Holy Letters

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Originally recorded in 1990 and self-released in minimal quantities in 1994, L's Holy Letters is a small masterpiece of cracked Japanese neo-psychedelia, an album whose legend in experimental rock circles grew in proportion to its rarity. Reissued by VHF in 2004 with three bonus tracks (both sides of a contemporaneous single, the didgeridoo-based "Azrini" and the creepily choral "Harvest," and a radically different alternate version of the album's centerpiece track, "Troll," with overdubbed ocean surf sounds), Holy Letters is revealed to be that rarity, an underground sensation that's every bit as strange and wonderful as the obscurantist hype says. The songs -- all originals bar a transformed ghostly cover of Blind Willie Johnson's "Cold Was the Ground" -- sound not so much written as gathered from an eclectic array of influences ranging from traditional Japanese folk to whimsical Pink Floyd-style British psychedelia. In particular, the genuinely pretty "Benares Blue," with its pulsating Hammond organ, strings, and hushed crooning vocals, could be an outtake from Obscured By Clouds. Hiroyuki Usui, who plays all the instruments except for one track's worth each of electric guitar and cello, also samples from other musical traditions, adding Tuvan-style throat singing to "Blues Trip #2," didgeridoo to several other tracks, and country blues-style slide guitar all over the place. Richard Youngs and others have explored similar musical territory, but Holy Letters is one of the most effective amalgams of folk, blues, space rock, and straight-up psychedelia since the glory days of Harvest Records, and is essential listening for all fans of the style.

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