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Half Japanese - Why Not?

  by Erick Mertz

published: 26 / 3 / 2018

Half Japanese - Why Not?
Label: Fire Records
Format: CD


Discordant and disjointed but compelling latest album from American art rock duo Half Japanese which, e

The awe shucks, cute view of Half Japanese’s outsider art punk feels like a careless assessment to me. Listen closely. Jad Fair is dealing with heavy shit, whether or not it’s a monster with sticky bat wings, or the monstrously wicked trappings of modern relationships, after forty plus years, the curtain has yet to go up on the freak show. On their latest record, 'Why Not?' Half Japanese feel like a band playing off their fans for a change, which is an unexpectedly cool development. Jad Fair and company call back to bands like Neutral Milk Hotel and Daniel Johnson in time, borrowing song ideas from a generation that owes them the world. This album, while still raw by most rock standards, is fairly polished, the production extracting a few wondrous moments. In true Half Japanese tradition, most of their songs are either love or monster songs. Take your pick because lyrically, there is hardly a middle line down their road. Jad Fair mixes genres, as usual, trying his hand at hard rock on 'Demons Of Doom' and a more warm and broken indie rock feeling on “A Word to the Wise” which repeats, over and over, “in a world gone wrong/watch out”. The band’s central character is, once again, none other than Jad Fair and his tingling vulnerability is always on the lookout for danger. Among my favourite tracks on 'Why Not?' are 'Spaceship to Mars', featuring spacey production, rattletrap percussion and stony, jam session guitars and 'Amazing' which bridges a familiar divide between magnetism and abrasiveness. I could listen to 'Zombie Island Massacre' over and over and not get tired of it, proof that Jad Fair, for all of his unconventional approaches to songs and songwriting has honed a savvy ear, leading to some of the better tracks in the Half Japanese catalogue. Lyrically, Fair’s content and talk/sing delivery are, as usual, an acquired taste. Even if you like the unabashedly vulnerable singing style and naïve content, Half Japanese can be wearying. On songs like 'Why’d They Do It?', where he asks the titular question and then trips a series of end rhymes before finishing with the same question, it’s a tiring refrain. Why’d they open the crypt? I don’t know. My frustration becomes a distraction from what I do like in the track, robust brass instruments and a spritely, tingling triangle. He pulls lyrical tricks on 'The Face' too, one of the better monster songs on the record, talking the travails of werewolves. The line, “you’ll regret what you did saw” while charming, will offend even the most lenient grammar cop. This track, however, is less about lyrics, leaning on a heart racing, Modern Lovers organ circa 'Road Runner'. When their 1980 'Half Gentlemen/Not Beasts' came out, this kind of spastic, anti-rock was unique. We’re a generation on and, even with influences worn, Half Japanese remains a one of a kind musical proposition. Will fans like this one? Would Kurt Cobain adore this record as he did the rawer, primordial fare? Maybe not. I do though. On 'Better Days' Fair sings in his warbled, jittery delivery over a lively tropical beat that it’s time for “better days and better ways” and he’s absolutely right. As long as Jad Fair holds his chain link defense up to the deluge of harpies and heartbreak, I feel like we’re all going to be fine.

Track Listing:-
1 The Future Is Ours
2 The Face
3 Why Not
4 Amazing
5 Demons Of Doom
6 A Word To The Wise
7 Bring On The Night
8 Zombie Island Massacre
9 Better Days
10 Spaceship To Mars
11 Why'd They Do It
12 Magic
13 Falling

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