Julian Cope’s Album of the Month

Mainliner - Mellow Out

Mellow Out

AOTM #10, March 2001ce
Released 1995 on Charnel Records
Mainliner are the Banana Splits of Noise. Where other artists will have you tearing off the CD and slamming it into the toaster in frustration, Mainliner is choc-a-bloc with riffs'n'hooklines, as well as gimmicks to keep you listening and devices to sneak you in the back door. My wife finds the lead vocals "sexy and pleading" and their groove is always that relentless mind-of-its-own juggernaut from the film Duel. Mainliner are never reduced to chordless pedestrian pseudo-jazz like so many Noise bands, never drywanking the No New York kerb crawl beloved of art-dweebs worldwide. Instead, they are forever maintaining and sustaining a constant and practised bulldozer-y heavy-in-concert rockness that keeps the showman at play, but not the shaman at bay. These are skilled magicians and master technicians practising an odd and thoroughly honed form of sonic healing. Rock!

Mainliner was started in 1995CE by Asahito Nanjo from High Rise and Acid Mothers Temple leader Kawabata Makoto, in order "to explore new possibilities" which would create "a completely new type of heavy psychedelic group." Labelling themselves "Japan's Rising Sounds Vol. 1", Mainliner introduced the world to the free-jazz drummer, Hajime Koizumi, and Kawabata Makoto's "Motor Psycho" electric guitar. Asahito Nanjo had commented before that Munehiro Narita, his guitarist in High Rise, was into the MC5 "for good or bad". But he felt that the restrictions caused by such an influence prevented Nanjo from exploring fully the sheer dervish whirl possible by a power trio (as seen occasionally by such as early Guru Guru and Ash Ra Tempel). So Mainliner was seen as a chance to break out even further, and this first LP was certainly beyond rock'n'roll.

I've seen Mellow Out advertised as an EP in some places, and though it's short I myself would call it an album even if it were 10 minutes shorter. Intense in the way Sabbat were intense (every 5 minute Sabbat song had lyrics enough to take up half of an LP inner sleeve) - crammed so chocablock with sonic candy, it's as though Nanjo-as-a-kid was always somehow disappointed with the amount of sugar-y treats he could force into his pick'n'mix paper bag and was now gonna do it for real in the grown-up world. I've picked Mellow Out as Album of the Month specifically because it was a genuine Herald of Guitar Noise. Yes, there are other fine uncaged tours of these types of roughly fenced/barely hedged sonic pastures, but none has distilled the intention as thoroughly or as sweetly as Mellow Out. Whereas their follow-up Mainliner Sonic1 slipped into the cyber-realms of edgy heart-stopping futurism, this first record still kept its feet and danced to a heavy rock-based groove. And whereas the albums of sister group Musica Transonic have occasionally slipped into that stop-start jazz psycho-babble, Mainliner has always maintained at least a pulse, a cardiac blip-blip-blip, on which to cling when the sonic carpet has been pulled from under your feet once too often.

Mellow Out opens with the archetypal High Rise formula of short opening track into monumental dirge-riff-fuck-off. Here, the starter of under-two-minutes duration is "Cockamamie", this being a power surge anti-theme holocaust in preparation for what's to come. Though, of course, it in no way prepares anyone at all - except perhaps those poor souls who live under pylons from the National Grid. Or teenagers with endless free access to mobile phones.

Soon, we're quaking in our booties by the raging 15-minutes of "Black Sky", which takes Zeppelin 2 and shakes it like a puppy systematically destroying a sturdy rubber toy from the shelves of Sainsbury's pet aisle. While the band throws the whole beat off kilter into a 7/4 circular saw marathon, we are appeased by Nanjo's now standard (sexy and pleading) vocal-line (always reminiscent of the persistent and repeated "won't you please let me" from the Jackson Five's classic 45 "I Want You Back"). About 4 minutes into this maelstrom, a free-rock lightning bolt gets thrown from the heavens and the track becomes a tiny space ship fighting for its life in an a-rhythmic heavenly radiation storm, torn this way and that, before returning mercifully to the relative calm of the previous sonic bulimia. Of course, this is Mainliner so don't expect it to stay for that too long. "Sister Ray" is merely a prudish Cromwellian maypole burning compared to this 2000-watt Heathenism.

The economically titled "M" kicks off with Hajime Koizumi's berserk free-jazz hit-any-motherfucking-thing-in-sight drum break, before locating-then-executing a Blue Cheer riff of such savage intensity that even Leigh Stephens would have had to have concentrated while he played. This primal intuitive screwww does the Sir Lord Baltimore/Krautrock thing by picking up in 5/8, therefore looping itself constantly back upon itself, eating itself alive then moving on, like some kind of sonic Crablogger relentlessly scoffing up the forest ahead - a musical centipede that eats its own forearms and shits them out the other end, as new forearms grow, always passing inexorably further into unexplored sonic territory. By the time we're 15 minutes into this grind they called "M", only the drums have a coherent rhythm. Yes, I can guess that Nanjo's bass IS approximating the original riff, it's just that Kawabata's guitar has become such a demented free-for-all that only Hajime Koizumi's frenzied eight-armed shiva-on-the-traps whirl is forthcoming under the stunning aural graffiti of feedback.

And by the end of "M"'s 18-and-a-half-minutes we're done. Mellow Out is gone - back into the ether barely half an hour after its first bursting forth. And, like High Rise's Live album, Mellow Out offers us the keys to the Noise without locking us in the room. Whereas I often dig gimmickry of the most extreme kind, and even have a soft spot for those things purely traditional, the preferred art of my rock'n'roll self probably most often contains a mix of, say 70% Tradition over 30% Novelty - and that's pretty much where we land with Mellow Out. If you need that extra 10% Novelty, opt instead to endure (verb chosen w/care) their second (skull-crushing) CD Mainliner Sonic. But, for a sure-fire commune with your luping howling lunar self, Mellow Out is yer baby! And remember, play this Motherlode loud as hell!

  1. It should probably be noted that by their second album, Mainliner had really BECOME Musica Transonic - their Ruins drummer, Yoshida Tatsuya, now having taken over.