An'archives / France / 2021
It’s been almost three decades since Japanese guitarist and songwriter Masami Kawaguchi first broke cover, with his group Broomdusters and their debut album, 23 hours 30 minutes (Purifiva, 1997). In the intervening years, Kawaguchi has maintained single-minded discipline, through his membership of some of the Japanese underground’s greatest groups (Miminokoto, LSD March, Los Doroncos, Usurabi, and his projects with Keiji Haino: Aihiyo and The Hardy Rocks); the exhilarating music made by his own band, New Rock Syndicate; and a small clutch of intimate (mostly live) solo recordings.
But nothing in his history has been quite as distinctive, nor as singular, as Self Portrait. The title’s a strong clue, of course, but the real tell is in the consummate nature of the eight songs here – this is Kawaguchi articulating most clearly his vision of what rock music could and should be, and what it means to him. His first studio solo album, it’s both dedication and hymn to the music that keeps Kawaguchi moving. Deftly crafted and sweetly intimate, Self Portrait is bursting with great songs, shufting from gorgeous acoustic folk-blues melancholy – see “Visions Of Marianne”, and the dreamlike closer, “On The Rooftop”, which Kawaguchi describes as his answer song to the Rolling Stones’ “As Tears Go By” – to storming rock monsters.
To that end, it’s a goddamn thrill to hear Kawaguchi and friends jamming on a James Brown riff through “Awake”, squeezing all the nuance out of its stop-start, staccato rhythms. Elsewhere, Kawaguchi lazily strums a psychedelic air, on the Syd Barrett-esque “Blindfold Blues”, and rifles through his backpack to find one of his earliest songs, the strung-out, levitating “Nothing”, which he wrote when he was nineteen years old. “Song For Golden Hair” pays tribute to the psychedelic sixties; “Drinking With Mr. K” remembers Japanese psych-rock legend Jutok Kaneko of Kousokuya.
Kawaguchi’s been playing the long game, slowly whittling away at a unique and personal take on rock and the blues, one that’s equal parts reverent and forward-thinking, playful and deeply committed. Self Portrait is the clearest articulation yet of his dedicated vision. And it’s a total blast.