I first heard about Les Rallizes Dénudés last year when I read Julian Cope’s excellent Japrocksampler (which also turned me on to the joys of the Flower Travellin’ Band and Speed, Glue & Shinki, among others). Since then, I’ve had a bunch of Les Rallizes Dénudés bootlegs (nearly the entire catalog consists of bootlegs) floating around on my hard drive, but all of their 2+ hour runtimes kept me from listening to them. Whenever I was thinking about Les Rallizes Dénudés, I never had the time to sit down and really listen to the bootlegs, and when I did have the time I was always more in the mood to listen to Screw tapes or old Stretch & Bobbito shows or what have you.
I finally got around to them today and randomly picked December’s Black Children, which was recorded live in the Yaneura district of Tokyo on December 13, 1980 and is one of the only documents of guitarist Fuijo Yamacauchi’s time with the band. The closest analogue to what the band is doing here is The Velvet Underground Live 1969, but while the Velvet Underground was always New York City to their core, Les Rallizes Dénudés has none of that style. There is no pretense or carefully crafted image on December’s Black Children, just noise and dread.
The Velvets’ Live 1969 is heavily skewed toward the band’s less coarse and more downbeat material (the group’s low key third album The Velvet Underground was their most recent when Live 1969 was recorded so that album casts a heavy shadow over the proceedings), and the same is true of about half of the songs on December’s Black Children. Both sides open with tunes in this vein, “White Walking” and “Flames of Ice,” although the real gem of this style is disc two’s “Enter the Mirror.” For sixteen minutes, the two guitars cobble together a bed of beautiful noise piece by piece. The rhythm never rises above a slow tap-tap-tapping, which is fitting for the hazy guitars and heavily reverbed vocals to drift easily on the top. I’m not sure that the band would lose much here if the drummer was replaced by a metronome.
On the other end of the intensity spectrum is “Deeper Than the Night,” which at 23 minutes long drastically changes the mood from the Velvet Underground-inspired dreaminess. With its persistent, repetitive proto-metal riff and noise assault, it finds the band somewhere between Blue Cheer, Hawkwind, and pure sound. That riff repeats over and over and over again, and just when it’s about to get annoying, it starts warping, stretching out, and shifting in all manner of ways, not enough to diminish the riff itself, but just enough to keep things interesting. Meanwhile, “Night of the Assassins” resembles an extra sloppy Nugget stretched to four times its intended length through boundless soloing.
Throughout, there is little concern for tightness or professionalism in any form. It sounds like all of their equipment is really cheap, but December’s Black Children doesn’t feel like the kind of self-aware lo-fi affectation that say, Guided by Voices had circa Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes. And there are moments in “Romance of the Black Grief” where the guitar seems to be playing along with a different rhythm than the one the drums are providing and overpowering guitar noise threatens to rip the song to shreds midway through. This lurching in and out of time and tremendous shifts in guitar volume only add to the off-center, discomfiting feel of the entire album.
While listening to December’s Black Children, I did a Google image search on the band. Almost no color photos turned up. Whether this is just a matter of coincidence or they consciously curated their image, it is completely fitting. Their music is so relentlessly monochrome that it doesn’t seem right that the band could ever exist in color.
Word is that December’s Black Children isn’t even close to Les Rallizes Dénudés’ best album. I’m definitely looking forward to checking out Heavier Than a Death in the Family and Blind Baby Has its Mother’s Eyes as soon as possible.