Mainliner Imaginative Plain

[P.S.F; 2001]

Rating: 4.5/5

Styles: psychedelic, garage, noise, your stereo’s death knell
Others: High Rise, Acid Mothers Temple, Comets On Fire, Guitar Wolf

During the years I spent behind the counter of record stores, the one inventory-unrelated question I heard ad nauseum was, “What does ‘remastered’ mean?” As the old dude who only buys import copies of Eric Dolphy records will tell you, mastering is the process by which individual songs are sequenced and tweaked to exhibit uniform volume and frequency distribution, thereby providing a cohesive listening experience. It’s also the reason why Rid of Me is so bloody quiet and the Raw Power reissue so blisteringly loud. Anyone going deaf will already be familiar with the so-called Loudness Wars. Over the past fifteen years, A&R stooges pushed the faders further up into the red, figuring that music that literally hit the audience would thus become a hit with the audience.

Granted, there are acts whose whole raison d’être is extreme amplitude (hello, Lightning Bolt!), and their albums are mastered accordingly. But until experiencing Mainliner’s Imaginative Plain, I’d never heard an album compressed within an inch of collapsing into a black hole, so dense that only pure distortion could escape. Less a collection of songs than a seismic experience, Imaginative Plain delivered sub-dictaphone fidelity with the force of a sledgehammer. It’s fierce for sure, but for Japanese psych-garage godfather Nanjo Asahito, it’s business as usual. In the early ‘90s, bassist Nanjo assembled Mainliner as a sequel to his legendary band High Rise. To expand on his old power-trio’s atomic potential, Nanjo recruited a rotating roster of dynamite drummers (including Ruins’ Yoshida Tatsuya) and a then-unknown six-string strangler named Kawabata Makoto.

Back then, Kawabata was a small fry next to noise giants like Nanjo and Haino Keiji. But as the Acid Mother superior, Kawabata became the polestar of Japanese psychedelia, and his playing in Mainliner is indicative of why. The stoner-rock workouts are little more than a launching pad for Kawabata’s explosive guitar explorations, channeling whole supernovas through strings and fuzzboxes. True, as founder and mayor domo, Nanjo wrote all the songs, but the riffs are so Stooges-simple that the White Stripes sound like Tool by comparison. Tracks like the inappropriately-titled “Soft Line” were conceived more as mood-setting sonic templates (think Blue Cheer by way of nuclear fission) to enable endless improvising and serious instrument abuse. Back to the mastering: the mixes were so overblown that the rhythm section is reduced to a tectonic texture, crushed under the juggernaut assault of Kawabata’s Ragnarok-inducing guitar.

Now that “rockist” is no longer a laughably fake word, there are plenty of bands that peddle overlong guitar solos (Mars Volta), reducto ad absurdum rock (Part Chimp), and needless levels of distortion (Wolf Eyes). But in roping together all three, Mainliner achieved something equivalent to Hendrix’ immolation of his instrument at the Monterey Pop Festival: an act so willfully absurd, so cartoonishly macho, such a ham-fisted creative expression via destruction that it might — might — just be Art.

1. Imaginative Plain
2. Soft Line
3. Static
4. Ride Blue
5. Attack