Fifth album from the heavyweight PSF supergroup of Keiji Haino, Kan Mikami and Toshiaki Ishizuka. Veterans all, the group members have a combined playing career of virtually a century. The group has been in a state of suspended animation for the past four years, but this album will hopefully kick-off a new phase of activity for them. What makes Vajra unique is its bizarre energy dynamic. Entirely improvised, the three players seem to shoot off in utterly opposing directions: Mikami’s rhythm guitar and vocals providing a pulse universal to no one but himself, Ishizuka beating martial time signatures like three military bands on one parade ground, and Haino scuttling around, slicing and dicing beautiful abyssal depths out from beneath everyone else’s feet. Somehow (proof that space is curved?), three individuals arrive at the same place at roughly the same time. Highlights include the third track, which comes as close to their massive live sound as anything the group has yet recorded. And the set’s inevitable eyebrow raising moment? The accappella nursery rhyme version of Mikami’s “Koppu Wa Kowareru Daro” off Live in the First Year of Heisei Volume 2.—Alan Cummings
Label: PSF Catalog Number: PSFD-129 Format: CD Packaging: Jewel case Tracks: 6 Total Time: 39:32 Country: Japan Released: 2002 Related Artists: Fushitsusha, Keiji Haino More: Forced Exposure, Official, Poison Pie, Wikipedia
“Breathtaking sounds of mystery that somehow never fail to move on a deeply human level. Experimentation and “progress,” but possessed of a wide knowledge and love of all music and a soul (if that were not too much of a cliché). This fourth album sees Vajra scaling yet higher peaks of collective individuality.”—Alan Cummings
Mikami Kan and Haino Keiji share vocal and guitar duties on this one, starting off with a chaotic whirl of dry guitar stabs plus corroded feedback mansion-crumble from Haino smeared with Mikami’s characteristic vocal flameplay and scattered drum interwork from Ishizuka. The second song displays some pleasantly strumming guitar-bob with hectic duo vocal interchanges that blows up and then comes back to more head-nodding fun. Track three is more of a jaunty, upbeat little ditty that momentarily turns pensive before returning to it’s former self.
Song four is filled with subdued guitar trades plus more intense vocal sharing. Next up is more of a “grunge” rocker than anything else so far. Some spoken vocals from Mikami dominate track six, accompanied by rather quiet guitar and drums. Rounding out the disc is a 43-second bit with additional speaking from Mikami accompanied by some odd background echo percussion and a barely noticeable, momentary guitar napkin from Haino. The cover art this time is just a silver-matted card with some sort of vague, india ink stippled arrowhead.
Label: PSF Catalog Number: PSFD-100 Format: CD Packaging: Jewel case Tracks: 7 Total Time: 34:46 Country: Japan Released: 1998 Related Artists: Fushitsusha, Keiji Haino More: Forced Exposure, Official, Poison Pie, Wikipedia
“This album, in contrast to the previous two, features Mikami only on vocals. The absence of his rhythm guitar totally alters the dynamic of the group, moving the focus to Haino’s guitar and Ishizuka’s martial, textured drumming. Anguished vocals, eruptions of black fire from Haino, drifting deep space echoscapes, stumbling blues. Vajra have a sound totally unlike any other group’s—and as a result they are an unsettling, weird listen.”—Alan Cummings
A maniacal laugh from Mikami Kan abruptly starts an explosively short steamroll of advanced speedcore noise from Keiji Haino on guitar and Toshiaki Ishizuka on drums. Thus begins the third album–which, for the first time, is divided up into nine selections–from this Tokyo powerhouse called Vajra. Many of the eight tracks that follow delve into somewhat more traditional approaches to rock form, yet are still skewed with plenty of off-kilter feedback riffs; playful vocals; dry, angular guitar; screeching vocals and slowly-plodding, human-ass, distorted dirge rock. The set is closed out with a half-minute noise distortion cloud.
Once again, my favorite moment is track five, in which Haino copyrights another puff of shimmering guitar waft accented by Mikami’s vocal command; ranging from nice, gentle singing to squeaking abstractions; and appropriate seaside washes from Ishizuka. The cover artwork consists of a matte black background with only the title scrawled across the front in Japanese and purple clouds hovering about inside the booklet.
Label: PSF Catalog Number: PSFD-88 Format: CD Packaging: Jewel case Tracks: 9 Total Time: 35:00 Country: Japan Released: 1997 Related Artists: Fushitsusha, Keiji Haino More: Forced Exposure, Official, Poison Pie, Wikipedia
This 41-minute, one-track affair with your eardrums is broken up into numerous sections, including Toshiaki Ishizuka’s very “snappy” wrecked drumming with Mikami Kan’s soothing yet abrasive vocals strewn over the top; Kan’s folk guitar bed covered with Keiji Haino’s ascending, feedback-drenched, destructo-guitar line (among his most exhilarating and memorable ever) plus Ishizuka’s drums lost somewhere out in pitch dark valleys; a mellow, “jazzy” guitar and drums interlude; Haino and Kan on spare, quirk guitars with occasional wailing vocals plus cymbal washes from Ishizuka; and a quietly staring spell with soft, chanting vocals from Kan and flowing Kayagum guitar work from Haino. The final section—the highlight of the entire disc—finds gentle accompaniment from Ishizuka and Kan with Haino on electric guitar emanating a beautiful keen of late-evening reverb bath. He’s one of an extremely small handful of musicians I’ve ever heard who is a wide-open vent for mysterious, ebbing, universal energies.
“Ishizuka’s martial power drumming provides the perfect foundation for Haino’s soaring, roaring flights into the infinite abyss, which in turn combine in rare grace and (sub)conscious empathy with Mikami’s improvised vocals. (Mikami sings entirely in his native Tsugaru dialect which is totally incomprehensible to speakers of regular Japanese.) The raw invention and communication here are honestly on a par with anything you care to think of. There’s something very, very special about this group—three masters at the peak of their powers, playing with total commitment, total sensitivity, total passion.”—Alan Cummings
Ring is an excellent, scattered effort that is definitely well worth your time of day. The cover art is among the best ever on PSF, or anywhere else, for that matter: a close-up of a complete solar eclipse with orange prominences streams out of the hidden, darkened sun into the charcoal blackness of space. An additional far-off sun impossibly shines though the right-hand side.
Label: PSF Catalog Number: PSFD-77 Format: CD Packaging: Jewel case Tracks: 1 Total Time: 41:01 Country: Japan Released: 1996 Related Artists: Fushitsusha, Keiji Haino More: Forced Exposure, Official, Poison Pie, Wikipedia
Two contrasting tracks and 10 minutes of pleasantries abound on this special 3” CD release. On “Chiru-Ha (Leaf),” the consumate human voice Mikami Kan appears on acoustic guitar with his ever-nice singing abilities in tow. Keiji Haino provides appropriately melodic electric guitar drift in the background as the drums and piano compliment perfectly. Track two is a rather strange “ballad” led by Kan again—this time on electric guitar—as Haino joins in with some jagged, dry guitar work and strange, high-pitched chirping and crying; and Toshiaki Ishizuka provides quite the quirky improv backdrop with doppled cymbal washes and splattered drumming. This is avant folk on shining display. It comes in a really nice, long, fold-open card cover with two simple brush strokes on a broad expanse of white—plus the always pretty Japanese writing around the edges.
Label: PSF Catalog Number: PSFM-1001 Format: 3-inch CD Packaging: Long cardboard jacket Tracks: 2 Total Time: 9:58 Country: Japan Released: 1995 Related Artists: Fushitsusha, Keiji Haino More: Forced Exposure, Official, Poison Pie, Wikipedia
Vajra is a supergroup that formed in the mid-1990s, similar to the lineup on Live in the First Year of Hesei, with Mikami Kan on vocals and guitar, Haino Keiji on guitar and Toshiaki Ishizuka on drums replacing Moto Yoshizawa on bass. Tsugaru, which means “outsiders” or “those people with the power to change an era,” also the name of Mikami Kan’s birthplace, is their first offering. It’s a 32-minute variety show (that is, by the way, more than an adequate follow-up to Carol Burnett) broken up into several distinct sections on one long track.
Haino begins with some beautiful, plaintive, reverbed guitar hum ’n’ strum with almost military-like drum rolls from Ishizuka. In the second section, Mikami Kan offers up a short, quiet solo ballad on vocals and guitar followed by crazed, fast drum rolls blasting out suddenly as Haino startles full-throttle with jugular-bound, noise guitar flail spackled on top of Kan’s vague vocal muttering. Then there’s an upbeat tune highlighted by Mikami Kan’s gruff vocal delivery and Keiji Haino’s abstract guitar strokes off in the distance. Kan then reappears with another song spotlighting his inconsiderable vocal and guitar talents with Haino and Ishizuka quirking it up in the background. Haino even offers up a few choice high-pitched elf cries near the beginning. The next section finds Haino in feedback mode again, this time playing more identifiable lines, with Kan manhandling the vocals and Ishizuka on drums. Closing out the set is one more solo effort from Kan on acoustic and vocals.
This is a fabulous first effort by a promising new human group. It’s a little more than exciting to hear these three making sound waves together. Absolutely luffly cover artwork featuring a white background with black brush strokes that swirl ’n’ splash outward toward you.
Label: PSF Catalog Number: PSFD-62 Format: CD Packaging: Jewel case Tracks: 1 Total Time: 32:20 Country: Japan Released: 1995 Related Artists: Fushitsusha, Keiji Haino More: Forced Exposure, Official, Poison Pie, Wikipedia