Before I begin this review, I think I ought to make one thing clear: I dislike Toe. They represent a kind of music that I find boring and something about the music scene in Japan generally that I find annoying: something that values technique over spontaneity, professionalism over energy, earnestness over fun. They’re a band with a very large following both at home and overseas, and I shan’t dispute that they’re good at what they do, whatever that is, but as a kind of model band for contemporary Japanese post-rock they’re poster boys for a sort of po-faced, noodling tedium: give me an indiscriminate number of teenage girls hopping around to some half-assed pop chorus any day if this kind of thing is the alternative.Manga-gao (live at Fukuoka Utero)
Fortunately for me they aren’t the only alternative, because there is also Macmanaman, a quartet whose fifteen-minute instrumental guitar symphonies are delivered with all the immediacy and raw, fuck-you power of a hardcore band while retaining the virtuosity and complexity of the very best their post-rock contemporaries can offer. Those Toe fans who have made it as far as this second paragraph might be screaming inwardly that yes they do too have passion and energy, but not like this they don’t. If post-rock is prog for the modern era, Macmanaman are the genre’s bad boys: its Amon Düül II, its Hawkwind, constantly threatening to tilt over the edge into full-on Motörhead. Macmanaman are the savage underbelly that reveals the barbarian heart beating within even the most rarefied, cultivated gardens of rock, the tiger in the soup of even the most convoluted metaphor.Michael (live at Fukuoka Utero)
And live is where Macmanaman show their true colours – where their peacock feathers extend most proudly and majestically. 2012’s Drugorbaseball was a fine album and made my picks for that year, but the hour-long live set contained in Drunkendesignatedhitter is a rougher, rawer, but more honest and more powerful document of the band’s virtues. Of course the A or B choice I’ve set this up as between Macmanaman and Toe is a false binary and there are people who will like both (and in any case, Natsumen are a closer match to the band’s own ambitions), but it is still a worthwhile comparison to make, providing a lens that illuminates how Macmanaman are, if not necessarily better, at least in possession of a distinctive quality of their own relative to the genre’s main Japanese standard-bearers. And let’s face it, they’re better.