- by Rich Morris Release Date: Label:
Here's one for all you 'heads', as they used to say. Parallel World is a very, very trippy record by 70s Japanese group Far East Family Band. Produced by Krautrock legend and one-time Tangerine Dream member Klaus Schulze, and recorded at Manor Studios in the UK, it's a full-on psychedelic odyssey of rare quality.
Even considering how obscure the 70s Japanese psych scene is now, Far East Family Band are one of the less well-known groups. Formed in a Tokyo commune in the early 70s and led by guitarist/vocalist Fumio Miyashita and synth wizard Kitaro, the band adopted an all-white uniform. Their sound was heavily influenced by Pink Floyd and they specialised in long, multi-part pieces of music complete with all the trappings of the psychedelic era, up to and including crazy cosmic cover art. In fact, their shtick could be a little hokey at times (the band was originally called Far Out, which tells you how literal they were about the hippy stuff), but there's an innocence about their music which, listening to them now, makes them quite loveable in comparison to their more high-minded brethren.
Their fourth album, Parallel World is the band's masterpiece, the record which lifted them out of being mere copyists and, for those who were listening, briefly placed them in the league of cutting edge music makers. While in Europe, Kitaro had met Schulze and the latter agreed to produce the band, starting with 1975's excellently named Nipponjin - Join Our Mental Phase Sound. Parallel World followed a year later and saw the band's music achieving a new maturity and expansiveness. Under Schulze's tutelage, there's far greater use of synth sounds while a new-found urgency and sense of purpose can be felt the moment opening track 'Metempsychosis' burbles into being.
That title alone tells you something about the band's shift in direction. Where previously they had specialised in lush, stoner ballads, now they opened their album with a barrage of doomy atmospherics, intense, African-flavoured tom-tom beats and rubbery, panicked synth squeals. A daze of motion, heat and unfocussed energy, 'Metempsychosis' is a thrilling oddity, the equal of anything produced by Neu!, Faust, or Can.
Schulze's master-stroke on Parallel World was to put Shizuo Takahashi's drums at the centre, creating a propulsive engine inside the band's blissed-out dreamscapes. He also put far greater emphasis on the synth-work of Akira Ito and Kitaro, which on Parallel World's more intense moments formed a relentless twin assault ably backed-up by the pounding drums. Because of this, there's a harsh, dystopian edge to the album's long, ambient passages, such as second track 'Entering/Times', where fluttering, bird-like sounds and new age rhythms are underpinned by deep, fearful bass drones. The beat is once again heavily percussive and the metallic synths are more John Carpenter than hippy love-in or prog melodrama. The rhythm gets steadily funkier and before you know it, we're into an extended acid freak-out. It's a more complex yet somehow also more direct sound for the band.
'Kokoro', the third track, brings the band back to familiar territory. It's a drifting, maudlin song with trembling vocals and weeping strings. It's not for everyone, and previous Family Band albums tend to rely a little too much on such mid-paced fare but in the context of the wilder sounds on Parallel World, 'Kokoro' is actually captivating - a moment of quiet reflection. Well, that is until it works itself up into a monumental guitar and organ workout straight off a Pink Floyd album. You either love that kind of thing or you don't.
If you manage to track down a vinyl copy of the album then side two will be taken up by the half-hour-long title track, which is split into several movements. Don't worry, it doesn't drag at all, moving from loose-limbed funk workout to dense psychedelia to ambient, fragmented electronic soundscapes and echoing, monastic chants. Endearingly, in amongst all this, someone starts wailing "Free your mind!", proving the band hadn't given up on the hippy vibes just yet. All in all, it's a gorgeous, constantly evolving piece of music.
So accomplished was Parallel World that some questioned whether Far East Family Band had been sidelined by Schulze. Nonsense! Schulze certainly added some of his redoubtable synth playing but Parallel World is simply the sound of a band gaining full maturity and knowing exactly what kind of music they want to make.
Originally released on Mu Land, Parallel World is now available on the fantastic Phoenix label and I can't stress how worthwhile it is to seek the album out if exploring the outer limits of space rock is your bag. Just ask yourself one question: Are you ready to free your mind?