Can somebody at a label drawn to Japanese musicians track down Angshally and put his music in context and bring it to a larger audience?
At this historic juncture, social media may be more divisive than unifying. But for the crate digger, the plethora of record groups on Facebook alone provide knowledge of obscure records that even the most dedicated collector may have never heard of. If you find the right community of Thai or African vinyl hoarders on Instagram, you can open up a world of music you would have never imagined in the days of dial-up. One of the most unusual and brilliant finds from this new age of record hunting is the 1977 album Inaka no Basu, by a Japanese artist whose name is sometimes transliterated as Angshally. Who is he? I still don’t know. But his music is totally original.
Opener “While Waiting for a Train” is relatively conventional, if a Japanese outsider invoking the Fall in 1977, before the band even debuted on vinyl, can be considered an ordinary thing. The rhythm is a bit leaden, the vocals nothing like Mark E. Smith but kind of ranty for something that appears to be about public transportation, and with an unexpected drum break that might represent the bus backfiring.
The title cut “Bus in the Country,” which was recorded in 1972, is even more remarkable, at once years ahead of its time and completely out of time. A naïve piano melody to a strange martial beat sets up vocals, which are helpfully translated on YouTube. The lyrics are worth repeating in their entirety:
“Bear pulls the bus in the country
Oh Auntie good chance to win care of bear
Bear hundred tatami full of garden as if one were owner and
Yururi Yururi (slowly)
After getting through your soon Sol
The pillow grandmother in dark light.”
The imagery is initially surreal but at least comprehensible, but it soon turns into charming nonsense, which is part of the artist’s magic. Even without language comprehension, the musical ideas are out of left field yet offer plenty of intriguing material to hold on to. That melody is unusual and choppy but impossibly catchy, the delivery shifting from clumsy and amiable, perhaps taking on the role of the bear, before it starts getting even weirder and more wonderful. The rest of the album is just as strong; tracks like “Grief of Mother” play like anxious post-punk, a farfisa organ barely invoking skinny-tie new wave while the jerky rhythms and neurotic vocals that David Byrne would have been proud to co-opt at the time. There’s heavier electric guitar on a track that translates as “Woman Dance Teacher You Put,” which loosely sounds as if Captain Beefheart formed a psych-garage band in the ‘70s and hired neighborhood kids to sing along.
A South Korean IG user who specializes in private press records from around the world led me to Angshally, but the only way I’ve been able to hear it is through the artist’s YouTube channel and a French dealer who posted the complete album in a (prohibitively expensive) sales listing. It’s hard to parse album info; a Discogs listing that appeared provides Japanese titles, but when those tracks are lined up with the audio on the French vendor’s page, they don’t match up with the titles provided on YouTube, which adds to the intrigue.
With elements of punk and cabaret and an outsider mentality, the album must just scratch the surface of what looks like a prolific and fascinating musician. “Bus in the Country” is one of the clips linked in the Instagram post that got me here, and you can understand how such a mysterious track would lead one to hunt down everything this guy made. But Angshally (or Angysally—the artist has two YouTube pages that spell his name differently) took a drastic turn later in his career. Everything on the YouTube channel angshally2011 (with tracks that have only been listened to a measly 50 or so times) is worthwhile, with such enchanting songs as the brooding “Song of the Unemployed,” from a 1980 release, and the piano ballad, “In the Wind of the Prairie.”
Unfortunately, the companion channel Angysally1112 is much less consistent. Alongside another track from Inaka no Basu, there’s fluff like “Autumn Quietness,” a pretty melody that might have worked well in the lo-fi approach of the ‘70s material but gets lost in syrupy higher fidelity that’s so much uninspired muzak. In fact, most of this alternate channel is in this less promising vein. What happened to this guy, and where are all the other records whose cover art he tantalizingly previews on the angshally2011 channel?
Can somebody at Light in the Attic or another label drawn to Japanese musicians track down Angshally and put his music in context and bring it to a larger audience? Meanwhile, if anybody reading this knows any more about this elusive artist, let us know. There is a tempting clue on one of his YouTube clips: the visuals briefly reveal a phone number printed on the back of his album cover. Does it still work?