The Friday before finals took control of my life this year, I journeyed down to Denver to the garage institution of Rhinoceropolis to see one of the coolest sounding shows in some time.
The band was Kikagaku Moyo, a Tokyo five-piece drenched in flowery robes, headbands and hair that almost completely obscured their faces. Their ranks included a sitar player, and their music was some of the most serene, hard-hitting and downright smoky psych-rock I've ever heard.
Then a week ago, something similar happened at the hi-dive. The band was Acid Mothers Temple, another Japanese outfit who specialize in an extreme form of cosmic jamming, and their set included almost every hammy psychedelic rock cliché in the book, pushed to an extraordinarily awesome degree. And quite possibly the best show I saw last year was none other than Tokyo's Boris, whose live show included impossibly heavy riff after riff accompanied by enormous billows of fog.
All of these Japanese artists seem to share an almost geeky obsession with American psych-rock tropes of the '60s and '70s. It's a strange phenomenon that a country on the other side of the planet would be home to such masters of the type of music usually reserved for college dorm bong-passing sessions. And I can't put enough emphasis on the word "masters" when I talk about these bands; their songs feel like finely tuned lab experiments seeking to create the absolute perfect rock track, and more often than not, they're successful.
But the interesting thing to consider here is that many of the American bands that these artists worship so religiously were, in fact, originally deriving influence from Eastern forms of music. The '60s were nothing if not the time of Hare Krishna and Ravi Shankar, and many Western groups in that era found great inspiration in the scales and improvisational nature of Eastern musicians. It can't help but seem like a kind of mirror-of-a-mirror situation taking place when artists like Acid Mothers Temple and Boris attempt to incorporate this style of music into their heady, intense exercises in sound.
The whole movement comes across as both charming and encouraging. It signifies that not only has America made musical contributions that still resonate with guitar nerds around the world, but that there are still artists out there continuing the conversation of how Eastern and Western music relate to one another in rock and roll. And with Kikagaku Moyo's albums finally starting to see distribution in the United States and a new Boris record on the horizon, there's plenty of opportunity to raise your index and pinky fingers at the magnificent possibilities of feedback.
Sam Goldner is the music director at CU-Boulder's Radio 1190. Email him at email@example.com.