On the general subject of the Japanese music industry one could forge a hefty list of grievances, if one were so inclined. Foreigners living in this country, specifically those from the States, love to highlight one problem above all others: Cost.
A new album on a major label will ring up around thirty dollars; for more major releases that number edges more towards forty or fifty. Live shows, even for an all-local line-up, cost at least fifteen dollars, with the average indie show coming in between twenty and forty. Festivals do little to bandage that wound. I just paid a thousand dollars for two people to attend and camp at Fuji Rock. Granted, that is a three-day festival with top international acts, but a parallel could be drawn easily to Coachella. Coming from Wisconsin makes this even harder. I could spend a week at Summerfest for nothing more than the money I spent on food at Piggly Wiggly; the tickets came with the receipt.
Thus it was bittersweet when one of my favorite Japanese rock bands, Mass of the Fermenting Dregs (MOTFD), got picked up by EMI last year. On the one hand, I’m glad that they will get the mass exposure they rightly deserve; on the other hand, I couldn’t help but wonder how deeply the major label machete would sever them. After a self-released EP in 2006, followed by two indie EPs (2008’s S/T and 2009’s World Is Yours), the first of which is more correctly labeled a re-release, I had hoped they would drop a full-length as their first release. They had just finished a tour with 9mm Parabellum Bullet, packed the Red Stage of Fuji Rock only two years after playing on the rookie stage, and their previous singles were still seeing heavy rotation on all the major music networks in Japan. “There was no way they would get sucked into a shit record deal,” I thought to myself, “they have too many bargaining chips to get fucked over on a…”
Wait, what’s this? Their first release is coming out at the beginning of 2010? That seems a bit quick.
Oh, it’s a single.
And it’s fifteen dollars?!
Let’s clear this up right quick. The DVD that is bundled with the CD is silver-backed poo, a lackluster performance from a band that has knocked me off my ass live. Natsuko Miyamoto’s vocals are horribly out of tune. Based on the recording itself, I can’t blame her. If she had a monitor at all, she clearly couldn’t hear it. I’ve been to a show when she was on and she really can sing as well as what is on record. So don’t let that pile trick you into throwing your money away.
If I had bought the single on vinyl, it would have been a much fairer purchase. That way I could at least sand down the B-side, Made (Until), and use it as a kick-ass black blow mirror. Instead I’m left with a seven-and-a-half minute CD with only four minutes of listenable music. And to be honest, even those four minutes aren’t so spectacular.
As anyone who has heard their EPs can tell you, MOTFD is built on musical nitro: Lightning Bolt-esque bass lines fuzz out guitar riffs as they cautiously blend the angularity of MOTFD’s indie predecessors Number Girl with the eastern-soaked melodies of their current tour-pals 9mm, all orchestrated underneath damn near operatic musings from Miyamoto. In fact, to further twist the teat of indie-nerds everywhere, MOTFD’s main draw was that they weren’t rough-edged greenhorns pounding on wood and metal. They had a smoothness that betrayed pop credentials, hooks that drunk as deeply from the future as they did from the past.
The glint of that energy is still visible in “Hikizuru Biito”, especially during the opening verse. Natsuko finally gives reason to believe that her vocal abilities extend beyond the long drawn-out notes of MOTFD’s previous releases, and the chorus gives an equally pop-laden revival to the band’s sound. As the adage goes, however, the more things change the more they stay the same; MOTFD still relies heavily on five- or six- note repetitious guitar lines. Unfortunately for their new single, Chiemi Ishimoto’s reliance on this Number Girl-copped style overstays its welcome, her guitar parts running too long with little to recommend them. Even the middle interlude feels stilted, as if a producer said “We should like, totally put in an interlude,” and the ladies didn’t have the chutzpah to tell him to get bent.
Is this MOTFD’s worst song? Hardly. But it doesn’t quite reach the greatness they achieved with their formula on IF A SURFER and the entire World Is Yours EP.
So let’s save everyone a little bit of time (and a fair chunk of change).
Do you want this record? Good for you! Not the worst decision you could make. And luckily for you, you already own it! What? You don’t remember buying it? That’s fine, you didn’t need to. The video for “Hikizuru Biito” is currently available on MOTFD’s Youtube channel.
And if you want to see a quality live performance, I recommend starting with last year’s Fuji Rock.
Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons