Friday Full-Length: Shinki Chen and His Friends, Shinki Chen and His Friends

Posted in Bootleg Theater on March 17th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Shinki Chen and His Friends, Shinki Chen and His Friends (1971)

One can scarcely find any information on Tokyo-based guitarist Shinki Chen that doesn’t refer to him in one way or another as ‘Japan’s Jimi Hendrix.’ Don’t get me wrong — Hendrix is Hendrix, and without him heavy rock and roll doesn’t exist as we know it, but the designation is more telling about the Western perspective of those making it than it actually is in conveying the character in Shinki‘s playing, which is writ large over his 1971 debut, Shinki Chen and His Friends (also discussed here). Isn’t every lead guitarist Something or Somewhere’s Jimi Hendrix, anyway? At least if they’re doing it right?

Shinki most certainly was that — doing it right — but again, that’s hardly the sum total of what’s on offer with Shinki Chen and His Friends, and all one has to do to realize that is make their way through the opening backwards psychedelic experimentalism of “The Dark Sea Dream.” It’s an intro, made basically of manipulated guitar noise, and yet at 4:51 it’s longer than all but two of the tracks that follow, the closing duo of “Corpse” (5:16) and “Farewell to Hypocrites” (12:52), the latter of which seems to be pieced together from a couple different jams. Not only does Shinki Chen and His Friends remain affected by this initial bend into weirdoism for its duration, but to hear the bass and vocals of George Yanagi and the keys of Hiro Yanagida on “Requiem of Confusion” as backed by Shinichi Nogi‘s drumming, it’s obvious the Friends portion of the four-piece outfit have a key role to play. Hell, “Requiem of Confusion” sounds like the blueprint on which Radio Moscow and too many other classic-styled heavy rock outfits were built, and to get into the fuzzy blues bounce of “Freedom of a Mad Paper Lantern” and the organ-laced sentimentality of “Gloomy Reflections,” there’s a progressive character in Shinki‘s playing and in the performance of the rest of the band that goes beyond being anything other than itself. We know well that by 1971, a heavy rock boom was taking place the world over, from post-hippie Californian fields to Nigerian psychedelic funk dancehalls to Australian barrooms, but as a player and a bandleader, Shinki Chen deserves to be in the conversation of underrated purveyors who had something no one else could offer in quite the same way.

With a song like “It was Only Yesterday,” on which the mix seems to be as fluid as the overarching groove itself, full of swells and recessions and pans between the organ and guitar while the drums remain buried far, far in the back and the fuzzy bass does most of the rhythmic work, part of it is down to finding just the right tempo at which to execute. Shinki Chen and His Friends, unlike much of the era’s output, isn’t just about nailing the heaviest or fastest part or about aping the blues. It’s not quite totally prog, and it’s not quite proto-metal, but it’s definitely psychedelia-plus, and its 39-minute run unfolds quickly by the time “Corpse” comes around with another open-feeling nod, distinct separation between keys, guitar, bass and drums, and a languid spirit that makes a fitting summary leading into the more expansive “Farewell to Hypocrites,” more raucous on the whole and rawer than a lot of the record, but still cohesive as it makes its way into the realms of “far out” and on to whatever lay beyond, Shinki‘s razor-sharp fretwork at the head of the forward charge.

The same year Shinki Chen and His Friends was released, Shinki would form the trio Speed, Glue and Shinki with bassist Masayoshi Kabe (who sniffed glue) and drummer/vocalist Joey Smith (who took speed). They’d put out one album in 1971 on Atlantic called Eve that’s worth driving through a hurricane to pick up and a self-titled 2LP compilation the next year, but that would mark the final recorded appearance of Shinki Chen, who by all reports simply decided he didn’t want to do it anymore and so stopped. Heck of a talent to let go to waste, but fair enough. Shinki Chen and His Friends, Eve and Speed, Glue and Shinki have all been duly bootlegged and reissued, and though his tenure was brief, Shinki Chen remains one of the standout players of the period.

As always, I hope you enjoy.

I wrote the above at about 2:30 in the morning last night, so if it’s completely incoherent, I apologize. At that point I’d already been up for more than an hour. I went to sleep at about quarter after nine, woke up circa 1AM, and was awake for most of the night thereafter. I slept a bit between 2:45 — when I put the laptop back down — and 3:15, and 4:00 and 4:45, when the alarm finally went off, but yeah. Pretty terrible evening of rest on the whole. Doubt it will be my last.

Prior to, I’d been doing pretty well this week in that regard, especially considering The Patient Mrs. has been away the last few days and that’s always a kink in the sleep pattern. I got home from work around 6:30, feeling frustrated about that very fact and any number of other things, so yeah, I guess that was enough taken in combination with feeling anxious around a work off-site for today — it’s different! — and not really knowing what’s going on this weekend (supposed to have family up, but might not on account of impending weather). Plus there’s dog poop outside I need to pick up, and there was the Shinki Chen writeup to do. Quite literally these are the things that keep me up at night. At least last night they were.

I repeated my mantra, “It’s okay it’s okay it’s okay it’s okay,” but to no avail. I’ve been taking herbal supplements for anxiety the last couple weeks at the kind recommendation of a reader, but have a doctor’s appointment on Monday for a physical and might ask for something a little more defizzle-your-brain on a chemical level, just to even me out a bit for a while. Feeling uneven.

Also, anybody got $200,000 they don’t need? Ha.

Okay. Sorry we didn’t get that Samsara Blues Experiment stream up today. There were some timing issues. It’ll be premiered on Monday with the cover art. Here’s the rest of what’s in the notes:

Mon.: Attalla full-album stream/review; Samsara Blues Experiment track premiere/artwork reveal.
Tue.: Los Natas LP review; Phlefonyaar video premiere.
Wed.: Drug Honkey track premiere; Cybernetic Witch Cult video premiere.
Thu.: Review and track premiere for the new Lord (yes!).
Fri.: Q&A and track premiere for Doctor Cyclops; new single premiere from Mirror Queen.

Busy week. Busy weekend, accordingly. I’ve finished mapping out what will be included in the Quarterly Review in two weeks, and I’d like to start organizing the covers, links, tags and so on for those posts this weekend. I also have a bio to write for Lords of Beacon House and copy to assemble for the Roadburn ‘zine, and that Los Natas review will have to be written on Sunday since I don’t have a turntable in my cubicle at work, etc., etc. I don’t expect to sleep much.

But anyway. I gotta get my last cup of coffee (house coffee, as opposed to that which I’m bringing with me to the office) and get ready to head out, get through this Friday and get started as quickly as possible on the aforementioned weekend. I hope you have a great and safe and stress-free one and that all is well on your end generally. I hear on the social medias that Mike Scheidt of YOB is having (more) surgery today. Send him good thoughts for an easy time and speedy recovery. Surgery blows.

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