Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
The story of Japanese post-punk pioneers Aunt Sally begins not in the Land of the Rising Sun, but nearly 6,000 miles away. Hiromi Moritani—before taking on the name Phew—flew to London to see the Sex Pistols play live in 1977 when she was 17, and was inspired to start her own punk band. “I realized this was not something you were supposed to watch,” she told The Wire in 2003. “It was something you were supposed to do.” Once back home in Japan, she wasted no time searching for bandmates, sticking up flyers in every music joint around Osaka. Through mutual friends Moritani was linked up with a girl that went by the name Bikke, who would become the guitarist for the newly minted group. They got their start playing covers of The Who and The Ramones at amateur live houses, but quickly decided to change course when they saw other bands playing the same songs. “I realized Aunt Sally couldn’t go on the same way,” Moritani said. She began writing her own material, holding fast to the punk spirit but forging an identity all her own on their 1979 self-titled debut, now back in print after nearly four decades. Anarchy in Osaka, as it turned out, wouldn’t resemble the UK variety very much.
Aunt Sally’s sound is deceptively simple, but with a razor sharp edge. “Kagami” appropriates the American big band jazz standard “Heart and Soul,” but the groove is torn to shreds with Bikke’s high-pitched, buzzed-out guitar, sounding like a circular saw cranked up to max speed. Moritani’s low, singsongy vocal is nearly completely drowned out. “Sameta Kajiba De” is even more jarring, pairing a waltz-time melody with cavernous, echoey drumming and keyboards that shimmer like faint constellations. Here, Moritani’s voice bears more weight, each syllable carrying the gravity of its own punctuation mark. There’s even a Twilight Zone-adjacent dirge in “Loreley” that slowly ratchets up the anxiety, culminating in a hellish dismantling of the children’s nursery rhyme “Frère Jacques,” with Moritani wailing like a vengeful spirit. It’s a potent reminder that punk can be whatever the fuck you want it to be.
“It was very important to me to release an album while the punk thing was still happening in London,” Moritani explained. The group’s genre-bending debut arrived in the spring of 1979, but Aunt Sally would flame out by the summer, having already served their purpose. “Shortly after Aunt Sally formed, The Pistols broke up, and by the time we released the album, the momentum was gone because for me punk was The Pistols.” Moritani may have stopped making punk music when she went solo and rebranded as Phew, but she never stopped being punk during her more than 40-year career, uncompromisingly going her own way and never following anyone else’s lead.