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.
White Heaven open up the compilation with a Doors-like tune, sung in English (!) that manages to be beguiling without being as annoying as the Doors could be. High-Rise turn in a blazing piece of work highlighted by extra guitar and vocals from none other than Keiji Haino — he is probably P.S.F.’s star attraction, and it’s no wonder that he appears on two tracks on this disc.
Maher Shalal Hash Baz win the Oddest Name Award (even for a Japanese group), and their strange pluck-and-hoot music reminds me of nothing I’ve ever heard before. Curiously, that makes it all the more listenable. Marble Sheep and the Run Down Sun’s Children — what a great name! — turn in “I Just Stay in the Up Side,” the single catchiest tune on the whole disc, although the slightly muddy live recording mars it somewhat.
Over Hang Party and Yura Yura Kingdom didn’t impress me as much, although the former are probably the more memorable of the two thanks to solid songwriting. Yuragi turn in a searing, freeform improvisation that would be right at home on a Derek Bailey disc, and Kousokuya throw down a track that’s no less uninhibited or loud. Ghost are represented well with their ethereal “Sun is Tangging” — this is one of those bands that’s not summed up well by a single track, so if what you hear even remotely catches your attention, seek out one of their albums.
Ookami no Jikan give us “Thin City pt. 2,” which starts from a improvisational meandering and then builds to a crescendo that has to be heard to be believed. Curiously, Fushitsusha, normally an astonishing band, turn in a very weak track, “Marianne,” that appears to have been cut off suddenly no thanks to poor mastering. I’ve recommended them uninhibitedly elsewhere, so you don’t need this disc to find out what they’re about.
Most of the tracks appear to have been recorded live, and so there’s a consequent loss, however slight, of some of the finesse that most of these groups put into their recordings. The exception is Haino/Fushitsusha, whose most polished studio recordings have the grit and vicious texture of a live jam, as was intended. If you’re curious about what the P.S.F. phenomenon consists of, this isn’t a bad place to start. It does not, however, do justice to a great many of the other artists on the label, like Kan Mikami with his rough-voiced Japanese low-lands folk-rock, but I’ll take a middling introduction to P.S.F. over none at all any day.