Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Mops - Psychedelic Sounds in Japan (1968)

Among hardcore 1960s rock collectors who have an interested in Japanese bands of the period, the Mops are one of the biggest acts in the genre, even if that genre is barely known to English-speaking listeners due to some linguistic barriers, and its general obscurity outside of Japan. Their 1968 album Psychedelic Sounds in Japan is certainly the Mops LP that's gained the widest international exposure, as it's the one with the most garage-psychedelic style and has rewarded the efforts of avid collectors around the world. In fact, the Mops were even marketed as "the first psychedelic band in Japan" in their homeland, though as psychedelia goes, it's pretty raw, verging on garage-punk at times. In truth, it's more attractive for the crazed energy of the performances -- and the odd juxtaposition of the earnestness of the singing and playing with the unhinged bent of the arrangements -- than for the originality of the music. It's distinguished from other sounds of its sort, perhaps, by the manic fervor of youngsters discovering British and American psychedelia without quite having the vocabulary (musical and otherwise) to execute it with nearly as much polish as their inspirations. On the Japanese-language songs in particular, this leads to some melodic angles, anguished vocals, and rudimentary fuzz guitar blasts that can sound fairly exotic to Western ears, though they're not exactly catchy. The English-sung tunes comprising more than half the album are mostly covers of foreign hits (the zany self-identifying anthem "I Am Just a Mops" being an exception), and while there's a charge to be gotten by hearing them tackle classics by the Animals and Jefferson Airplane with naive zeal, they're not exactly stunning interpretations, let alone close to being on the level of the originals. They also make an ambitious foray into raga-rock with "Kienai Omoi," complete with sitar. As a whole, the record's an interesting if flawed relic of a time when Japanese rock was just finding its feet, with a clumsy yet endearingly passionate force. [The 2010 British CD reissue on RPM (with English-language historical liner notes) marks the first time it's been licensed outside Japan, and includes two bonus tracks from their 1968 non-LP single "Omae No Subete O"/"Atsuku Narenai," both of which find them getting into dissociative distorted-guitar-fueled sounds far freakier than anything on the album. Note that this reissue does not include one of the tracks from the original LP, "Blind Bird," which has never been made available for any reissue of the album due to its controversial lyrics.]

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