Rather than being focused on a particular scene, this forthcoming (September release) compilation, featuring artists from London to Japan via Italy, is more a statement of intent by Japanese noise-pop duo Umez: an announcement that primarily consists of, “So this is what we like, yeah?”
And on the basis of this collection of tracks, what Umez like seems to be a kind of ultra-lo-fi indie-noise sketchbook, often characterised by a kind of childlike nature that ranges from the stripped-down, whisper-voiced nostalgic jazz-pop whimsy of Teta Mona via the stupid-clever Fall/Half Man Half Biscuit/Art Brut nonsense-punk of Dog Chocolate to the angry, throwing-the-toys-out-of-the-pram, machine noise tantrum of Nananova.
Umez’ own track, the opening Rainbow, balances the noise and pop elements most finely and really forms the pivot on which the compilation is balanced, its looping garage-pop riff and distant, 4AD-esque vocals interrupted first by a perky synth solo and then by an unexpected interlude that sounds like a kind of electronic didgeridoo. Joey Fourr’s Play With Yrself pulls off a similar balance, marrying scratchy lo-fi garage pop production to a sweet melody, seemingly heavily indebted to the Pixies’ Velouria, albeit delivered with more of an air of bedroom-punk insouciance.
International Pop Underground Sounds (Sickness of a Fourteen Year Old Girl ) Vol.1 seems to delight in tossing the listener back and forth between extremes, with the aforementioned Nananova giving way to Taigen Kawabe, here eschewing the heavy psychedelia of his usual band Bo Ningen in favour of a kind of synth-based nursery rhyme pop that is perhaps a new expression of his well-known fixation on Japanese idol music, before lurching right back into the fierce scum noise of Brutes’ uncompromising Tear Jerk.
The closest thing to an ordinary pop-rock song on the album is Kobe band Stereo Future’s Eight-Beat Daydream and it comes as a relief after the chaotic pinball game of the first part of the album. It’s immediately followed by the more subtly disorientating Bastard Sword’s Open Up Your Heart, whose autotuned vocals give the otherwise mid-paced grind of the song the disconcerting air of a laid-back electro track, rather like those occasions (United, Hot on the Heels of Love) when Throbbing Gristle tried to pretend they were ordinary dance producers.
This unwillingness to ever let the listener settle down continues right to the end with Bakakuri gradually destroying a series of ambient chimes with walls of noise and feedback, followed by the looping, music box melody of Grimm Grimm’s Kazega Fuitara Sayonara with its vocals sounding distant amid the fuzzy guitar and lo-fi production, the simple, almost naive clockwork percussion mixed just a little too high, giving it a curiously mechanical forward momentum. Sgt’s untitled closing track then throws the whole album off in another direction with its technically accomplished instrumental postrock/prog delivered with dazzling intensity. The violin that wails through the music brings to mind instant comparisons with Rovo, but Sgt exhibit less of Rovo’s expansive spacerock tendencies, keeping the listener earthbound with off-kilter, jazz-influenced rhythms that disrupt your takeoff every time the music seems about to finally launch you skyward — in this aspect at least, embodying something of International Pop Underground Sounds (Sickness of a Fourteen Year Old Girl ) Vol.1’s own peculiar Janus-like tendencies.
So the album is a wild ride, with the European and Japanese acts sitting side by side with nary a crack between them even as they strive to rip each other, the album, and the unwitting listener’s brain apart. In the end, what all bands share is a playful creative imagination that helps link together the jumble of eclectic musical ideas into this thrilling whole.