Essential New Music: White Heaven’s “Strange Bedfellow”

Strange Bedfellow is the second album by White Heaven, a band that was active in Tokyo from 1985 to 1997. The psychedelic combo was part of the scene connected to legendary record store Modern Music and its associated label, P.S.F. Which is to say that despite generating a buzz oversees, White Heaven was barely part of a scene at all. Back in the glory days of the economic bubble, Japan’s capital city was hardly a place where people were eager to check out rock bands that were determinedly rooted in the aesthetics of an earlier time. White Heaven singer/bandleader You Ishihara remembers playing to Tokyo crowds in the low two digits.

Yet buoyed by P.S.F.’s cachet, White Heaven’s records were purchased by music fans from the United States and Europe who had had their minds blown by Fushitsusha and High Rise and were eager to leave more of their brains on the ceiling. Strange Bedfellow’s limited-to-700-copies pressing disappeared fast, and there wasn’t a second run. This vinyl reissue is the first time Strange Bedfellow has been back in print in 30 years and the first time ever that it has been made in the U.S.

You might wonder how a record from 1993 might make sense in 2023, but its stance then was the same is its stance now. White Heaven’s music delivered a stern reproach to the other output of its time. Its very existence declared that everything else going on around it was wrong, simply by having such a peculiar and forcefully asserted model for what was right. Ishihara mixed the alternately trippy and swinging sounds of West Coast psychedelia with the high-octane aggression of Blue Cheer and the Stooges. He delivered his English-only lyrics in an Iggy-like croon that would’ve had fathers locking up their daughters (if either fathers or daughters had been listening), but Ishihara’s thick Japanese accent ensured that it came out sounding like no one but him.

Amplified by the alternately stunning and seductive guitar licks of Soichiro Nakamura, Ishihara’s tunes stymie the laws of physics. This music is not of any particular era, but it makes its own. Each song is a transportation vehicle, taking you out of your time and place and situating you firmly in Ishihara’s imagined sonic universe, where there’s no doubt at all how music should sound. No matter when or which way you hear this stuff, that certainty brooks no denial.

—Bill Meyer