Emerging out of Kyoto in the early 2000s, Limited Express (Has Gone?) were among the prime movers of the Kansai “zero generation” of explosive, trashed-up junk punk bands centred around them and Osaka-based bands like Afrirampo, Zuinosin and Oshiripenpenz. They were also part of an environment specific to Kyoto where the legacy of the city’s big late ‘90s export Quruli hung over the city, generating perhaps unrealistic expectations of the sort of mainstream access bands coming up at that time could expect to achieve.
Listening back on the sort of music Limited Express (Has Gone?) were making at that time, it seems in sane that they could have had any hope of making it big in a rock mainstream where Asian Kung-Fu Generation counts as edgy, but throughout albums like 2005’s Makes You Dance, the way the band are constantly grasping for big pop hooks is key to the tension with their trashier, noisier instincts that gave the album such vitality. After moving to Tokyo, Limited Express (Has Gone?) seemed to retreat from their pop ambitions, settling into a relationship with the punkish Less Than TV label and stripping their music down to a combination of rhythmical dynamics, coarse guitar textures and Yukari’s shrieking vocal gymnastics.
With All Ages, none of that has changed, but there are hints that the band might be finding their way cautiously back into pop via the back door, not so much compromising their confrontational sonic dynamics as refining them into raucous, infectious party music entirely on their own terms. Gya Gya Sawage barrels forward in a way fans of Melt-Banana will find instantly recognisable but Looking For Inspiration comes at you with a no wave dance-punk groove and wailing sax (courtesy of Ryota Komuro of Miila & The Geeks) and even the odd bit of melody. Neither of these songs is pop, but they’re both ruthless in their dedication to the noble cause of what works.
There are echoes of newer bands like Otori in the increasingly sleek postpunk grooves the band seem to be pushing, which also highlights the way the not-quite-rapping Yukari scats here over tracks like Good Night Kids and the opening No Mean may have influenced the delivery of bands like Otori themselves. Whatever the flow of ideas, this perhaps speaks to Limited Express (Has Gone?)’s ability to integrate and adapt into the Tokyo underground scene without ever seeming to really change, as well as the subtle impact they themselves have had on their adopted home.
The most important thing about All Ages, however, is how unforced and immediate the sense of fun that permeates the album is. It ricochets from one idea to the next with irrepressible energy, taking in eleven songs in comfortably under thirty minutes. The music may be complex and disdainful of easy musical conventions, but it’s nevertheless music a child could enjoy, which maybe points towards a possible future for all of us hoping for an alternative to J-Pop homogeneity — if pop music won’t have us, why not just make our own?