Vajra - Mandala Cat Last (2002)
One of my favourite albums of all time, this: the 5th (not counting that 3") and by far the best album by Japanese supergroup Vajra (跋折羅), the mighty trio of hoarse acid folk troubadour Kan Mikami on vocals and guitar (三上寛), the uncategorizable but instantly recognizable percussion of long-time Kazuki Tomokawa associate Toshiaki Ishizuka (石塚俊明), and last but not least - Keiji Haino (灰野敬二)! (What? He needs no warm-up talk, he's freaking Keiji Haino!)
This 2002 release (on P.S.F., like all Vajra albums) is usually referred to as 'Mandala Cat Last', though that's actually a fusion of the Japanese title (Mandalaキ・『やっと』 - 'Mandala ki - yatto') and the English one ('Cat Last'), both of them for reasons unfathomable to me (and probably you) making the same awkward pun (yatto is Japanese for 'at last'). But enough of that, on to the music.
Vajra is a very unstable but thrilling mix of three masters, a cocktail of psychedelic rock, hypnotic blues, unhinged improv jamming, folk and traditional Japanese song forms all twisted and mangled, feedback noise and ululations - basically all the great skills that the members of the group have perfected over several decades each crashing head-first into each other. Are you excited? You should be. The third track here is probably one of my top 3 favourite songs of all time - every bit as spine-chilling the 100th time you hear it as it was the first. When the first one takes flight, you hope it will never end. The fourth one is a very simple yet moving a cappella take on an obscure Mikami song, コップは壊れるだろう ('Koppu wa kowareru darō', 'The Cup Will Break'), from way, way back (it first appeared on his 2nd album, 三上寛のひとりごと, 'Mikami Kan no hitorigoto', 'Kan Mikami's Monologue', 1972 that was). OK, let's have a look at that tracklist.
1. オレには空が緑に見える (Ore ni wa sora ga midori ni mieru) - The Sky Looks Green to Me
2. 日本のコーラは甘い! (Nihon no kōra wa amai!) - Japanse Cola Is Sweet!
3. 猿は拝まない (Saru wa ogamanai) - Monkeys Don't Pray
4. 曼荼羅TOOT(H) (Mandara TOOT(H)) - Mandala TOOT(H)
5. 亡音 (Bōon) - Sound Deadening
6. 疑傷 – 武蔵へ – (Gishō - Musashi e -) - Playing Wounded - For Musashi
Transliteration is a bit of a problem on the last 2 songs here, since the titles there, as far as I can tell, seem to be freshly coined by (probably) Mikami himself, and you never know with those devilish kanji. The translations are reliable, they are by Alan Cummings, the number one (and only?) go-to-guy for freaky Japanese singer-songwriters wanting to see what their lines look like in correct English (see scans).