One of the best things you can be as an indie band in Japan right now is an instrumental postrock or math rock band, preferably with complicated drumming, highly technical guitars and a strong jazz influence. Groups like Toe, Lite, Mouse on the Keys are pretty much the only type of band that can cross over from the underground scene into playing the big summer festivals like Fuji Rock.
Which brings us to Fukuoka four-piece Macmanaman. They made their debut appearance at Fuji Rock on the “Rookie A Go-Go” new bands stage in the summer of 2012, just in time for the release of Drugorbaseball, and in many ways they are an ideal band to step up to the next level. They have all the elements in place: technical, atmospheric guitars, astonishingly tight rhythm section, and songs formed into sprawling, expansive soundscapes that on this album range from the ten-minute Michael to the near sixteen minute Ase Ken.
And yet one suspects that they might not do it because not to put too fine a point on it, they’re just a bit too good. There’s a rawness and a fierce, often destructive punk energy to their music and their performances that flips a snotty bird at the more slick, sophisticated polish that seems to be a prerequisite for bands like this to succeed, which is perhaps inevitable given that drummer Setoguchi moonlights for hardcore noiseniks Snarekills. And despite the undoubted technical prowess of all members (and despite the fact that the production on this record inevitably misses some of the immensity of their live performances), it’s Setoguchi’s wild, flailing, intense drumming that drives everything on this album. You can practically smell the sweat and the alcohol by the end of the violent, hedonistic fifteen-minute freakout of Guruguru Chop Guruguru, and it leaves you exhausted.
And like Natsumen (of whom Macmanaman are obviously big fans), they do all this without ever seeming to miss a beat, the energy and raw power flooding out of the speakers unrepressed, unpolished and rarely letting up, while at the same time keeping the most complicated rhythms seemingly metronomically precise. They may come across as too much of a garage band to ever be allowed into the more refined and rarified world of fringe-mainstream rock respectability, but Macmanaman should at least carve a niche for themselves among those looking for technical thrills you can get drunk to.
(Full disclosure: A live take of the song Michael also appeared on my own label Call And Response Records’ 2012 “Dancing After 1AM” compilation album.)