One of the best things about Lihappiness is the way that he takes musical influences that fashion dictates should be processed and served back in a certain way, and uses them as the starting point for something utterly unique in the Japanese music scene.
Opening with One Sequence, like Cluster sped up to a breakneck industrial clatter, Shiyo leads straight into the high-speed new wave funk of the Pigbag-esque Coba, then into the dubbed-out hip hop-via-Kraftwerk of Walk & Scratch. If you’re the sort of person who finds the idea of a new wave geek in a bedroom somewhere in Kanagawa adding breakbeats to krautrock and rapping confusingly over it inherently appealing, I probably don’t need to do much more to sell this album to you. That would do this album a disservice, though: it’s good entirely on its own merits.
While the songs are by and large content to rattle along at their own pace and then stop, Shiyo is nonetheless overflowing with ideas that present themselves according to a logic that makes sense only after spending some time with the album. Until that point, however, Lihappiness ensures the confusion is at least an entertaining one, filling it with hooks and an insistent, forward momentum that’s infectious in its enthusiasm. Sanka Beat and Yang Acid both conceal legitimately wonderful pop songs somewhere inside them.
Taken as a whole with his broader body of work, it feels like Lihappiness is engaged here in an ambitious project to go back to the original source material and reconstruct techno from the ground up in his own peculiar way. On the evidence of Shiyo, Lihappiness is taking it to some exciting places.
Filed under Albums, Reviews
Part of the work of this blog and my writing about Japanese music in general involves mapping out the network of scenes and sub-scenes, navigating the internal politics and threads of musical and cultural influence, and even when I then dismiss or disregard them, understanding the vagaries and shifting trends of musical fashion – all in the service of putting the music I cover into some sort of context. These scenes can be hotbeds of cool ideas, and getting to grips with them can open up doors into whole fresh pools of talented artists and new sounds; however, there are rarely more than a handful of genuinely interesting people at work in any scene, and the deeper you dig, the more you tend to find the same ideas played out to diminishing returns.
It’s always a delight then when someone like bedroom producer Lihappiness, with apparently no regard to where it fits in, can up with something like this relentless assault of lo-fi techno, drawing heavily from Japanese new wave acts like P-Model and the pioneering electronic pop of Kraftwerk, and even the postpunk-influenced epic rock of early Simple Minds and moulding them together in such a distinctive way. This is the kind of music you play to other people in the music scene and they sort of get that it’s good, but they’re also wary of it. It doesn’t fit the template, and the way it fearlessly and obliviously blows through any accepted contemporary notions of cool makes it a difficult sell.
After the instrumental intro, A.K.A. Virtue sets the tone with its flurry of beats, atonal non-singing, growling bass and laser zapping breakdown, and this remains a thread that the album returns to climactically later on in Tetto. Meanwhile Fun Fun Fun is an 80s pop song gone horribly wrong, and the first in a trio of tracks that all showcase a pop sensibility with varying degrees of wonkiness. The closing B.P. 2 is a murky house track with its ambient, ethereal synth lines underscored with a sort of babbling robotic evil in the vocals, all driven forward by the insistent beat and wobbling bass throb. 2nd Pattern is an album that tries to do so many things, and if successful means creating a completely unique character of its own from them, then it is a resounding success.
Filed under Albums, Reviews
Lihappiness is a bedroom-based solo project, but unlike most such units you find these days in Japan, it’s not one obsessed by woozy indietronica and dreampop. Instead, Lihappiness draws from a point in 1980s new wave that hangs between outright pop ambition and utter derangement. This isn’t new wave repurposed as a fashion vehicle and nor does it follow the contemporary Japanese trend of repackaging new wave as simpering idol-ready comedy cabaret: this is art pop in the grand tradition of The Passage, Jun Togawa, Andreas Dorau and Potpourri/Perspective era P-Model, with Vinyl Puppet sounding like a long-lost Kraftwerk demo from around Computer World, Yurameite Iku coming over like early Simple Minds in its combination of stadium ambition and overbearing, histrionic delivery and A.K.A. Virtue running Susumu Hirasawa through a meat grinder.
2nd Pattern is also a big move on from similarly self-produced and even more lo-fi debut Drums & Lihappiness (that’s an XTC reference right there), with the production much clearer and the clatter of sounds that Lihappiness bombards you with more clearly defined. It’s also a step onwards in the songwriting, with more melodic variation, a more ambitious rhythmical palette and generally what feels like more confidence in the way the album swings from the rather sweet Mada to the almost industrial Tetto to the minimal, sequencer loop-based NDW-techno B.P. 2.
Anyone who knows me well will know that this is an album that pushes all my buttons and appeals to all my prejudices, but even bearing that in mind, it’s an impressive work from a developing talent, and it’s one of the things I’ve heard this year that has made me smile more than almost anything else.
Filed under Albums, Reviews
Connect And Receive is a series of monthly Japanese indie music podcasts I’ve been making since the summer. I skipped last month because I was too busy with various bands’ tours but I’ve made the December one into a sort of end-of-year review focussing on some of my favourite bands and releases of the year, as well as a couple of things from previous years that I either only discovered recently or came back to in a big way this year. Anyway, here’s the pod:
CONNECT AND RECEIVE, DECEMBER 2011
And here’s the track list:
1. cynicalsmileisyourfavorite: Crazy Disco (self-released 2011 CD/R)
2. Kobayashi Dorori: Pickles (Yarukoto Yattara Kaette yo, 2011)
3. Hakoiri Kibun: Hakuchuu Sosou (Fudoutoku Pops Kouza, 2010)
4. Bossston Cruizing Mania: Low Down (Loaded Lowdead Rawdead, 2011)
5. Extruders: Vertical Point (Neuter, 2007)
6. Lihappiness: Eikoku ni Tsutawaru Dance (Drums & Lihappiness, 2011)
7. Hysteric Picnic: Persona (Hysteric Picnic EP, 2011)
8. She Talks Silence: Dead Romance (Some Small Gifts, 2011)
9. Uhnellys: Subliminal Orchestra (To Too Two, 2011)
10. Mothercoat: No Music Yes Life (Egobag, 2011)
11. Sloppy Joe: Still Be a Little Roof (With Kisses Four, 2011)