This is part of a series of posts talking about music I’ve released through my own Call And Response label. I explain in a bit more detail here.
While Hyacca are I think without doubt one of the most magnificent bands in Japan, I don’t think they could ever easily be accused of being particularly hard working. The two year gap between their first and second mini-albums is more or less standard for bands in the Japanese indie/underground scene, but it was actually three years since they first completed the record.
In any case, the truth is that a live culture that’s based around 30-minute live sets with usually four other bands on the bill doesn’t really encourage bands to develop their material beyond that level. Songs grow slowly out of messing around in the studio rather than bands really getting down and writing new material out of necessity. It does mean, however, that when the new material does arrive, it’s often very well developed and has been road tested live pretty extensively.
Hyacca’s second album, Hanazono, was in all areas a honing and tightening up of what they were doing on Sashitai. The rhythm section was much tighter and incorporated much more complex patterns, but never at the expense of the music’s energy. 34 Dance opens with the scratchy, metallic reverb of Hiromi Kajiwara’s guitar, a sound that she increasingly incorporated into her playing not just with Hyacca but also in a very different way into her work with new wave art-pop trio Miu Mau. It’s a fierce, forceful opening with rhythms that don’t like to stay in one place but still propel the song forward relentlessly. Olympic brings Goshima’s vocals to the fore and again it rattles forward full of kinetic energy, this time the guitars dissolving into shoegaze-like feedback. The more complex rhythms come to the fore in Aflac and Hair Nude (a different version of which had trailed ahead of the album on the compilation album 14 New Rips. Charlie, a nonsensical tribute to the band’s weird friend from the band Bonkura Togen, sees Kajiwara’s vocals channeling the quirky new wave pop jitteriness of the Plastics, albeit against a more sonically abrasive background. Goshima’s Ya su ku ni, which appears to have as much to do with the controversial war shrine as Aflac does to the duck-loving insurance company, is the album’s one real stab at a proper soaring epic rock song and it goes for it with all effects pedals blazing. It’s the frenetic closing duo of Hanazono and Stress that really drag you back to Hyacca’s core essence, the former forming the madcap, crowdsurfing finale of many of their live performances and the latter split into a first half that’s built around a simple, cyclical melody interspersed with Harajiri’s death-screams and funk bass, and a second half that’s just pure, two-chord postpunk dugga-dugga-dugga disco with a distinctively Wire-esque cold stop at the end.Hyacca: Hanazono
Whereas Sashitai veered wildly between pop and discord, Hanazono integrates the two strands more into the fabric of each song, relying on the group’s growing musicianship to effect changes in tone, pace and texture. It’s tempting for me to suggest that the experience working on Call And Response’s Wire covers album helped focus them on ways of making punk interesting without losing its accessibility, although really Hyacca were doing that from the start, a long time before any of them had heard of Wire. Still, I think Hanazono has a bit more of Wire’s strident, brash affection for the brutal joy of a hard edge.Hyacca: Charlie
Hanazono also seems to mark a shift in the band’s behaviour, with some of the shows building up to and around its release quite the most violent and chaotic of their career. One gig at Meguro Rokumeikan, a converted cinema more used to visual-kei bands, was probably the most insane performance of their career, with Kajiwara smashing the headstock off her guitar within the first two songs, then spending the rest of the gig hurling herself off the stage at the terrified, sitting audience, bodyboarding across it and dancing on its smoking remains. The picture of a broken Flying V that this blog uses as its profile image was taken just after that show. Gradually after that, however, Hyacca started tightening up their performances and focussing their energy into their music more. Perhaps the more technical nature of the music forced them to concentrate a bit more, perhaps the novelty of playing in Tokyo wore off (being from Fukuoka, they tended to treat Tokyo trips in much the same way American college students treat Spring Break) or they may just have grown up a bit. In any case, they didn’t become any less totally wired, but they would more often finish gigs with all their instruments still in working order.