Fancy Num Num, despite having a band name that sounds like the pinnacle of idol cutesyness, are actually something far richer and more musically satisfying. Starting in 2007, their self-released 2009 debut CD/R, Meikyo to Shite no Sekai, was a scuzzy, drum machine-driven take on Showa era rock’n’roll, but in the three years that elapsed between that and 2012’s No Now, the group evolved into something far more sophisticated.
It opens with On Fog, an ambient, krautrock-influenced, electronic-led instrumental (think Dieter Moebius/Roedelius/etc.), while Telephone Song packs in a sharper-edged, almost Talking Heads-like vibe. There are moments too, particularly on the more synth-led tracks, that are reminiscent of Air, and thanks to the reliance on relentless, rolling electronic beats, there’s a sense of implacable, slowly advancing menace that runs through many of the songs.
There’s sweetness to go with the encroaching dark, however, and Fancy Num Num also retain their tendency towards 1970s Showa Pop and kayoukyoku-esque melodies. Aoi Siam Neko is case in point, and Marino no Yoake combines elements of 80s synth-pop and some intense, expansive prog rock guitar soloing with a tune that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on an early-70s Chiyo Okumura record. Shinkai Uchu-ron has a similarly classic feel to the melody, sounding simultaneously catchy and upbeat as well as brooding and melancholy, while Tajigen no Gake Kara takes a melody that recalls some of the more complex and emotionally mature later material of Momoe Yamaguchi and turns it into something a bit more subtly funky.
Throughout No Now, Fancy Num Num’s secret weapon is guitarist Tomoyo Nishida. Even when soloing wildly, she never takes over the song completely, drifting in and out of the band’s repetitive machine rhythms while at the same time contributing in an understated but imaginative way to the music’s texture and overall sleepy-yet-tense atmosphere. Hitomi Harada’s bass wanders along inside the beats, spinning more minimalist lines, while Misa Haijima’s vocals are pitched immaculately at the intersection between despair, portent and lassitude. All these attributes come together on the closing, title track, the song building ominously in fits and starts for nine minutes before ultimately resolving itself into something rather pretty after all.