Not really fitting into any niche in the Tokyo indie and alternative scenes, and yet viewed with a guarded sort of respect by increasing numbers of their peers, as if trying to work out whether this is a band they are allowed to consider cool, or perhaps if this is a band they’ll soon be kicking themselves for not sucking up to, Anisakis are misfits. Surprisingly so when you consider how accessible and downright conventional most of the music on this debut album, Uzu, sounds when set against the sonic lunacy of so much Japanese underground music, yet there’s definitely something defiant and distinctly independent-minded about them, with a penchant for the grotesque, as evidenced by the album’s striking artwork (by Adam Taylor of UK artrockers The Victorian English Gentlemens Club).
Anisakis inspire intense love in a small coterie of (let’s be honest here, mostly female) fans, but what makes them such a potentially important and valuable band is their dedication to wedding this occasionally confrontational, certainly dark-edged, artistic sensibility to music that sits firmly in a zone that indie rock fans will be comfortable with. They offer something similar to (although still somewhat more experimental than) what British bands like The Cribs provide, but in a way that never once feels like imitation, drawing equally as much from Japanese rock and singer-songwriter traditions as it does from contemporary UK/US indie and postpunk — something that shows up on the quirky, XTC-ish Popcorn Batake ni Kuroi Kage and what might be the album highlight, penultimate track Air Jinsei.Anisakis: Haru no Shitai
The one and a half-minute Gohan sees the band messing around with fucked up guitars, but you feel Anisakis are most at home with themselves when they’re rocking ever so slightly off-kilter, yet all the while remaining safely moored to something almost like pop music, as on second track Catastrophe, and Natsu no Hizashi to Virtual Boy. Because at heart, vocalist Jungo isn’t an avant-garde musician, he’s a balladeer in the 70s tradition, with the music a delivery vehicle for his oddball narratives. It shows up most in songs like Komori, where the music slows down and the beat loosens up enough to let his voice ramble over the top of it, but it manifests itself in a different way on the following track, Chodii Isu, where against the driving bassline and insistent beat, he comes across like a Japanese version of the world-weary storyteller Julian Casablancas plays on the first Strokes album.
I always feel it’s a bit cheesy when a punk band brings out the big, emotional ballad at the end of a set, and the same goes with this album’s closer Seoyogi no Senshu, although with Anisakis, you get the impression that the emotional rather than physical, dance-oriented electricity of the music is where the band see their main power as being, and so it fits that they would seek to climax on an emotional high rather than on a spasm of jerky nihilism. Still, if they were going to insist on that approach, the brooding Kaigandori o Aruku Hanashi with its explosive bursts of screeching might have sent the album out on more of a bang. Nevertheless, Uzu sees Anisakis defiantly announcing their occupation of a territory in the Japanese music scene that surprisingly few bands have tried for and which it’s hard to imagine many claiming so successfully.