If Hangaku had appeared ten years ago, they would probably have been one of the hottest new underground bands in Japan, and on this self-titled, self-released CD they channel a lot of the same playful, ultra-lo-fi, shrieking, call-and-response scuzzwave that propelled the likes of Afrirampo and Limited Express (Has Gone?) into the fringes of international indie notoriety in 2005. Through his work with another discordant underground duo 2up (pronounced “up-up”) Hangaku percussionist Tetsunori has been operating in related territory for over a decade now, but while 2up have gradually evolved into thundering riffmonsters, the almost entirely synth-based Hangaku joins his punk sensibility with co-vocalist Aoi (from Aoi Swimming)’s penchant for mischievous synth-oddity in a way that harks back to early 80s avant-garde artists like Phew and even bits of P-Model at their most experimental (think Potpourri/Perspective era), and their British and American equivalents.
On Patrol, the vocals come on like an angry religious chant, while on Kamonohashi they wail like something out of Noh theatre over chirpy synths before giving way to a rollicking chorus that might have been from a pop song once, before it discovered Jack Daniels and heroin. And for all its confrontational attitude, you’re left with the sense that Hangaku really just want to show you a good time. The beats may occasionally dissolve into incoherent clatter, as they continually do on Suna to Ana, but they spend far more time propelling the songs forward with dedicated punk rock momentum or patchwork no wave disco pep. In the current indie landscape of Very Serious prog-jazz bands, quirky artists slyly making eyes at idol music, and washed-out bedroom production, Hangaku’s defiantly 80s art-junk sounds curiously out of place, and is all the more refreshing and necessary for that.