Tranquilizer “s/t” flexi (Tranquilizer Record 001)

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Just six or seven years ago, Tranquilizer’s first flexi was one of those Japanese hardcore records that few had seen or heard. Even the collector cognoscenti, who hypothesized about it in hushed tones (in hopes of keeping its price low), didn’t know much about it. Was it a bonzer or a boner? Now, after appearing on the second volume of the bootleg compilation LP “Tunes for Fucker” (which used Tranquilizer’s back cover image on its front) and showing up on an MP3 blog or two, everyone should know that this record is a unique, bizarre, and important piece of the Japanese noise-core puzzle. Unlike Confuse, Kuro, or Gudon, all previous notables on my list, Tranquilizer hailed from the north of Japan, the island of Hokkaido. Like Kyushu, northern Japan was far outside the Tokyo-Osaka axis, which may explain Tranquilizer’s shit-fi sound. But nothing else quite sounds like this record’s whirlwind of minced-up noise. The singer sounds like he’s using a kazoo. Let me repeat that in case you missed it: a kazoo. Oddly enough, he is now a famous doctor who appears on television often, and his wife is a professional wrestler. A few moments of live footage of the band ended up on YouTube after appearing on a Japanese television talk-show, ostensibly to poke fun at the good doctor’s youthful indiscretions.



I must say that his bowl cut today is only marginally less cringe-worthy than his weirdo grown-out mohawk in the video. Anyway, if Kuro—and L.S.D., as Jello Biafra noted in Incredibly Strange Music Vol. 2— ratcheted up hardcore’s “sonic attack” by distorting the vocals, Tranquilizer exceeded that intensity and pushed it into some other as-yet-unidentified realm. Well, I guess I can humbly identify it: shit-fi. Besides the blurry chaos of the vocals, the songs themselves blur together. (This mp3 doesn’t bother to attempt to artificially separate them, in order to capture the full effect.) The guitars are downright nasty, played without any subtlety. At the beginning of the record, it sounds as if the guitarist is idly strumming to see how bad he can make it sound, or perhaps to test the strength of the strings. The drums rarely deviate from a simple, driving beat. Whatever tune might exist within the chaos is actually somewhat easy to pick out, because, in ultra-basic punk fashion, the guitar, bass, and vocals all seem to be following the same lines, note for ear-bleeding note.

Like State Children and Confuse, Tranquilizer couple their violent noise with a pacifist message, but, at least to someone who doesn’t read Japanese and in the absence of a lyric sheet, it does not come across as typical sloganeering. The record’s sleeve depicts sepia-toned, imperfectly exposed, before and after shots of a prisoner of war, held by Japanese soldiers during the massacre in Nanking, garroted with a bayonet. Little else accompanies the photos, which is noteworthy because the photos are documentary evidence of atrocities some Japanese politicians deny ever occurred, or else minimize as Chinese propaganda. The weird thing is that out of context, sans captions (or lyrics) the photos do not have much impact as political tools. But Tranquilizer probably weren’t trying to be political. Rather, they were trying to conjure a certain nonspecific feeling of doom. The band’s name may seem to contradict the aggressiveness of the music, but the blurriness of the sound and the soft-focus message do evoke a sensation of having been tranquilized, though not quite enough to turn off one’s lights, just enough to distort one’s perceptions and push consciousness into a less-traveled state, a fitful, teeth-grinding, and trance-like sleep. Their second flexi, which should be cheaper and easier to find, sounds nothing like the first one. Only the singer and guitarist are listed on the sleeve, though the songs also have bass and drums. It is not noise-core. However, parts of the songs continue the tranquilized feeling, with occasionally far-off vocals, and gloomy music reminiscent of some of the late 80s metallic hardcore created by Tokyo stalwarts of the early 80s like Ghoul, The Execute, etc. Fans of low-budget but ambitious metal obscurities should certainly seek out the second flexi. Listen to the two flexis in a row and you’ll traverse the astral plane, from one antiwar, oppositional obsession with death to another, resigned or even eager form of Thanatos. Or maybe I’ve just been listening to too much psychedelia lately.

Song title translations

Slaughter place? (Genocide)

The Order to Drop the Bomb

Medusa (Witch's Fear)

Vietnam (Brush war)

Thanks to Kevin Hunt for help with translation.