Review Summary: A scattered collection of musical experiments that would lay the groundwork for the storied career of Japan's most influential psychedelic rock band.
Les Rallizes Denudes was a group of influential psychedelic rockers from Japan that originally formed as an avant-garde musical theatre troupe in the early 1960s. They began making music and playing live gigs in 1967 and quickly began exploring the sonic boundaries of rock music. Led by the aggressive, at times even pitchy vocals and winding lead guitar lines of frontman Mizutani Takashi, this Kyoto based group began making a name for themselves and their brand of twisted, psychedelic noise-rock in the late 1960s. The music they made during this period can be seen as one of the first instances of the widespread international influence that The Velvet Underground had throughout most of the following decade or so. By this point in the history of rock music, more and more bands were starting to see how far they could go in manipulating things like distortion and feedback and playing with conventional songwriting, and Les Rallizes Denudes were one of the first to dive straight in at the deep end.
The early years of their existence as a band were not entirely focussed in the traditional definition of the word. Instead of recording albums, or even singles, Les Rallizes Denudes spent their formative first few years playing a series of experimental live shows, during which they would toy with the pre-conceived notions of what sort of sonic experience one could have at a concert. These shows were often comprised of hour-long entrancing jams fueled by aggressive amp feedback, sporadic and sometimes random percussion, droning, repetitive bass lines, and shrieking walls of guitar sound. They did occasionally hit the studio for some recordings of a less improvisational, though still largely erratic nature. Their first official release was a collection of the material recorded by the band, either in the studio or on the road, during their first three years. Within the band’s discography, this record would prove to be only a stepping stone: a sign of things to come rather than a direct representation of their signature sound. So lackadaisical was their approach on this album that it fails to forge an identity of itself, especially when compared to the band’s other compilation and defining work, ‘77 Live.
However, there is value to be found in this compilation LP, and its creation can easily be seen as a necessary step towards the great things that this band would go on to accomplish. Though scattered and seemingly lacking in focus or direction, this release introduced many of the band’s defining characteristics. Focussing for a moment on the live portion of this album, we can identify the band’s knack for extending one single musical idea into a dizzying, expansive, hypnotic jam that is impossible to not become completely lost and immersed in. The ears are berated endlessly with walls of guitar distortion and low, wobbling bass tones, and vocals are rarely incorporated. This is not “rock music” in the traditional sense of the term, and this era of live experimentation would prove to be incalculably influential towards the blurring of the genre’s boundaries, and the creation of such sub-genres as noise-rock and psychedelic folk. Most of the studio portion of the record is much less abrasive and off-putting for casual fans of rock music, as the studio songs are all partially rooted in the methods of songwriting that are more easily recognizable within mainstream music. On these songs, vocals take more of a central role, as do frequent guitar solos. We see the instruments generally sticking to their typical roles within rock music, which can be seen as directly opposite to the live portion of the album.
’67-’69 Studio et Live is a challenging and confusing first listen, but beneath its rough surface (the album starts with a 19 minute live track, which essentially sounds like a spooky LSD-fueled cluster*** of harsh guitar tones and enchanting bass drones) lies an album of expansive, beautifully twisted music. Given the time and effort, it can prove to be an immensely rewarding listen. While it can’t stand shoulder to shoulder with the band’s magnum opus and defining work, the album is an early statement of intent from one of psychedelic rock’s trailblazing acts. It may be rough around the edges, but among the scattered ideas and seemingly random song structures lays the foundation of a sound that would be later perfected by one of the definitive noise-rock acts of all time.