Sunday, 19 July 2009

The Mops - Psychedelic Sounds In Japan (1968)

Recycled from an old MeineSpace post, this needs sharing. I'm not the only person to post it but if it helps them get more listeners on then what the hell...

Link - ripped@320kbps

Here we have an album that at it's worst is a historical curio and a comedy album; at it's best a world-class garage romp.

The Mops were, from what I've heard, the rawest and weirdest of Japan's sanitized 'Group Sounds' era. Group Sounds was a fusion of Western rock and Japanese popular music - which for the most part was melodramatic tripe and pretty much all manufactured, with creative control going to the record executives.

As with most Group Sounds bands they began as a Ventures-esque instrumental rock group, before taking on the mantle of drug-influenced blues and rock music emanating from overseas to become Japan's first bona fide psychedelic band. This was not the idea of the Yardbirds/Stones influenced group of course, it was the Mops' management who molded them into hippies as stipulated in their new record contract (see album cover).

However LSD was impossible to procure in Japan at the time and as well as putting on the most dazzling light shows to cement their psychedelic credentials (the other Group Sounds were catching on fast), the Mops would often play blindfolded to disorientate themselves.

So as well as being trippy dippy and lyrically darker than any Group Sounds band at the time ('please kill me' in the 6/8 time 'Blind Bird'), what does this alien interpretation of 60's vogue have to offer?

For a start I was struck by the garage influence, there's a lot of fuzzboxed guitar and it certainly packs a wallop; and when the Mops are in full swing (playing their own songs) the vibe is great too: Masaru Hoshi's perpetual, trebled guitar solos coming from somewhere off in space and the band keeping a frenetic groove under some brilliant freewheeling blues-psych.

^ Vintage pop cameo. Dig those ponchos!

All sounds good so far, non? But now I have to address the infamous cover versions of psych standards and the all-English vocals.

When the Mops are attacking these songs in their extremely bloken Engrish and their own inimitable style, it can work ('Somebody To Love' sounds great, singer/guitarist Yoshiro Hayakawa must have spent days getting the 'L' on 'love'); but the rest of the time you just can't help but giggle, and there are certainly a few comedy moments on the album such as the adorable ode 'San Franciscan Night'.

There is an element of humour when listening to this strange record, being as it is a heartfelt tribute to/cash-in on a Western pop culture... just totally naive and a lot of fun. None of this would matter if the songs weren't great.
On the whole it's magnificently done, they manage to work in everything from harpsichords to a Misunderstood-style sense of doom - but there are some flaws. See: the inept sitar racket of 'Unforgettable Memory' and the musically competent but slightly comical covers of 'White Rabbit' and 'Light My Fire'.
The pros far outweigh the cons though and it definitely belongs in your 60's collection.

Unfortunately when the album surfaced, Group Sounds was on it's last legs - Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin were beginning to catch the attention of Japanese youth... The Mops were dropped =(

And this is where we leave our (magnificently named) heroes, who would cunningly move with the times and re-brand themselves 'New Rock'. It was left up to other, hairier bands to make history in this area...

Cope, Julian, 2007. Japrocksampler: How The Post-War Japanese Blew Their Minds On Rock 'n' Roll. 1st ed. London: Bloomsbury

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