Mess Me Up
By Steven Strange
Welcome to yet another ramshackle edition of Mess Me Up. Owing to the fact that I actually have enough new Japanese records this time around to warrant writing about, this column will once again focus on the finest, and in some cases worst, in Japanese rock n roll. I wasn't able to scrounge up much news beyond press-stoppers such as, "the Outs CD release show at Shelter is sold out," so unfortunately there isn't much I can report news-wise. While we're on the subject of live shows, I really should note that the 18.104.22.168's are embarking upon a rather extensive US tour with the Fevers in late September, and if you're lucky enough to have them stop by within a hundred miles of your hometown you should make sure to get the next day off of work because you'll need it after witnessing the 22.214.171.124's tear the house down. Go to http://www.fujiiya.com/the5678s/ for tour dates. I'm going to try my best to get an interview with them, so keep your fingers crossed.
There are a bunch of really appealing records coming out of Japan in the next couple months, including the should-be-incredible Needle Records comp CD, so you can expect another Japanese column from me in the relatively near future. For now, we have a whole stack of reviews to get into, so dive right in and get all of the gory details on the worst record I've bought in years, namely…
Anadorei 7" EP
Words can't do justice to the feeling of paying seven bucks for a single that is described as "three cute Japanese girls playing trashy noise punk" that actually ends up being three dick-nasty skanks playing god-awful hardcore sludge with the most annoyingly high pitched screeching vocals my ears have ever been subjected to. I could repeatedly stab my ear with a rusty shank for ten minutes and it would be more pleasurable than listening to this shit. Side A consists of five "songs" with titles like "69 N Hole" and "Hell On Earth" (actually, that last one pretty accurately describes the experience of not only hearing this sonic refuse, but doing so with the knowledge that you PAID SEVEN BUCKS FOR IT. What I won't do for you, the loyal TB audience!) with an unbearably LOOOONG cover of Black Sabbath's 'Sweet Leaf' taking up the entire b-side. Fuck, this is so unbelievably bad. If anyone has the nerve to even tell you that this record doesn't suck (let alone that it's good) please reprimand their erroneous appraisal by beating their nutsack in with a crowbar. Repeat if necessary. That might sound harsh, but trust me, they'll feel a lot better with a sack that resembles some regurgitated ground chuck than you would if you actually plunked down seven dollars for this.
(Freaked Out Frequencies)
Boyce "The Soundtrack For Us" CDEP
This band is somewhat noteworthy for me because the first time I heard about them was while talking to the Needle Records guy and Boyce/Disgusteens member G1 outside of a show, and I remember having a hunch that they'd be great. Turns out I was right. This band might be noteworthy to you for the fact that Koji Ozaki, a member of Japan's premier modern-era power pop band, the Tweezers, appears to be the primary songwriter. Past achievements aside, this record stands on its own merits alone. The title track is one of the better things I've heard out of Japan recently. It's a super-catchy arrangement of driving verses, suburb guitar leads, and a chorus that gets burned into your brain after repeated listens. After that there is another superb tune featuring all of the accoutrements of the previous track, but due to its awe-inspiringly melodic chorus I think it might be even better. Just when I go and start thinking of all sorts of asinine proclamations of Boyce's greatness, they go and follow up two perfect songs with a pretty awful cover ("My Thing" penned by one S. Robinson. The name rings a bell but I can't recall the band…whatever, this song blows) that had me wondering if I was perhaps jumping the gun a bit. Luckily, the next tune, another self-penned number, allayed that fear, as it is a perfectly acceptable power pop song boasting a nice chorus and guitar part. If this were a two-song single featuring the first two tunes I'd be calling this the single of the year so far, but as it is this is still an indispensable release that contains two of the best power pop songs in recent memory. They just released a new single at the beginning of July, so once I get a copy I'll be sure to review that in a future column. In the meantime, be sure to pick this up if you're a fan of the Tweezers or great power pop in general.
(Reactor Records // www.geocities.jp/reactor.boyce/) [I highly recommend checking this website out, especially their staff profiles which, in addition to containing some examples of "engrish" at its best, are hilarious.]
The Climax "This Is Japan" 7"
I read some descriptions that called these guys power pop, yet to my dismay the title track is actually mid-tempo alterna-rock that brings to mind stuff like early U2 or whatever rather than the Plimsouls. That's not a good thing. The B-side, "No Reason Why" sounds a little more power pop than the A-side, but unfortunately it still lacks a good melody, let alone guts. The Climax is proof positive that not all Japanese "power pop" bands are a safe bet anymore. "This Is Japan?" More like, "This Is A Waste Of Seven Bucks."
(Neo Romantic Records)
126.96.36.199's "Pretty Lilly Can Dance No More" 7",br>
This is an older single by everyone's favorite UK chart-toppers, that for some reason I forgot to review in the premier edition of this column. Not sure why, cause this is fucking aces. The title track is an awesome mid-tempo rocker with great melody and even better backing vocals. Following this up is a shit-hot Chuck Berry going 100mph in a hotrod tempo number called "Daddy Goes Out Jail" that's as sexy and rocking as anything they've done yet. Side-B starts things off a little slower with a song that sounds like a soul cover, which gives Ronnie a chance to really belt out the chorus. Lastly, we have a crazed instrumental freakout, which may or may not be a cover off of the Ventures "In Space" LP (not sure, since I've only heard it once). Absolutely fantastic single. Don't you dare miss them on their US tour with the Fevers this fall.
Frantic Stuffs "Break Loose" 7"
Since the front cover of this record prominently displays the words, "real punk rock" in the upper right hand corner, potential consumers can rest easy in the knowledge that the Frantic Stuffs aren't yet another Japanese power pop band. Turns out their take on "real punk rock" ends up sounding a lot like the early Gimmies playing songs by the early Intimate Fags (think their Rip Off single). By now you should know I think the Gimmies are one of the best bands on the planet, so that comparison is a total compliment. Both songs are winners, with the flip side, "Boring Town" standing out as the more imminently memorable of the two. Here's to hoping they are able to further break with convention in Japan these days and put out more than one release every two-three years! (A quick scan of the Base catalog during the editing of this column revealed that they've just released a second single entitled 'Crap Kidz.' Base recommends it and describes it as sounding "hard rock yet catchy." I'll let you know the score once I get it.)
(MFFM // firstname.lastname@example.org)
Guitar Wolf "Loverock" LP/CD
Most things we cling to in life are subject to change, that's why it's so refreshing to know that forty years from now an eighty five year old Seiji will be clad entirely in leather, downing Budweiser's in a single gulp, and playing tunes sporting titles like 'Midnight Blood Baby' and 'Jet Robot Zero' with all of the ear-splitting volume of a 747 upon takeoff. It's as sure as leaves changing colors at the beginning of fall, that for the rest of their lives Guitar Wolf will continue pumping out records with a handful of amazing tunes, some pretty good ones, and a few that aren't terribly impressive. The good news on their follow up to last years good but overproduced 'UFO Romantics' is that they've returned to the dirty production that brought them to the dance, and that there is a disproportionate number of great tunes this time around. Their best album? No, that will always be 'Jet Generation' as far as this reviewer is concerned, but 'Loverock' is still a great Guitar Wolf record.
(Narnack Records, www.narnakrecords.com)
The Outs "Hey Lil' Chicks" CDEP
Every once and awhile a record comes along that is so immediately incredible that it makes you go out of your mind after only one listen. This is that kind of record. It shouldn't come as much of a surprise, since the Outs were one of the best bands I saw when I lived in Japan, but despite my prior exposure, this EP still knocked me for a loop. Every time I saw the Outs they were a paint-stripping assault of raunchy 'Back From The Grave' riffs, sex-crazed beats, totally unhinged vocals, stylish matching black outfits, killer harmonica, and last but not least, frantic maracas. When the experience of seeing a band live is that pulse-poundingly primal it's often a crapshoot as to whether than can harness that energy in a studio. With this record the Outs have not only accomplished this as well as anyone, they've also made the loudest CD I've ever heard. The opening track, 'Stain' is my the most blistering aural ass kicking my ears have been subjected to this side of the Fatals. Not only is the production so in the red that this actually sounds louder than a live set, but on top of that these songs are packed to the brim with hooks and energy. From the preceding description it should be patently clear that this is my 'can't miss pick' for the month. The Outs are so excitingly raw and energetic that they make the Mystery Girls (who I like) sound like Blueshammer in comparison.
(Deckrec // www.teehead.com/theouts/ )
Pram Bath "Do You Remember…Demo?" CDR
As the above title would suggest, this is a demo CDR that only contains two (!) songs, neither or which, oddly enough, is titled "Do You Remember." Of course this should have been on vinyl, but hey, times change, vinyl prices skyrocket, and you adapt. To make up for the lameness of format, the packaging of this is awesome. Both songs are fairly swell girly power pop, with "The World of Endless Refined Sounds" standing out as the more memorable of the two. Limited edition and all of that jazz, but I wouldn't advise picking this up unless you're nuts for their earlier material, since a) this isn't as good, and b) these songs will likely end up on their next album, which will likely run you over twenty bucks.
(Pram Bath // www.kh.rim.or.jp/~uu-mike/pb/prambath.html damn…that's a hell of an ugly web address.)
Supporters and Psychotic Reaction "Dig the Foundations" CDEP
I reviewed seven inches by both of these bands the last time I wrote about Japanese bands in this column, with the Supporters brand of British mod revival influenced power pop receiving a positive, if somewhat lukewarm, review and Psychotic Reaction garnering strong praise for their mix of pop and p-rock that made me think Pointed Sticks on the A-side and 16 Wires on the flip. This time around the roles are reversed, as the Supporters songs on here go down a storm but some of Psychotic Reaction's leave a little to be desired, namely balls. Their half of this disc starts off just fine, with the punchy-pop, upbeat organ, and surprise female vocals of "Sour Grapes," a song that is reminiscent of their material on their Mangrove single and songs on the 'No License' comp. After that, however, things get into some shaky territory with the slower ballad, "Red Shoes." Actually as a stand-alone song, this tune might be good enough, but when followed up by the absolutely limp 'Childhood Lust' it adds up to almost four and a half minutes of pure wuss that really takes the wind out of my sails. Luckily their last song on here is another faster, punk-temped pop number, but the fact that it's a cover has me a little worried. I was pegging these guys as one of the better Japanese bands that have yet to record an album, but the presence of these two wimpy ballads has me wondering if they have a great album in 'em. Lets put it this way: baring the accented vocals, if I happened to hear 'Childhood Lust' in the waiting room of a dentist's office, I wouldn't be in the least bit shocked. That's a shining example of the wrong kind of pop. I really like everything else I've heard by them so I'm not giving up hope yet. Just stay away from the slow stuff next time guys.
The Supporters songs are all great up-tempo mod-pop that remind me of a bit of early First Alert. Just as I suspected last time, they've grown into their own unique sound and don't sound at all blah anymore. Their three original songs are loaded with hooks, personality, and most importantly, heart. It's hard to pick a favorite among their three originals, but my favorite is probably 'Stay to the Last Time' with a great chorus that immediately brings to mind 'Cast of Thousands' by the Boys. The wonderful organ line doesn't hurt at all either. Rounding things out is a cover of the folk-rock anthem 'If I Had a Hammer' that, thanks in no small part to some well-placed handclaps and the aforementioned organ, to my great surprise doesn't suck at all. Despite the one weak Psychotic Reaction tune, this CD is recommended for their good ones and the Supporters' side.
(Hard Core Kitchen // www.1.neweb.ne.jp/wb/hxcxk/home.html)
The Vickers "Stab Your Back" CDEP
Much like the Frantic Stuffs, the first thing I thought when I heard the Vickers was "Gimmies Jr." My favorite Hokkaido transplants appear to have had a rather significant influence on the Vickers, which is fine by me. These guys come at things from more of a rock traditionalist Heartbreakers/MC5 angle than a Raw Records/KBD approach, which sounds rather refreshing in an era where so many bands seem to be trying to imbue their sound with unwarranted 'originality' via superfluous post punk flourishes. The Vickers are definitely an " action rawk" band, which can be either embarrassing or great. Luckily, thanks in no small part to their youthful exuberance and tunefulness, in this case it's the latter. If I'm not mistaken this is only a hint of how good they'll get over time. They must be a great time live as well. I hope they can stay together until I go back to Japan!
Water Closet/Registrators split CDEP
Odd combination of bands/labels here. First there is Water Closet, who I've never heard before but always kind of gathered was a punkrock (one word) sort of band, putting out a record with the Registrators, a punk-power-pop band (mostly power pop of late) that's ups and downs have been more than adequately documented in these pages and others. Add to that the fact that these two bands are releasing a record on the Japanese version of Fat Wreck Chords, Pizza of Death Records, and we've got a slight anomaly on our hands. Another thing that's a bit surprising about this record is that Water Closet sound nothing like I remember them being described to me. I can hear some definite orthodox-pop punk influence (Discount might be a point of reference here if I could remember what that band sounds like), but there is also an obvious (wait for it…) power pop bent as well. Despite not usually being much of a fan of orthodox-pop punk, I'm really digging Water Closet. My favorite tune, "One Reason To Live A Day" is a perfect example of how Water Closet mixes these two disparate genres. For the majority of the song it sounds like the A's covering something off of the first Mooney Suzuki album (a good thing), but the chorus sounds like what I imagine bands on No Idea records chorus' sound like. Water Closet ain't within the "garage" family, but don't let that scare you away. This is good stuff.
As for the Registrators…well, where can I even start? I guess, first of all I should say that the Registrators circa the mid-late nineties is one of my favorite bands of all time and that I was looking forward to seeing them live more than I'd ever anticipated seeing a band before. I thought that seeing the Registrators, the band that recorded two of the best albums of all time, would be a transcendent rock moment that would stand among the greatest things I'd ever experience. Then I actually saw them live and they were horrible. It seemed almost criminal for the band that recorded 'Pogo Machine' and 'She's So Vibration' to be so bereft of energy and passion. If pressed to describe my feeling at that moment, it was kind of like being a huge Ramones fan but only getting to see them for the first time on the 'Halfway to Sanity' tour: it was obvious that even if the band members were the same, this wasn't the genuine article. And keep in mind this is coming from someone who liked 'No Fantasy.' A lot. However, I'm not so sure I can defend these four songs as readily as I did 'No Fantasy.' To begin with, unlike their prior pop output, these four songs don't even have a passing relation to anything that could possibly be considered punk. Furthermore, these songs are so meandering and wimpy that they don't warrant the word "power" in front of "pop." "Limp pop" would be a far more accurate way to describe this. As if that wasn't bad enough, there are also so overt indie rock touches here that reek of a desperate attempt to pander to a wider audience. I'm really not sure what to make of this yet. On one hand Otsuki obviously knows how to write a pop melody, but on the other these songs are so wimpy that I'm hesitant to even call them rock n roll. One thing I know for sure: it's pretty sad to watch one of the greatest bands of all time fade out in a blaze of mediocrity like this.
(Pizza of Death Records // www.pizza-of-death-records.co.jp)
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