Shizuka were a Japanese band, named for lead vocalist and songwriter Shizuka Miura. The core lineup also included her husband, guitarist Maki Miura, who was also in Les Rallizes Dénudés and Fushitsusha; bassist Takehayu Harakawa; and Fushitsusha drummer Jun Kosugi. They were active — using a generous definition of that word — in the early to mid ’90s. They started out with four self-released cassettes containing a mix of live music and home recordings. They then made a single studio album, 1994’s Heavenly Persona, for the legendary PSF label, and continued playing the occasional gig. In 1995, they released the self-explanatory Live Shizuka on Persona Non Grata (a short-lived imprint of Byron Coley and Thurston Moore’s Father Yod operation; their only other release was a Keiji Haino/Loren Mazzacane Connors live duo set, which is also great), then disappeared. In 2000, a live CD-R, Tokyo Underground ’95, popped up on the Last Visible Dog label, apparently sourced from a tape owned by the bassist. Eight more years passed, and another live album, Traditional Aesthetics, was issued, again on PSF. In 2010, Shizuka Miura took her own life.

Last year, two more archival releases came out — the four-song EP Lunatic Pearl, and another live set, Paradise of Delusion. And now, Heavenly Persona has been reissued on the Black Editions imprint. There’s a fancy vinyl version if that’s your thing, or you can just get the music itself, on Bandcamp.

Shizuka’s music was psychedelic, but in that particularly early ’90s Japanese style that also shows up on Fushitsusha’s Live IIKeiji Haino’s AffectionKousokuya’s self-titled album and Ray Night 1991-1992 Live, and some of the gentler Acid Mothers Temple material. They wanted to lull you into a depressive trance and make you cry, rather than destroy your brain with distortion and volume (though they could do that, too). This was very different from the “noise” scene active at the same time, or the ultra-heavy post-garage rock psychedelia of High RiseMainlinerMusica Transonic et al., but it was all kinda lumped together by critics at the time, which is unfortunate.

The connection to Fushitsusha is obvious, of course, since both Maki Miura and Jun Kosugi were members of that group, but Shizuka had something else going on. The dynamic between vocalist and guitarist, the latter supporting his wife on her artistic journey wherever it might take her, is the key to the whole thing. In fact, their fourth self-released cassette, which is being reissued in June, contains home recordings of them playing as a duo, and it’s almost impossibly desolate. Heavenly Persona, though, is a full studio effort, documenting their art in full flower. It’s extraordinary, throwing the listener one curveball after another.

It begins with “+,” which is an explosion of ultra-distorted guitar noise (plus some drums) lasting nearly three minutes. It sounds like Merzbow trying to murder you with sound through one of those old brick-sized 1980s mobile phones. It’s as if the band is trying to get rid of casual listeners before the music really begins. But when the guitar fades away, Shizuka Miura recites a short poem over a cello drone, and then the album really gets started.

“Pandora’s Box” is a slow, dreamlike mood piece, with delicate xylophone heard amid the slowly unfolding, almost Opeth-ish guitar melody. Shizuka’s voice is low, almost monotonous, and her pitch wavers (as it does throughout the album); she sounds amateurish, but this only makes you more eager to know what she’s singing about. (I studied Japanese eons ago but have retained almost none of it. All I know is that the phrase “watashi wa,” which translates to “I am,” shows up a lot on this album.) Between her voice, the almost folkish melodies, and her husband’s chiming guitar, it’s also very easy to hear echoes of Mazzy Star’s ultra-slow, hazy psychedelia here.

“Plan for Solitude” ends the first side in epic fashion. It’s achingly slow, with Shizuka’s voice seeming to drift in from another room; she sounds like she’s singing to herself, with the band sneaking in around her. There’s cello to add additional drama, but it’s an impossibly patient exercise in sustained mood…until about two and a half minutes from the end, when Maki takes an absolutely world-destroying solo, half Haino and half Neil Young on the 1992 Weld tour. It’s a high-pitched, brain-frying sound that just goes on and on as Kosugi smashes his snare and cymbals into shards.

The songs in the album’s second half, “Bloodstained Flower,” “Crystal Wings,” and “6 Gram Star,” are gorgeous, too, the latter in particular. It’s another epic, lasting more than 10 minutes, and it almost reminds me of — I’m not joking here — Guns N’ Roses’ “November Rain,” the way the piano (from guest Ichirou Nagahara) leads the arrangement, the way Shizuka herself sings wordless “la la la”s to take the melody out, and another screaming guitar solo from Miura that ends the piece.

This reissue of Heavenly Persona is attracting the most attention right now, and that’s understandable, but Paradise of Delusion and Lunatic Pearl are both available from the French label An’archives, and they’re worth your time, too. Lunatic Pearl features four tracks recorded in 2001 in an overtly psychedelic-shoegaze style, like a cross between early Marianne Faithfull and LushParadise of Delusion is also from 2001, a 40-minute live recording from the Binspark club, and it too is closer to rain-soaked, depressive psych than the ambitious compositions of Heavenly Persona, not that far from the Jesus and Mary Chain’s Darklands. (There’s no crowd noise at all.)

Shizuka were unlike any of their peers at the time, and their music remains striking today. Take the journey.

One Comment on “Shizuka

  1. Pingback: Shizuka Profiled – Avant Music News

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