Various Artists, “Nippon Acid Folk 1970​-​1980”
By Will Ainsley · January 25, 2024 Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP

The 1970s were an exciting time to be part of the Japanese counterculture. Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka had started ringing with the sound of the new, but it wasn’t to the tune of Western music. Although musical imports were being consumed, they weren’t considered sacred by this new generation of music-makers. Young artists, including Harumi Hosono, Ken Narita, and Hiroki Tamaki were ripping apart Western forms and merging them with Japanese-language vocals, arriving at a fresh and playful sound. A new compilation from Time Capsule gathers eight of these cuts, recorded between 1970 to 1980, and the result is something remarkably far-sighted, foreshadowing the arrivals of city pop, the psych revival (the good kind), and even folktronica.

The spirit of Dadaism permeates this collection from the “upstart students, artists and dreamers” who made Nippon Acid Folk 1970​-​1980 (Nippon means “land of the rising sun” in Japanese). There’s a willingness to experiment—to use a detuned guitar, to try weird panning, and to incorporate both the hyper-modern (synthesizers) and the ancient (cadences and accents of the Japanese language). The loping, wide-open groove, squalling drones, and slightly arrhythmic percussion in Tokedashita Galasubako’s “Anmari Fukasugite” (which feels like a forerunner to The Brian Jonestown Massacre) contribute to the slurred, woozily narcotic effect.

Nippon Acid Folk 1970​-​1980 rails against the “don’t bore us, get to the chorus” mantra with songs that are not always packaged in traditional pop structures, offering space for certain moods, ideas, and sounds to be further luxuriated in. On stand-out track “Kawa (River)” by Hiroki Tamaki, the vocalizations that make up the beginning of the track aren’t a prelude, they’re the essence, forming a bedrock around which the song unfurls. “Kawa” swims in these multi-layered voices, complete with complex jazz chords, strange intervals, unpredictable scales, and shifts in tone. There’s the obvious influence of the Beach Boys’s candy-coated harmonies, but it’s refracted and reimagined. Likewise, Niningashi’s “Hitoribotchi (On My Own)” is slinky soul that never quite rises out of its simmer, becoming headier and headier as the song cycles on. (TL;DR, “Hitoribotchi” is like Khruangbin but good.)

It’s not all slow burn, though. “Kaze Wo Atsumete (Gather the Wind)” by the Harumi Hosono-led Happy End is as beautifully-constructed a piece of sunny guitar pop as you’ll find anywhere. It’s easy to hear why Mac DeMarco once said, “since I heard [Hosono]…I’ve just been trying to rip him off.” And this is why Nippon Acid Folk is so deserving of its spotlight. One way or another, whether artists today have heard them or not, the cast of “upstart students, artists, and dreamers” are still influencing music some 40 years on.

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