From the late ’80s to the early ’00s, a small wave of Japanese psychedelic rock musicians lobbed a seemingly endless series of albums across the ocean, where they exploded in the US underground rock scene like phosphorus grenades, sending searing waves of blinding light and concussive sound rippling across the landscape. The best-known groups were probably Asahito Nanjo‘s High Rise, Yoshida Tatsuya‘s Ruins, and Kawabata Makoto‘s Acid Mothers Temple and the Melting Paraiso U.F.O., though Mainliner, Kousokuya, Nishinihon, Kyoaku no Intention, and many others made equally brain-melting records. (Keiji Haino and his various projects — most notably Fushitsusha — were even more fervently embraced by US listeners, but his work has always existed in its own parallel realm.)
Musica Transonic were an all-star instrumental power trio featuring Kawabata on guitar, Asahito on bass, and Yoshida on drums. Their debut album, originally released in 1995, contained 12 tracks ranging in length from 80 seconds to nearly seven minutes. Many had a jagged energy not unlike Fushitsusha, but some, like the opening “Αλκιμιψα Υπτιγητ,” were built around skyscraper-sized garage-rock riffs, underpinned by Asahito’s ungodly bass (he sounded like Lemmy, if you were listening to a cassette bootleg of a Motörhead show recorded from inside someone’s pocket while they were standing directly in front of the amplifiers) and Yoshida’s rattling drums, which were tuned particularly high for a metallic ring that would better cut through the wall of noise being produced by the other two. There were quiet moments, but not many, and all of it was mixed so hot that it was on the brink of dissolving into a wall of static. “Everything louder than everything else,” as they say.
In a 1996 interview, Asahito described Musica Transonic‘s working methods in some detail, comparing them to his other main group at the time, High Rise: “Musica Transonic compose while playing moment by moment. But High Rise don’t compose as they go along. In High Rise, we have certain things that we want to put into the sound, so we rehearse — but we rehearse unconsciously without any songs. In Musica Transonic we are ultra-aware of each second and compose as we go along. Recently we decide upon a very basic theme in advance — for example, jazz. Even though my view of jazz, and Yoshida’s and Kawabata’s are different, we just launch straight into it. And once we’ve started we compose as we go along. If there’s a certain rhythm then I can obviously play something to go along with it and things develop that way. Of course, we don’t want it to sound like diarrhea but there are times when it doesn’t work. Other times it works really well. Basically we compose while we play. There are some things that we’ve worked out in advance, but we rearrange and recompose them while playing. That’s the same for both recording and playing live. About half the time when we play live, we’ve playing stuff that we’ve come up with on the spot. Other times we go through stuff that we’ve worked out before, stuff that was on the first or second album. We don’t really want to — it’s sort of a gift to the fans. We’d prefer that you think of it all as new songs.”
In the same interview, he explained his trademark in-the-red mixes: “From when I was a kid, I had this idea of rock as something loud and dirty, and that’s why I push up the levels on the mix. I don’t really want to distort the sound but I have to because almost everyone is listening to it at home on these mini-component systems. I have to put up the recording volume so that they get the initial rush from it — especially on the first Musica Transonic record where I mixed the sound at a level that no one can listen to it.”
The album is oddly paced, beginning with one of its longest tracks and ending with short, face-punching noise-punk anthems like the closing “Φανγλε Ουτ,” which is mostly a showcase for Yoshida’s manic drumming. (For some reason, all the tracks on Musica Transonic albums are given Greek titles, many of which yield no comprehensible results when run through Google Translate.) The exception is the 6:47 “Αυγυβριουσ,” which takes one of those psychedelic garage riffs and lets Kawabata solo himself delirious as Asahito and Yoshida create a sound like an exploding oil refinery. And they do shift gears at times; “Σερσατιλε Χορρυπτ” finds them switching back and forth between bursts of barbed-wire noise and almost mellow jazz chords.
The new reissue of Musica Transonic, released by Black Editions, is nearly twice as long as the original release, bolstered by the addition of six previously unreleased tracks, three of which are quite long, running between seven and 10 minutes each. Some of these, like “Kόσμος,” are even more over-the-top and unfettered than the previously available material; Kawabata uses a guitar effect on that piece that the Butthole Surfers‘ Paul Leary might appreciate, and the way they sculpt with guitar and bass feedback will either send a listener into rapture, or straight out of the room. In the very same track, though, they embark on more of those mellow jazz explorations and play a gentle, almost pop melody at one point. If you’re already a fan, the new material makes this an essential purchase, and if you’re new to Musica Transonic (or the Japanese psych-apocalypse scene generally), this is the version of this album to have.