Friday, May 25, 2007

J-pop don't stop

Family Dancing
Coaltar, 1996

This album is just really fun, and part of the fun is that it's pretty hard to describe. Like a lot of my favorite Japanese bands, these kids (and they definitely act like kids) mix and match styles to their hearts' content, forging cross-genre connections and making no attempt to be true to any perceived "tradition." After all, we're talking about top-40 pop music here, not indiginous folk cultures, right?

I guess a good hip-alt-weekly description of the band's sound might be "what if Pennywise had a horn section?" but that really doesn't do it justice. The two lead vocalists play trumpet and sax, so they'll add some interesting flourishes to what's essentially uptempo punk.

Or is it? The band will break down into disco-hued funk now and then as well (often showing off the bassist's chops), or throw in a kazoo solo, or sing an unadulterated U2-style anthemic chorus that will dissolve back into choppy, spitty, punk exasperation again. As I said above, it really has the flavor of kids who don't know any better just messing around, playing the stuff they like to play. The youthful energy is really infectious.

And I'd be remiss if I didn't point out the transcendent little pop track on the album, called "Mr. Sunshine." I don't think I could ever get enough of this song - one of the few tunes I can think of that repeats the chorus just the correct number of times, not too many nor too few. This song is quite clearly what mid-90s Shibuya-denizens thought the Summer of Love sounded like, and the fact that it's a lens trained on an imaginary musical past doesn't make it any less groovy. A little slightly-out-of-tune acousting guitar strumming, a tight bongo beat, a simpering falsetto teenager belting out "hey hey hey hey, Mister Sunshiiiine! hey hey hey hey, Mister Freeeedom!" I'm not sure phony nostalgia gets any better than that, unless it's when the drums and bass kick in and the slightly-flat back-up vocals begin to wail "I'm free." You really want to believe in this alternative universe, and that's the magic of this song.

No itunes link for this one, I'm afraid, and good luck finding it anywhere. If anyone knows of a website or some other locus of information, hope you'll let me know (and as a side note, this is not the same group as another Japanese band called "Coaltar of the Deepers," though with a name like that I'm quite interested in listening to them as well!)

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