Monday, October 29

Japanther Plays the Hits but Can't Stick - By Stu Romanek

Artist: Japanther
Skuffed up my Huffy

Comments: I'm going to be up front about this: I'm not a writer, and I don’t pretend to be. There was a point when I weighed it against other options, but as I sit here in a Starbucks across from a highway in beautiful Bensalem, I think I made the right choice. Something about the girls to my left yapping about the painfully corporate Starbucks artwork hanging on the walls makes me want to forget I agreed to do this. But as the warm fuzz of Japanther’s latest effort Skuffed Up My Huffy pushes them to the background, I press on.

There are a few things to note about me and Japanther that might make this article a little biased. First of all I’m a sucker for duos. Japanther is a two piece from Brooklyn relying on super fuzzy bass, spazzy tight drums, and what is probably a second hand Casiotone. Oh, did I mention both members sing through telephone receivers? On paper I was already in love with the band, but I’m a man who’s had his heart broken before. Would Japanther squander the perfect DIY low-fi setup?

As the rapid fire bursts of dance punk chug through the headphones, I don’t really have a chance to consider it. Japather is busy playing a brand of low-fi pop punk that’s as toe tapping as it is smart. Coupled with the Wu Tang-style movie dialogue bits in the intro of almost every song, the band makes a musical aesthetic that’s sadly being forgotten in a time of all-too-serious indie rock. There is something about Ice Cube telling some "motherfucker" he "aint no criminal. He can read" is happily disarming as the drum driven "Cable Babies" kicks in. The song itself demonstrates Japanther’s ability to take the stripped down instruments and influences that often result in abrasive noise rock (think DFA1979, Lightning Bolt) and turn it into a fuzzy, saccharin sweet pop tune. ‘One Hundred Dollars’ mixes up tape loops of the band messing around over-top hip hop bass beats and miscellaneous scratch samples only to revert, jarringly, back to the drum and bass chug they’re known for. Their ability to keep the listener on their toes works well for the track but falls flat in tracks like "Vagabond" and "Tender People."

So by now you might be thinking “I’m totally stealing this album!” or “Hey Stu, how about not writing anymore reviews, okay?” and that’s all well and good, but there’s always a catch. Japanther’s is that they don’t lay down roots. Almost every song would fit on a party playlist or a mix cd, but Japanther would still be that band you only have a handful of tracks of on your iPod. None of the tracks really make you yell, “This is fucking awesome!” except for the first one you heard.

In terms of an album, Skuffed Up isn’t one. The band’s website calls the album ’13 new songs’ and a more fitting description, it could not be. Go ahead, mix up the order, play it backwards; it doesn’t matter. In fact, by the time you figured out the track list was wrong the album would be over and you’d already be looking up the band’s tour schedule. Continuity aside, Skuffed Up makes your remember a time when you didn't have to pour over music for hours on end to decide if you really like it or not. From start to finish this half hour long gem will keep your head bobbing and your mind wondering who the hell in this age would dare to make something so simple and have it seem so fresh? Go ahead, impress your friends by slipping some of this into rotation and remind them music is fun again. Just don't expect to find in on their a few months down the road.

Mix CD tracks: River Phoenix, Challenge, One Hundred Dollars

- by Stu Romanek


The Dose said...

nate as a fellow blogger, journalism student, and brother of your drummer i would like to request to contribute to the site

The Dose said...

how bout the new one from days away , ear candy for headphone trippers. I haven't listened to it yet and I figure I shouldnt review an album I already like considering that would be pretty biased. Or you can give one to listen to whatever works.