Aunt Sally, a seminal Japanese post-punk artefact resurfaces

Holy grail captured.

Mesh-Key reissue of a true desert island disc, criminally out of print for nearly 40 years. They’ve spared no expense bringing this classic back to life in a format befitting its brilliance, carefully orchestrating transfers of the original analog reel-to-reel tapes for remastering, and packaging each record in a heavy Stoughton tip-on jacket with film lamination, and a double-sided, printed inner sleeve.

In the murky post-punk era of the late 70s, young artists globally worked through the ashes of pop music to sculpt their own idiosyncratic visions of what music could be. At least that’s one cliched version of the story, postulating punk music as some carte blanche, a scorched earth event. The reality is that curious musicians and thinkers plugged into a universal desire for the new, the out there, the novel that pre-dated punk. While inspired by the democratisation of the means of production (cheap instruments, the demonstration that “anyone could do it”), visionaries like Osaka, Japan’s Aunt Sally were looking beyond the brutal aggression of punk to an experimental tradition that took in anything from Can to ESG Records anything-goes mentality to surrealism. The result is one of the most coveted post-punk records of all time, an impossible cult that introduced the artist Phew (aka Hiromi Moritani) to the world. Originally released in an edition of 400 on Vanity Records in 1979, it’s finally been reissued by Mesh-Key. This edition is the second pressing of the reissue, with the first pressing having sold out in a matter of days direct. This edition is now sold out source for the time being.

Aunt Sally’s debut album is a menagerie of minimalist punk diffidence, re-cast Nursery rhymes thrown abruptly into Dadist theatre, Collaged Joy Division basslines and screwy guitars, distorted Hammond organ strangled to all hell and the imperious, if impetuous, Phew’s vocal centre stage, contorting into twisted new shapes and using various techniques to continually throw the listener off-balance. Aunt Sally initially began playing punk covers with youthful abandon, much like their peers on the Osaka punk scene, before branching off into the openness they presented in the studio. The recordings are testament to the glory of rule breaking while maintaining a consistent aesthetic unity. Opening with the eponymous Aunt Sally, presumably a kind of theme song, the band present a drunken, off kilter dirge with stereo-panned drums and guitar drowning in phaser. Phew intones in the eye of the dirging storm, the sound is like a Chrome jam with a dude who’s taken a couple of drumming lessons from Jaki Liebetzeit but then wondered off to figure it out for himself. Don’t get settled in though, because soon we’re sailing down a crisp river, swaying and harmelodic before sinking into a doomed waltz.

On Hi Ga Kuchite, Phew’s voice is whispering over harmonics and a hammered percussion instrument tenderly tapped, reminding us of the considered, happenstancial pleasure of Tenniscoats or Maher Shall Hash Baz, recording a couple of decades later. Subete Urimono is the overtly punk song, with a Jah Wobble bassline high up in the mix, Phew performing Patti Smithisms, whipping up the energy into a swirling storm. It actually brings to mind Crass, Flux Of Pink Indians though of course pre-dates the squat punk scene by a couple of years again. The fusion of punk minimalism and pop focus makes a winning team. But listen to I Was Chosen, where Phew seems to approximate the middle ground between Moe Tucker and Ari Up. Brooding closer Loreley feels stitched together with silly string, the band play with dissonance, there’s a guitarist who’s off on his own path, a bass player who seems to be trying to out smart the drummer as it slowly spirals into entropy. It feels like an essential No Wave cut slowed down to half speed before you realise it’s a warped version of Frere Jacques. Who is Phew’s Frere Jacques in this story? Is he OK!?

Aunt Sally split up after the release of their debut album having already decided that punk was dead. If it is dead, Aunt Sally definitely contributed to the murder. With a rush of ideas borrowed from everywhere and nowhere, endlessly innovative despite an enthusiastic, if not overtly proficient, musicality ( JUST AS WE LIKE IT), Aunt Sally presented a world unsettling, bizarre and enthralling. 

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