Sneaking in right at the beginning of the year but still retaining its ability to thrill twelve months later, synth-junk duo Hangaku’s ferocious collision of quirky, new wave-influenced pop and outright sonic terror is in all the best possible ways a welcome throwback to the fucked-up sounds of early 80s postpunk pioneers like Phew and more recently the minor flurry of early-2000s noiseniks like Afrirampo. It’s all wilfully trashy, cheap and throwaway, with the drums and percussion deployed more to confuse and disorientate than out of any real function of keeping a rhythm that is only very vaguely defined to begin with. B vs A no Shihei perhaps best exemplifies this anarchic attitude, with the drums acting as a sort of clattering punctuation to a structure that the duo seem to define whimsically in the moment.
Uma to Crawl and Suna no Ana use the drums more conventionally, although with no greater precision, and commit their acts of sonic violence through the synths which hover on the edge between arty discord and bubblegum pop irritation in their shrieking insistence. Kamonohashi is perhaps the most fully-realised track on this mini-album, containing its most obviously pop moments as well as its most disturbing Suicide-on-a-merry-go-round drone’n’moan backdrop, the rush of electricity that pulses through what might be its chorus, and the sudden detour it takes into mindless nonsense chanting just before the end. It’s a song, and an album, that refuses to meet you even halfway, but it’s packed with trashy treasure nonetheless, and having a hell of a party on its own without you.
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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.
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