Posts Tagged ‘obscurity points’

Obscurity Points // Magical Power Mako

June 22nd, 2016 | Features | 0 Comments

MPM

Magical Power Mako was a dude named Makoto Kurito who started recording and releasing some really cool, weird Japanese psychedelic rock in the early 70s. I stumbled onto his best known work today, the 1975 album Super Record, and was totally enthralled. While there’s a lot of cool Japanese psych stuff from the 60s and 70s onward, what set Mako’s stuff on Super Record apart for me was that, like his early 70s home recordings that were later released as the HAPMONIYM box set in 2002, Super Record feels like a cool collage of weird, stylistically all-over-the-place music. It doesn’t feel like an album that was made to sell or impress anyone – it feels homey, intimate and diy. It’s also fairly mystical outsider music, and reminds me in that sense of Joachim Skogsberg‘s Jola Rota, which has a similar sensibility.

Since I just found Mako today, I haven’t had the chance to check out his other albums – which appear to be a bit less streaming-friendly – but hopefully I’ll get to them soon.

Obscurity Points // Trad, Gras & Stenar

April 27th, 2016 | Features | 0 Comments

tradgras

Admittedly, this blog is quickly becoming exclusively about curious stuff I see at Academy Records in Greenpoint. Trad, Gras & Stenar (Trees, Grass & Stone) is no exception. I saw the anthology for their 70s live albums Djungelns Lag and Mors Mors on the shelf and thought “that looks interesting…” And here we are.

Trad, Gras & Stenar are a Swedish progg rock band from the late 60s/early 70s. They were known for their live show, which had a lot of interesting audience participation stuff. That’s pretty irrelevant for us now listening to their recordings, but luckily they were also known for solid jams, and those you can hear on the recordings (which are also on Spotify). If you’ve ever listened to Dungen (or more likely their semi-copycats Tame Impala), this is one of the bands those guys are imitating. It’s earthy, mysterious, a bit mystical – real old school psychedelia.

The musicians in TGS were ‘men about town’ and played in a bunch of other respected Swedish bands from the period, including Parson Sound and (International) Harvester. As I’m quickly learning, the Swedish underground prog and psych scenes from the period were really something special, so those are all names worth checking out. And if you’ve got any recommendations of underground Swedish psychedelic bands from the 60s/70s that I should look into, let me know in the comments.

Obscurity Points // Joakim Skogsberg

November 10th, 2015 | Features | 0 Comments

jolarota

I’ve written plenty about my favourite record store in the world, Academy Records in Brooklyn. Going there for me is just a given drain on my wallet, because I will undoubtedly see some rare foreign album reissue with a note from the staff on it reading something like “awesome midwestern folk obscurity” or “incredible japanese psych underground classic!” Before I know it I’m out $35.

The other day I was in the neighbourhood and walked in just intending to browse casually, determined not to buy anything. I ended up looking through the Swedish section and saw this weird album cover. As I do whenever I find something that looks curious, I took a picture so I could look it up online at home.

As I soon learned, the album is a vinyl reissue of Joakim Skogsberg‘s rare, mysterious 1971 album Jola Rota. Skogsberg was part of the hippie scene in Stockholm back in the 60s, but as time went on he became increasingly interested in nature and escaping the city. Apparently, Skogsberg would go into the forest and hum into a tape recorder strange melodies inspired by a folkways recording of Japanese shamanist chanting. He later overdubbed cool droning and percussion sounds, building full songs around the forest humming tapes at recording spaces back in the city. The resulting album received a limited 1000 copy print with around 400 selling – the rest were melted down and used to make other records. Shortly after the release, Skogsberg left Stockholm to live in a small, rustic town filled mostly with elderly citizens, the youth having all moved to the cities. It would be something like 20 years before he recorded another album.

This kind of backstory alone was enough to convince me I had to own Jola Rota. It’s the kind of strange and magnificent that record geeks live and die for. Like Alexander ‘Skip’ Spence‘s OAR, it’s got a mystical, ‘heart of darkness’ honesty that’s impossible to fake. Two days later I went back to Academy and shelled out the cash…they got me again…

Obscurity Points // Kyary Pamyu Pamyu

September 21st, 2014 | Features | 2 Comments

kyary-pamyu-pamyu-cherry-bon-bon

There are many for whom this J-Pop sensation is the farthest thing from obscurity. Most of them, however, live in Japan. Or live in their own American-Otaku cultural bubble that resembles a cartoonish version of Japan. Otherwise, as we all know in North America, it’s not good unless it’s in English, right?

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is a Japanese pop star, but more importantly, she’s exactly what North Americans would expect a Japanese pop star to be like: she looks and sounds like a highly sexualized 14-year-old; her songs are super poppy and high energy; her videos and lyrics are colorful and completely absurd in the way only the Japanese can be; and both her music and videos nod often at anime and video games. But it’s also all incredibly enjoyable. Her best songs seem to just explode with gorgeous pop hooks, and the production is big, beautiful and bright, but not in the soul-less way that American pop is. It also all sounds very tongue in cheek, like these writers and producers try each time to see how saccharine and wacky they can make a song and have it still be a hit.

So far, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu has released three full albums. I haven’t heard her first, 2012’s Pamyu Pamyu Revolution, but her last two, 2013’s Nanda Collection (my favourite) and this year’s Pikapika Fantajin, are both fairly consistent collections of Japanese pop craziness. For the last two weeks they’ve dominated the soundtrack of my workouts.

Beyond Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, I don’t really know any J or K-Pop, but if any has any recommendations, I’d love to hear them. And if you haven’t heard any kind of pop preceded by the first letter of an Asian country, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is probably a great place to start.

Obscurity Points // Wipers

September 1st, 2014 | Features | 0 Comments

wipers

Wipers almost can’t be considered an obscure band simply because so many people and publications have written about them and their obscurity. Among those who have named them as an influence, the list, according to wikipedia, includes Dinosaur Jr., The Melvins, Nation Of Ulysses, and most notably, Kurt Cobain. And yet I’ve never heard anyone in real life talk about Wipers. Unlike other cult acts like Big Star and Death, there’s yet to be a big festival circuit documentary about the band. All of which, I guess, means we writers have to keep writing about them.

Started by Greg Sage in the late 70’s in Portland, Wipers played what we would now call proto-grunge punk, though Sage claims that at the time, what they were doing was too weird for the ‘punk’ tag. As the legend goes, their first three albums, Is This Real? (1980), Youth Of America (1981) and Over The Edge (1983) are the classics, perhaps some of the best records to emerge out of the Northwest punk scene of the era. Recently I checked them all out and the rep is legit: these albums are punk classics. They feel confidently assembled with a sharp lo-ish-fi sound, consisting of rough but catchy pop songs and one or two more experimental tracks each; none of the three are too long or too short. And there is something just a little weird about them, a little ‘Portland’, keeping them interesting after all the years and bands later.

The band continued to release albums through the 80s and 90s, and I’m looking forward to checking them out, but the general word is that the first three are the ones to beat. But who knows, maybe I’ll have to do a feature on one of those if it turns out there’s an unappreciated classic hiding in the discography, which is sometimes the case.

According to Pitchfork’s feature on the band, Sage was invited to open for Nirvana on tour, and that could’ve been their breaking out moment. And Sage passed on the opportunity. What if he hadn’t? Would Wipers have broken out and become one of the defining grunge bands of the era? If so, maybe nobody would be writing about them anymore – they’d be a product of time and place. The upside is that the best cult bands are often the ones who were passed over in their time and so become timeless.