When I made a list not too long ago of the best record labels ever, P.S.F. figured somewhere in the top 10, along with Motown and the Ahmet Ertegun-era Atlantic Records. In the last ten to fifteen years, P.S.F. (“Poor Strong Factory” or “Psychedelic Speed Freaks,” depending on who you talk to) has put out some of the most astounding music from the Japanese underground. I’m not talking about the noise monsters like Masonna or Hijokaidan, but rather the folk-, rock-, acid- and blues-influenced champs who are making inroads into rock that are at least as interesting as anything done by the Germans in the Seventies, or any other nationality in any other time-segment of rock’s chronology you could care to name.
Part of this is taste, naturally. The best record labels were reflective of the taste of a particular impresario or musical gourmand — Folkways was guided by Moses Asch, the aforementioned Motown by Berry Gordy, and so on. P.S.F. sprung from Hideo Ike’ezumi’s love of acid rock’s overload and excess, and the first records released on the label were from High-Rise, a band that earns the term “psychedelic speed freaks,” all right. All of the bands here have many common elements — a fiery rock attack, a great deal of influence from the psych/hardcore underground, and (usually) tight song construction. It is not, however, the best overview of the label’s whole sound, but it gives a good sense of the flavor they try to bring from their choice of artists. Read more
AOR stands for Album-Oriented Rock — the Seventies genre that gave bands like the Eagles (and most of the rest of California rock of the era) legitimacy. One of the largely forgotten kingpins of AOR was the Mark-Almond band — so named for its key members, Jon Mark and Johnny Almond. Mark had been knocking around for years in groups like John Mayall’s band, and Almond was a session musician of a similarly lengthy pedigree. Their first record was, in a way, a blueprint for the way much of their career would go: flashes of some real brilliance surrounded by some of the most maudlin and sugary material ever committed to wax.
My earlier review of Jon Mark’s Tuesday in New York hinted at the way the band worked, but now that I have some more of their records in hand it’s easier to make an overall picture clear. They weren’t exactly prog-rock or jazz-rock or even easy-listening, but they staked out a territory somewhere in the middle of all of those things — possibly even presaging a lot of “new age” material — that at its best sounds intriguing even today. At its worst, though, they were horribly sentimental, with lyrics that wouldn’t pass muster in a freshman English class and music that would have been laughed out of an elevator. Read more
Gojoe was the film that awakened me to the full possibilities of modern Japanese cinema, an epic with both eye-filling spectacle and a thoughtful story. The first time I saw Gojoe I was a little too overwhelmed, and had to sort out my feelings over a second viewing. Then I remembered I had been similarly stunned by Blade Runner, which has such sights to spare that the first time you see it, it's almost impossible to assimilate the story anyway. Gojoe works as a lavish adventure fantasy, but also breaks from many samurai movie traditions to posit a revisionist twist on a by-now-shopworn legend.
Gojoe is set in 12th-century medieval Japan, just after the warring factions of the Heike and Genji clans decimated each other. "Gojoe" itself is not the name of a person, but is actually a bridge not far from the capital, Kyoto, where a number of Heike soldiers are murdered by what seems to be an otherworldly force. At the same time, a Buddhist monk, Benkei (Daisuke Ryu) and his superior, Ajari, are concerned about an oracular prophecy predicting the arrival of a terrible evil (as confirmed by a comet streaking through the heavens).Read more