Julian Cope’s Album of the Month

Les Rallizes Denudés - Flightless Bird

Les Rallizes Denudés
Flightless Bird

AOTM #84, May 2007ce
Released 2006 on 10th Avenue Freeze Out
  1. Otherwise My Conviction (3.34)
  2. Valle de l’eau (2.37)
  3. Enter the Mirror (13.46)
  4. Smokin’ Cigarette Blues (19.17)
  5. Flames of Ice (17.12)
  6. Field of Artificial Flowers (10.37)
  7. Deeper than Night (2.24)
  8. Otherwise My Conviction (4.04)

Mizutani as All-Purpose Rock God, 1972

Facel Vega from the Heart of Darkness

Seemingly endless sonic flame-throwers of phased white noise streak across your inner landscape, as stupidly loud and overly-backlit lead guitar emissions perpetrated by a perpetually be-shaded longhair pummel the similarly be-shaded but barely adequate musical backing that sags and creaks under the wattage. Occasionally, lead vocals of a singular variety are provided by said be-shaded mad axeman, whose paranoid personality ensures all songs are delivered in a voice of querulous subterranean gargling from beyond the valley of Alan Vega… My giddy aunt, what’s this, then, a MEATY BEATY BIG & BOUNCY from the Underworld? A rough guide to Japrock’s most intuitive non-career movers? Has the world’s most revolutionary rock’n’roll band released a compilation album of leader Mizutani’s most frequently requested tracks due to overwhelming popular demand? Ja, mein hairies, this certainly seems to be the case. For, with the arrival of this superb FLIGHTLESS BIRD compilation, obsessive fans of Les Rallizes Denudés (are there any other kinds?) finally have a proper ‘early career’ overview of Mizutani & Co. at their fingertips, a 70-minute-long super distillation of this most contrary of band’s choicest musical moves executed between 1967-82, a superb sounding and partly/mostly chronological trawl through the freaked out and perpetually-yelping mindscape of singer and avant-avalanche guitarmonger Mizutani, and his sinister-yet-interchangeable pool of black clad world-to-rights acolytes. Indeed, except for the somewhat shocking omission of Mizutani’s time-honoured set-closer ‘The Last One’, it’s all right here on this CD in truly gargantuan proportions, as FLIGHTLESS BIRD unloads on both fans and champions of Rallizes a very enormous something with which to petition those seething multitudes of Doubting Thomases among their friends and relatives, whom they will have undoubtedly regaled with blasts of shrieking Mizutani feedback – for the past decade or so - via dodgy vinyl bootlegs, third or fourth generation C90 cassette copies, or expensive handmade CD-Rs.

Mizutani shorn and ready for the New Wave, 1977

In short, FLIGHTLESS BIRD collects together and showcases Les Rallizes Denudés’ most directs hits from the early-to-mid-70s (an enormously strung-out ‘Enter the Mirror’, a shockingly brief but piercing ‘Deeper than Night’, a monumental version of ‘Flames of Ice’ that appears to have been ice-picked out of the ice after 25,000 years, the all-time best version of the beautiful ‘Field of Artificial Flowers’ aka ‘People Can Choose’, besides plundering their earliest archives for the fabulously garage-y opener, 1967’s ‘Otherwise My Conviction’, a yelped skeleton of a song which anticipates Subway Sect and is almost as bohemian and crapped out a take on American garage rock as Armand Schaubroeck’s 1965 teenage band The Church Mice and their ragged 45 ‘Baby, We’re Not Part of Society’. Unfortunately, Mizutani’s inability to sing in tune in the studio during this recording saw him desert studios forever, inadvertently creating the lo-fi genius that would ever after be associated with Les Rallizes Denudés. ‘Otherwise My Conviction’ is followed by the curious (and mistranslated) ‘Valle de l’eau’, two minutes of unprovenanced ‘I’ll Be Your Mirror’-style querulous balladry, as though French music industry people had copped some unknown Tim Hardin demo and re-recorded it in the style of an out-take from the FOGGY NOTION 7” E.P.

Between Autumn 1980 and Spring '81, Mizutani invited Murahatchibu's Fujio Yamagauchi to play twin lead guitar.

At this precise point, FLIGHTLESS BIRD unfolds into a truly epic treat, as a succession of four heavy mind-death drone-o-thons of wipe-out monotony conspire to bludgeon the senses. The first of these warhorses is the full 13 minutes of ‘Enter The Mirror’, a glassy and tinnitus-inducing Dronefest Maximus replete with a Mizutani solo that sounds as though he’s tearing off shards of light from the highest corners of the sky and ringing them out over the exhilarated townsfolk. The ending is so truly nerve-shatteringly berserk that it’s something not to describe but only to experience. Thereafter comes the astonishing 19-minute freakout from mid-68 ‘Smokin’ Cigarette Blues’, an antecedent-free bone fide classic on a par with nothing else. What’s it about? Well, the first half sounds like the wheels came off the thing but they still tried to drive it. Then, at about 12 minutes into the track, they take up flying as the music enters Teo Macero-cut up territory of the kind that turns it into a bizarre combination of Miles Davis’ 1975 funk band (Messrs Cosey, Lucas, Henderson and Mtume) at their most primitive meets pure HYMNEN-period Stockhausen (’67-‘67), thereafter forever ascending towards the swampiest parts of Funkadelic’s self-titled debut LP. What it’s about is revolution, and the track is the one surviving Rallizes recording that captures the early line-up as they inhabited an essential cosmic doorway; that time right after their leader’s Eureka moments after hearing ‘White Light/White Heat’ and Blue Cheer’s apocalyptical second LP OUTSIDEINSIDE (both events happening in the spring of ’68), but before bass player Moriyasu Wakabayashi and eight others hijacked a JAL airliner and took it to the North Korean capital Pyongyang. If Les Rallizes Denudés had recorded nothing other than ‘Smokin’ Cigarette Blues’, they would still have gone down in rock’n’roll as lost legends. For that song’s a unique hybrid of Amon Düül/Hapshash a-rhythmic percussion and the Velvets/Parson Sound playing a-rhythmic Creedence riffs, and is in possession of such rock’n’roll attitude that it must surely endear itself even to the staunchest despisers of avant-garde music. It’s what the Jesus & Mary Chain would have barfed out if they’d had more than a passing interest in the La Monte Young side of the Velvet Underground, and had been related to the Mongol hordes. Next comes ‘Flames of Ice’, on which there’s a strangely Spaghetti Western flavour to this aridly dry version of Rallizes’ standard/classic. Here, it’s a mercilessly-trudgeful 17-minute trek across Mesopotamian plains by a posse of black-clad horsemen, as Mizutani drags the Ventures and the Shadows down into the Underworld, along with the early Guess Who and a whole bunch of Shadows-obsessed Japanese eleki bands. In all honesty, while this version is at least matched by the inverted RSJ-funk of the version of this song located on BLIND BABY HAS ITS MOTHER’S EYES, there’s a cinematic quality to this take that blows my melted plastic mind… the kip of its wail, this version, Struth! Next up is the ten-minutes-plus of wiped out San Fran guitar hysteria hidden on ‘Field of Artificial Flowers’. This Blue Oyster Cultish devil drive by Woden’s Wild Hunt through unknown sleepy suburbs is one of Mizutani’s genuine ‘classic rock songs’, combining the white noise supersonics of the Yardbirds’ ‘Happenings Ten Years Time Ago’ with Grand Funk’s monolithic version of ‘Gimmie Shelter’. At this point the long performances finally conclude, for this wodge of modern sonic stylings is, like the record’s beginning, buffered at the end by two far briefer songs. The first is a startlingly short-but-brain crushing ‘Deeper Than Night’, that sounds remarkably like the version on HEAVIER THAN A DEATH IN THE FAMILY, but which concludes naturally rather than fading. Unfortunately, a second (and vastly inferior) version of ‘Otherwise My Conviction’ (which I’ve chosen to omit from the streaming) brings this double-LP to a stumbling halt. Out of tune, out of sorts and precisely what Mizutani will have needed to hear in order to convince himself that studio recordings were a bummer. But, then, 7-out-of-8 classics ain’t half bad, brothers’n’sisters, especially as FLIGHTLESS BIRD is all wrapped up in a sleeve that depicts the actual Yodo-go JAL airliner hijacking of March 1970 that caused the band to be cast out of Japanese society for all time. Yes, this is a seminal and essential work by a seminal and essential band and it don’t half sound good. A real CD for a change. Get that, a real shrinkwrapped CD, motherfuckers!