JACKS - "VACANT WORLD" LP
In 2022, New York based label Mesh-Key have released four reissues of underground Japanese guitar music LPs. Each one of them is essential in their own way, ranging from some of the most notorious and influential records of their era to hidden masterpieces almost completely unknown in the west until now.
We plan on giving each of these releases their due attention, but for now it makes sense to start at the beginning.
Jacks is one of those bands that you most often hear in reference to bands that came after them. They are perhaps most notably the biggest and most direct influence on Les Rallizes Dénudés, a band which would in turn go on to inform an entire genre of Japanese minimalist psych music.
It is perhaps misleading to describe Vacant World as an "underground release" - it was released on a major label, and came before a time where independent releases were even feasible in Japan. Within that context though, they were completely unlike anything that had come before.
Emerging during the Group Sounds boom of the mid-60s, a collection of Beatles-influenced Japanese pop-rock bands performing mostly English language cover songs, Jacks looked the part but were musically the antithesis of the popular music of the time.
Upon first needle drop on Vacant World Jacks tumbles into your space with percussive exclamation; a strange, writhing declaration of intention. Enter a twisted stab of what sounds like a guitar being stretched and pulled apart, and Yoshio Hayakawa's distinctive vocal combination of slow, low monotone and desperate wails.
It's almost impossible to imagine what this must have sounded like to your average Japanese punter in 1968. As is the norm in these kinds of situations, Vacant World sold poorly and Jacks would retire after one more album. But, as always, those who did hear Jacks were often changed by the experience, and word slowly travelled.
54 years later, the record still sounds just as vital. As I said, Jacks is one of those bands that you most often hear in reference to bands that came after them. But make no mistake, Vacant World goes HARD. It's bewildering that this album doesn't seem to be held with the same reverence in the west that it has in Japan for decades. Hopefully this reissue will do a little to change that.
Available for the first time on vinyl outside of Japan, with a brand new master from the original tapes and extensive liner notes, this is without a doubt the best that Vacant World has looked and heard. Brush up on your history, don't sleep.
Arriving on the Japanese music scene during the Beatles-inspired cover band boom of the late ’60s, Jacks instantly distinguished themselves from their fluff-peddling, copycat peers with stripped-down, original compositions, nihilistic lyrics and raw performances.
Their tenure was short - ’67 to ’69 - but Jacks managed to cut a handful of singles and two albums in that time, the first of which, Vacant World, is now widely considered in Japan to be one of the greatest rock albums the country has ever produced. The combination of Yoshio Hayakawa's arresting baritone and austere guitar work, drummer Takasuke Kida and upright bassist Hitoshi Tanino's jazzy, loose interplay, and lead guitarist Haruo Mizuhashi's searing fuzz leads was alchemical, and Vacant World captured the band at the peak of their powers.
Some have described Jacks as the Velvet Underground of Japan — a singular, revolutionary group that had little commercial success in their day but whose influence and legend grows exponentially with each passing year. The comparison is apt. Unlike V.U., however, Jacks remain largely unknown outside Japan, and Mesh-Key hopes this first-ever officially licensed international release does something to fix this injustice.
“The album that gave birth to Japanese underground/psychedelic rock, and the one that influenced me the most when I was young.” — Shintaro Sakamoto
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