Panicsmile reached a point towards the end of their previous lineup where their sound had become so finely honed, so technically refined that their anything-but-rock sensibility was in danger of getting stuck at the end of a route they had by now fully explored. Some time away, a new lineup and a re-connection with rock’n’roll seems to have cleared Hajime Yoshida’s head, because Panicsmile’s kinda-sorta comeback album sees the retooled band joyfully ripping rock music apart once more like the postpunk Beefheart they really are.
Throughout most of the album, the band shun anything resembling a simple rhythm, preferring to chop and change from one moment to the next, keeping the listener on the back foot even when the song taunts you with something like a melody. It makes Nuclear Power Days sound like Television unspooling through a broken tape recorder, but it also makes the final minute of closing track Cider Girl all the more of an ironic pleasure when the fractured elements of the music finally come together in a sort of krautrock Beach Boys outro.Nuclear Power Days, live at Akihabara Club Goodman
The album cover tells us that, “we live in the basis of informed consent”, a point of broad ongoing relevance as the government and nuclear industry in Japan continue to collude in ensuring the public are as uninformed and unable to give meaningful consent as possible. References to nuclear paranoia dot the album, but Yoshida’s point is wider: you should never have to say, “If only I’d known that!” – you should make sure you know.
In a musical generation that seems to find it harder and harder to really say anything through their music beyond a sort of meta-commentary on the music or performance itself, it’s telling that it takes comparative veterans like Panicsmile to personalise the big picture like this. That they do it with such sustained invention, such musical intelligence and such renewed energy consolidates that satisfaction and makes it an outright joy.