Tag Archives: Haco

Hidden Gems: Haco, “Secret Garden”

HG-Haco-1244In our series Hidden Gems, writers share their favorite Bandcamp discoveries.

In the years following her rise to prominence as the lead vocalist of ’80s art pop band After Dinner, the Japanese artist Haco has maintained a prolific output, releasing a handful of microsound experimental recordings and collaborating with musicians as varied as Terre Thaemlitz, Ikue Mori, and Sachiko M. Though many of Haco’s albums conjure up fantastical soundscapes, 2015’s Secret Garden has a stronger focus on that aesthetic; each track plays a role in making sure listeners feel like they’re in some wondrous, vibrant world. Secret Garden was remastered by Haco earlier this year, and now stands out even more as one of her most meticulously crafted releases.

The immersive quality to Secret Garden is achieved through a combination of elements. Haco employs charming vocal melodies and lyrics reminiscent of fairy tales—consider this line from “Linked in a Dream”: “Even after turning into a star, she just kept on sleeping.” The consciously otherworldly tracks never scan as cheap attempts at emotional manipulation, though. By incorporating hazy, enigmatic electronic atmospheres into the mix, Haco balances euphoria with wistfulness, and fleshes out the escapist feel; from the reverb-laden “Whitening Shadows” to the droning mystique of “Waves and Illusions,” Secret Garden evokes a sense of being on the precipice of a dream world, perpetually stuck in a hypnagogic state. It all culminates with standout track “Never Get Over,” a song that astutely samples Stuart O’Connor’s “A Watchful Eye.” In its final minutes, a compounding wall of clipped noise and breathy vocals brings a sense of completion to the album. “(I Won’t) Leave a Trace” closes Secret Garden on a quieter note, allowing for a moment of reflection. “But they haven’t found me yet […] And I won’t leave a trace,” sings Haco. She’s invited us into her own Eden, and we leave knowing that it’ll be just as enchanting upon our return.

-Joshua Minsoo Kim

A Brief Survey of Experimental Psych in Japan

Koenji Hyakkei

Koenji Hyakkei

Back in the 1960s and ‘70s, Japan was home to a host of experimental psych bands. And while Les Rallizes Dénudés, Flower Travellin’ Band, Far East Family Band, and Taj Mahal Travellers didn’t sound the same, they all shared a love for lengthy improvisation and owed a debt to the avant-garde. They weren’t afraid to get weird, they were sometimes political, and they sometimes rode their motorcycles around naked (at least, that’s the way Flower Travellin’ Band is portrayed on the cover of their 1970 release, Anywhere).

But the real fun started in the ’80s, when the freaks discovered punk. Bands like High Rise and Fushitsusha played louder and faster than their predecessors. They made more noise and oozed attitude. But unlike traditional punk, they also continued to improvise and jam. Those trends continued into the ‘90s—and continues into the present—with the emergence of bands like Boredoms, Ruins, Acid Mothers Temple, and their assorted side projects, splinter groups, and others.

But whether the country has an actual experimental psychedelic scene is up for debate. “Is there even a scene in Japan?” Acid Mothers Temple guitarist Makoto Kawabata told Pitchfork in 2002. “Are there actually musicians who see themselves as part of a scene? Of course the members of our group are Japanese, but the idea of a specifically ‘Japanese’ rock is pointless. Rock can only ever be rock, no matter where it exists in the world. So, rather than being the Japanese AMT, we’d like to be seen as the People’s AMT.”

Those sentiments notwithstanding, many of the current musicians are interconnected enough to suggest the existence of a scene, however loose. Some, like drummer Tatsuya Yoshida (Ruins), bassist Asahito Nanjo (High Rise), and guitarists Mitsuru Tabata—and even Makoto—have performed, at some point, with just about everyone else in this list. The artists making experimental psych in Japan are propelled by one another’s energy. They influence one another and, inevitably, inspire one another as well.

What follows is a deep dive into Bandcamp’s storehouse of Japanese experimental psych. It is adventurous, exploratory, and weird in the best possible way, whether you’re listening in your car fully clothed or on your motorcycle in the nude.

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Found Sounds from the Edge of Earth

Found Sounds

Sound Field recording in Iceland.  Photo by Finnbogi Petursson.

There are certain sounds that can’t be born in the confines of a studio or created after countless hours spent fiddling with expensive synthesizers. The meditative drone of a rainforest can’t be replicated by a Juno, and a drum machine will never echo the repetitive, crashing pulse of a waterfall. Field recording, the act of capturing often unexplored terrain with a microphone and a pair of headphones, is one way to archive these sounds. Continue reading