking, vibrating sounds and weird noises. "Acid River" flows for eight minutes with heavy fuzzed-out waves of sound, topped by trebly notes (guitar? synth? who knows) warping and repeating over itself in a mesmerizing fashion. "Elemental Jam" isn't quite as exciting; its organ-loaded meandering doesn't seem to go anywhere much. "Acoustic Mothership" starts out with cool rhythmic chirps and noises that slowly change as other synthesizer sounds come and go.


HANADENSHA Doobie Shining Love CD (Circle Sunshine) This is the shortest of the three EPs, with three songs totalling 18 minutes, and is somewhat different from the other two as it has actual songs, of a sort. "Doobie Shining Love" presents a slow, funky bassline over a synth rhythm, as smooth vocals murmur the title over and over while spaced-out electronic tones float by. Pretty cool. "Star" is taken from the Narcotic Guitar album and included here, for some reason. "Seasky Rainbow" closes the CD with a nice, happy-sounding song. A simple melody picked on the guitar is augmented by synth and organ, with other, occasionally goofy, sounds. Then about halfway through, the gears abruptly change and a heavier fuzz-guitar sound beefs things up nicely.




This trilogy may be a little costly to obtain, being independently-released in Japan only, but if you're into spaced-out stoner sounds, they're hard to beat. But anyone interested in psychedelic space must track down Narcotic Guitar -- it's worth a lot of effort to find. The band's first two albums, being rather different, will likely appeal to different tastes, but are fine heavy rock.






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