Renoir Of The Toys is a deep dive into the world of Youri Kun, the nom de plume of Japanese guitarist, singer and songwriter Hiroshi Nar. It follows a similar compilation, Unheld Ball, released in 2022 on Japanese label Inundow; like that album, Renoir Of The Toys draws from the rich catalogue of outsider psych-garage and rock recorded by Youri Kun over the past two decades. Deeply wired into the history of Japanese underground music, Nar was a founding member of legendary ‘70s outfit Datetenryu, and a member of both Brain Police (Zuno Keisatsu) and Les Ralllizes Dénudés (Hadaka No Rallizes), appearing on the latter’s ’77 Live.
After going to ground during the 1980s, Nar started making music with Niplets in the mid-90s, and releasing music at a prolific pace in 2000 – an excellent run of (sometimes archival) CD-Rs on the Hello Goodbye Studio label, both solo, and with his groups Molls, Niplets and Port Cuss; an album on P.S.F. by Jokers, where he was joined by fellow Rallizes member Yokai Takahashi, and drummer Toshiaki Ishizuka (Brain Police, Vajra, Cinorama, etc.); and sixteen albums (and counting) as Youri Kun, for labels Gyunne Cassette, Inundow, and Hören. He’s also fallen in with the Acid Mothers Temple crowd, guesting on a few of their albums, and recording a live set with Kawabata Makoto’s Nishinihon trio.
All Nar’s music shares a deceptive primitivism; it moves with the simplicity of the best 1960s garage punk, but its edges are blurred and stretched, allowing for all kinds of weird, elliptical, and psychedelic moves to happen in its margins. His guitar playing on songs like “Kakunin” (from 2011’s Yamaimo Boogie) shimmies and slurs magnificently; “Kurokami”, from 2012’s Su, has clanking six strings scrawling over loose, spaced-out synth; there are clunky psychobilly moves (“Oshiro no Ninjya”), spirited rave-ups for rattling organ and sputtering guitar (“Totsugeki”), and some lovely, drowsy, melancholy moments (“Sora”).
The constant throughout is Nar’s blues-blurred, drawling voice, as unique a tool as the non-idiomatic speak-sing styles of solo Syd Barrett, Jad Fair, or Dave E. McManus. There are also three Les Rallizes Dénudés covers here, where Nar locates the pop genius at the heart of songs like “Shiroi Yoru” and amplifies this with his simple garage-reverential take on things. Renoir Of The Toys is yet more evidence that Hiroshi Nar was, and is, one of Japan’s musical visionaries, a lonesome voice dedicated to a singular, streamlined vision, one that’s in eternal pursuit of the joy and kicks at the heart of rock’n’roll, and a reminder of what a great, unpretentious rock’n’roller truly should be.