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V/A - The Night Gallery

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Artist: V/A

Album: The Night Gallery

Label: Alchemy

Review date: Sep. 10, 2003

21st Century Psychedelic Underground

Japan's legendary Alchemy Records marches on, with The Night Gallery, subtitled "21st century psychedelic underground." Carrying on the tradition set by PSF's "Tokyo Flashback" series, this features five bands plying the psychedelic streams. Each band contributes a couple of songs except Up-Tight, whose 14-minute epic qualifies as multiple songs in any case.

The styles here vary of course, but surprisingly, the majority fall on the calm, meditational side rather than the out-of-control fuzz-guitar chaos that many might imagine. With one exception, there's nothing here like High Rise or Acid Mothers Temple. Instead, we get open, slow, delicate work.

LSD-March start the album off on a slightly heavy tip with a good strong guitar riff, solid bassline, and echoey vocals that do bring the aforementioned High Rise to mind. But their three songs do also demonstrate a command of a spacier, slower side, including some dirty violin and a melancholic, mysterious feel.

On the flip side, we get some pretty, low-fi psych from Doodles, who build strummed, phasing guitars into a chugging delivery topped by singsong female vocals. The vocals are unfortunately the weak spot, perhaps, as they're none too steady and somewhat off-key at times. Still, there's a pleasant energy that's undeniable.

Miminokoto, who are starting to get some word stateside and are preparing to do a short U.S. tour this fall, offer three songs on the slow side of their repertoire. "Doko ni mo" is spacious and vaguely Velvets-esque, but with odd, sentimental vocals. It kicks into a nicely lugubrious ultra-fuzz lead towards the end. Their other two pieces are equally spread-out, carried along by delicately strummed guitar.

I'm not entirely confident of my translation, but if I'm correct, the fourth band is Jouzu, and their two songs are the most mysterious. Long, nearly-ambient pieces, they're extremely quiet, filled with delicate, slowly-plucked strings and nearly-whispered vocals. Reminding me somewhat of Onna-Kodomo's work, this pushes the definition of psychedelic but certainly works – this could hypnotize anyone.

The compilation finishes in rocking fashion, Up-Tight's "Sweet Sister". Its 14 minutes start with a pounding, steady drum rhythm, pulsating bass, and a splatter-fuzz guitar lead. Midway through, the guitar goes away to make room for slow, echoey vocals chanted over the hypnotic drum-bass rhythm. When the guitar comes back in, it smears massive sheets of fuzz across everything, and heads for outer space in a glorious way.

Even if you're already familiar with Japan's psychedelic scene, some of the names here will almost certainly be new to you. And if you haven't yet tested the waters, this is an intriguing place to start, spanning the spectrum from ultra-minimal atmospheres to chaotic fuzz psychedelia.

By Mason Jones

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