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VARIOUS ARTISTS / Amaterasu (Fractal TWIN Volume 1) / 2CD
Fractal 021


Dusted Magazine - website (USA)

Compilation albums are tricky. In general, they seem to come in three categories: style, themes, and random (as in a label sampler). Amaterasu walks a fine line between the three. Named for Japan's Heaven Shining Great Deity, the Shinto sun goddess, the two CDs contain a number of song titles referencing the sun - a rather oblique connection; sonically, this compilation runs the risk of disconnection. At its heart, it's really a geographical assemblage, with 14 artists (15 songs) from Japan brought together under one roof. The stylistic variations here run from old-school psychedelic rock to improvised sonic textures and noise.
It's a great introduction to the variety of contemporary Japanese music, of course, so anyone curious about the spectrum of artists included will find it naturally valuable. I believe these are also all previously-unreleased tracks, so fans of any of the artists here will want to track it down. Hopefully in the process, they'll discover new names to pursue as well, since I've always maintained that compilations are best used to attract people familiar with a few of the names, and lead them to unfamiliar others.
So what do we have here, then? The first disc starts on the decidedly rock side with Overhang Party's "Sasori”, a slow, droning extended track with some deep psychedelic acoustics. Tsuyama Atsushi (bassist with Acid Mother's Temple, among many others) contributes a strange collection of spacey, echoing voices and synths, mysterious stuff with fuzz-noise guitar that comes and goes amidst electronic blips and quieter, floating moments. Iuchi Kengo's "Sunstar" is all arrhythmic synthesizer sounds clustering and overlaying one another, distinctly at odds with the next track, from former Angel'in Heavy Syrup vocalist Itakura Mineko. "Heart of the Flower" is simply delicate folk guitar with Mineko's breathy vocals. Zeni Geva guitarist Tabata Mitsuru contributes over ten minutes of hyperkinetic planetarium-style synthscape, similar to the squiggly synths of Space Machine (aka Maso Yamazaki of Masonna), next up with "Triangle”. Nagai Seiji, of Taj Mahal Travellers, follows with "Object A”, ten minutes of low, rumbling atmospheric noises. It has moments that get pretty thick and intense, but it's never overly abrasive. The disc concludes with Acid Mother's Temple leader Kawabata Makoto's "Beausoleil”, over 14 minutes of ebbing and flowing waves of sound texture, much like the ocean pictured in sound.
The second disc places more of an emphasis on both rock-styled songs and avant-garde, less on electronic soundscapes. Kuriyama Jun's "House of the Rising Sun" opens the disc, and amazingly, not only is it actually a cover of the old chestnut, but it's great. This stellar cover is presented in a truly hazy, reverb-soaked reefer coma. Miminokoto follow with a live recording, a thick garage-rock psych jam that's on the more energetic, punky side of their work. I haven't heard anything from Totsuzen Danball in quite some time. Their contribution is a spaced-out track featuring chanting over prog-rock-influenced guitars and sparse percussion. The only artist to be featured twice, Itakura Mineko offers a second song with more delicately-picked acoustic guitar with her equally-delicate vocals. Mukai Chie's "Solo Improvisation" is twelve minutes of er-hu drone and scrape with eerie vocals, all of it with a vaguely gypsy feel to it somehow. Sax legend Urabe Masayoshi's "Alto Saxophone Solo Fragment" self-describes nicely -- it's eleven minutes of harsh, echoing sax. Avant-guitarist Miyamoto Naoaki offers up a long sample of his eerie guitar feedback textures, often sounding more like woodwinds or synthesizers than guitar. The great Kousokuya close the disc with "Heigen”. Kaneko Jutok's great psychedelic group, recorded live, finish things with deep, slow, ominous psychedelic rock, extremely sparse and haunting.
If you're looking for an introduction that covers a fairly wide spectrum of what the Japanese independent scene has to offer, Amaterasu could be a good place to start, as it covers a little of everything: psychedelia, ambient, avant-garde, even a bit of folk. The vast majority of the selections are very high-quality, from artists at the forefront of Japan's underground. But if you prefer compilations that cohere along stylistic lines or have more than a geographical theme, you might be disconcerted by the wide variety here.
Mason Jones

Revue & Corrigée - n°58 - Décembre 2003 (France) :

L'époque est sombre, personne ne songerait à le contester, un peu comme si le soleil s'était à nouveau enfoui au plus profond des cavernes, comme nous le rapporte la mythologie shinto, Amaterasu y était resté terré jusqu'à ce qu'une danseuse lascive au son de musiques tapageuses ne le tire de son recueillement et revienne éclairer le monde. Cette compilation est une nouvelle offrande faite à Amaterasu, regroupant les principaux pourvoyeurs de la came psychédélique et autres vagabonds célestes qui hantent la scène downtown japonaise. Le rock psychédélique n'aura jamais vraiment cessé son boucan au Japon, continuant sous d'autres formes extrêmes ses métamorphoses nottamment à travers certaines perversions noises (CCCC, Incapacitants, Merzbow...), chez quelques grands irréguliers comme Keiji Haino, ou encore dans une multitude de groupes d'allumés notoires comme : High Rise, Boredoms, Overhang Party, Acid Mothers Temple...
Fractal compile ici quelques figures importantes de cette scène : Chie Mukai, Kousokuya, Makoto Kawabata, Overhang Party, Kengo Iuchi, Space Machine, Totsuzen Danball, Seiji Nagai (ancien membre du Taj Mahal Travellers), Jun Kuriyama, Naoaki Miyamoto, Mineko Itakura et étrangement Masayoshi Urabe. Etrangement Urabe parce qu'il a peu à voir avec le psychédélisme cosmique d'un Kawabata, peu à voir avec la lumière du jour et la fête dionysiaque. Et que le morceau donné ici (extrait d'un concert dans un squat parisien qui fut un bloc de colère) n'est que la destruction rageuse des croyances new ages de certains acteurs de cette scène. Magnifique trou noir qui aspire dans saforce centrifuge la béatitude hippies de certains. Au soleil correspond la lune et les astres noires, Chie Mukai et Masayoshi Urabe sont de ceux-là.
Compilation de groupes comme autant de caravanes soniques dérivant dans la nuit psychédélique, l'électricité allumée, le grésillement des amplificateurs, guitares sorties comme des narguilés qu'on se passe de mains en mains, à tordre la vision et à se dissoudre dans l'éther. Au bout du voyage, nous aurons moins froid. La voix de Mineko Itakura (entendue dans le projet de reprises de Jojo Hiroshige : Slap Happy Humphrey, reprise de chansons de Morita Doji, icône pop des années 80, et dans le groupe rock Angels of Heavy Syrup) apporte aux deux disques un moment de paix bucolique, une douceur gracile aux parfums folk seventies. Autour gravitent des funambules électriques, des enfants vaudou et des ombres noires. Dérives acides et ballades lysergiques avec Kengo Iuchi, Overhang Party, Kousokuya, Jun Kuriyama, Atsushi Tsuyama, Makoto Kawabata et mantras de sinusoïdales cosmiques de la Space Machine (aka Masonna). On pourrait finir avec cette pièce de feedback de Naoaki Miyamoto, longue modulation de larsens s'étirant dans la poussière cosmique, sublime !
Michel Henritzi - 23/09/2003 - Website (USA)

Amaterasu is a solid and unassuming collection, displaying several distinct faces of modern Japanese rock that have been underrepresented amid the recent interest in the Japanese underground. The collection, despite featuring a contribution from Acid Mothers Temple mainman Kawabata Makoto, stays well away from AMT's loony lo-fi grandstanding, and similarly ignores the noisy avant-gardism of Boredoms or Melt-Banana. Instead, these 16 mostly long tracks, spread out across two discs, are mostly low-key and subtle without losing the edge of experimentation that has long made Japanese artists among the most unpredictable and original in the world.
All the artists included on this compilation were asked to submit their aural interpretations of a symbolic myth from Japanese folklore involving the goddess Amaterasu. Though the conceptual framework is charming, it also has very little to do with the songs; the booklet claims that Itakura Mineko's pair of breathy acoustic tunes provide a "spiritual centre" to the two discs, when in fact they're an unnecessary (but pleasant) comedown amid all the towering waves of feedback surrounding them.
The album begins accessibly enough, with Overhang Party's massive stoner-rock anthem "Sasori," which is all shimmery psychedelia with some classic-sounding virtuosity slicing sharply through the haze. It'sfollowed, brilliantly, by Tsuyama Atsushi's much more abstract "Confession of the Sun (Taiyo-Zange)," which delicately layers acoustic and electric guitars with speaker-shifting effects and wordless howling for a textured warmth that occasionally explodes into red-hot bursts of distortion. Both tracks conjure compelling images of the sun and warmth with their distinctive, distortion-cloaked guitar styles.
The second disc mirrors the first, leading off in a similar manner. Kuriyama Jun's languid death crawl through "House of the Rising Sun" may be the best thing here. A deliberate drum machine beat deep down in the mix props up Jun's Hendrix- and Santana-inspired licks. Jun, singing in slurred English so that only every tenth syllable or so is discernible, doesn't even sound like he's in the same universe as the guitar; his ghostly vocals fade in and out, cased in echo and reverb, and the song takes on an even more sinister and morbid tone than in any of its previous incarnations. Though bound to be a disappointment coming after Jun's masterpiece, the power trio Miminokoto do a pretty good job of ripping out trashy sub-Velvet Underground rock n' roll sleaze, while Kousokuya occupy similar territory much less effectively. Urabe Masayoshi provides a fascinating improvisation on alto saxophone, though the fierce, forceful bursts of sound he coaxes from his instrument recall an eerie rainforest more than any sounds emanating from a human throat. He times his exclamations for maximum effect, spacing the sounds with suspenseful silence and varying the length, frequency, strength, and speed of his blowing masterfully. The track is also enhanced, unpredictably, by the scratchy lo-fi sound of the recording, which gives Masayoshi's sax a raw, unnatural graininess that further removes his sounds from the associations of his instrument.
Another solo improviser, Mukai Chie doesn't fare quite as well. Her er-hu, presumably a traditional Japanese instrument, basically sounds like a continually scraped violin, and the lack of variety in her 11-minute piece robs her frantic scraping and seemingly very complex playing of any power it might have held on a smaller scale. Despite these strong contenders, though, Tokyo art-rockers Totsuzen Danball walk away with the award for strangest contribution. Their "Konoyo Ni Nai Busshitsu" translates as a sort of guitar rock Devo; it's nearly impossible to get a handle on this multilayered, off-kilter pop song, and its ambiguity is probably why it's so addicting.
While the second disc houses the set's more unpredictable moments, the first disc, after the guitar rock opening of its first two tracks, opts to submerge the guitar in electronics and effects. Tabata Mitsuru and Iuchi Kengo both tend towards whiny, high-pitched incoherence, mimicking the sounds of the onkyo scene without learning from that style's minimalism and restraint. On the other hand, Space Machine – whoseairy, buzzing drones sound like they were sourced from guitars – have the patience to craft a piece that develops slowly and subtly, incorporating multiple long tones and twittering, looped effects for a textural sound bath. And needless to say, Kawabata Makoto's similar "Beausoleil," though sounding very little like his regular outfit Acid Mothers Temple, is a gorgeous drone that builds from near-silence to a roaring, glistening crescendo as sparkly and dynamic as a crashing ocean wave.
Amaterasu, though far from perfect, is a nice summary of some lesser known strains within the Japanese underground. Some glorious highs are counterbalanced by a few truly grating tracks and a bunch of middle-of-the-road filler, but that's true of any compilation. For anybody reasonably interested in soaring guitar rock and psychedelia, this is well-worth picking up for its handful of gems and a few surprising bonuses in the form of its more oddball selections.
Ed Howard

The Wire - n°236 - October 2003 (UK)

Amaterasu ô-mikami, as Alan Cummings explains in his concise and informative sleevenotes for the beautifully produced, ambitious and eclectic compilation Amaterasu, is the sun goddess of Japanese Shinto mythology, hence the plethora of solar references in the titles. The collection’s 16 tracks, most all of them previously unreleased, form a wonderfully diverse collection, taking in Overhang Party’s lush post-60s psychedelics, Chie Mukai’s shamanic improvisation for voice and two string fiddle, which could have been recorded between now and a thousand years ago, the space age analogue synth fantasias of Mitsuru Tabata (ex-Boredoms, Zeni Geva) and Maso Yamazaki aka noisenik Masonna but here reincarnated as Space Machine, and Miminokoto’s raucous garage punk.
Each disc is carefully structured around a disarmingly simple central track by Angel in Heavy Syrup vocalist Mineko Itakura, blooding her first solo recordings. The limpid beauty of her voice and acoustic guitar is a sun around which the others orbit. 60s veteran Jun Kuriyama versions “House Of The Rising Sun” no less, but there’s nothing so familiar about the dark and forbidding “Heigen”, by the noise-blackened psychedelic veterans Kousokuya. Subtle, thought provoking sequencing sometimes produces startling contrasts : ex-Taj Mahal Traveller Seiji Nagai’s hews an inscrutable block from the same stochastic granite as Xenakis’s Bohor; it’s followed by Acid Mothers guitarist Makoto Kawabata’s shimmering, evanescent “Beausoleil”, while Naoaki Miyamoto’s masterly guitar feedback takes up where the heart-wrenching squeals of Masayoshi Urabe’s alto sax leave off. Elsewhere, Acid Mothers Temple alumnus Atsushi Tsuyama ploughs the rich topsoil of Japanese psychedelia, scattering seeds seemingly blown across the Pacific from the late 1960s, but he also includes the weird sci-fi bleeps of an early generation of synrhesizers more or less forgotten in the West; it’s followed by “Sunstar”, by Kengo Iuchi, who is apparently retreating from his “tortured death folk” into stark Terry Riley-like minimalism. You’ve heard the music now read the book : forthcoming from Fractal is Johan Wellen’s weighty study of Japanese underground music, Dark Side Of The Sun.
Dan Warburton

Aquarius Records SF - List 171, 19/09/2003 - Website (USA)

From mind-expanding psych drone to extended folk meditations to (opium-)poppy songcraft, "Amaterasu" is all you need for at least a few evenings, nights, and/or mornings of audio-induced bliss. Subtitled, somewhat misleadingly, "A Musical Panorama of Japan", this compilation is hardly an overview of everything from Taiko drumming to J-pop. Not at all. Rather, it's a collection of stuff from the psych-pop-folk-drone underground in Japan, in keeping with Fractal's previous releases of Japanese origin like Acid Mothers Temple -- and many AMT-types appear here as you might expect! It's a really fine collection indeed, well worth the 32 bucks to anyone enamored, as we are, of the retro-psych scene that's currently so vibrant in Japan, as previously documented by PSF's Tokyo Flashback compilation series for instance. There's sixteen tracks in total here, many of them pushing ten minutes in length, and thus spread over two discs. The fragile melodicism of Mineko Itakura, singing solo backed only by her own acoustic guitar, is for us the gorgeous highlight of disc 1, though there's plenty else on here quite worthy as well: Overhang Party, Mitsuru Tabata, Space Machine, Makoto Kawabata, Seiji Nagai (ex-Taj Mahal Travellers), and Kengo Iuchi. Disc two is also packed with cosmic-calibre talent, featuring Chie Mukai, Masayoshi Urabe, Kousokuya, Totsuzen Danball, Miminokoto, Jun Kuriyama, Naoaki Miyamoto, and more Mineko Itakura (yay!). Almost everything is exclusive to this compilation, which comes complete with English language liner notes by the knowledgable Alan Cummings, who explains the concept behind the compilation -- Amaterasu is the Shinto sun-goddess, and her mythology was the inspiration for these songs. Quite recommended.

All Music Guide (website : - September 2003 (Canada) :

This double CD compilation gathers a wide range of underground Japanese musicians around the figure of Amaterasu, the Goddess of Sun in the Shinto myth. But that’s only a record label concept. The artists did not create their contributions in accordance to the theme and there’s not much tying them together : their nationality, their devotion to creative, genre pushing, resolutely non-commercial music, and the quality of their work. Hey, that’s more than enough to turn this compilation into a very nice springboard for further investigations. The focal point of Amaterasu resides in the the avant-psychedelic rock and acid rock sound generally presented by the labels P.S.F and Fractal, but there are some highly noticeable side trips, includings Tabata Mitsuru’s electronic piece “Sundazed by the Mirrors” and a chunk of free improv on disc two, Urabe Masayoshi’s self-describing “Alto Saxophone Solo Fragment” for instance. Fans of Japanese free rock will be glad to find the likes of Kousokuya, Kuriyama Jun, Overhang Party, Tsuyama Atsushi, and Totsuzen Danball (the latter a bit more oddball) in the track list. The Acid Mothers Temple’s Kawabata Makoto contributes an enlightened 15-minute guitar soundscape. Two delicate folk songs by Itakura Mineko occupy the central spot of each disc and serve as pivotal axes, the music shifting direction around them. All tracks have been recorded between 1999 and 2002, only one of them (Totsuzen Danball’s “Konoyo ni nai Busshitsu”) is identified as being taken from a previously available album. Amaterasu paints a large, inclusive picture of the Japanese underground (surprisingly, Keiji Haino and Kan Mikami are absent) while keeping ties to the rock scene that the popularity of the Acid Mothers has helped bring to a larger non-Japanese audience.
François Couture

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