Written by 5:21 am Audiophile Music

Turning Half Japanese – A New Fan’s Perspective

Mark Smotroff admits he’s late to the party but happy to finally attend…

So here’s the deal on this review folks: I wanted to review these albums by indie rock lo-fi pioneers Half Japanese because I really quite like them. But I also realize that there is a whole big history preceding releases by this band, which I haven’t had the time to fully dig down into as of yet. So I could either (a) do that and delay this review appear much later when its almost irrelevant or (b) give you some initial impressions and allow you to connect some dots yourselves, Dear Readers. 

AR-HalfJapanesePerfectCover225.jpgI’ve opted for the latter approach. 

That initial impression I’m going to share is probably the kind of thing that will annoy long time fans of this band who admittedly know much more than me on this subject. So, I’m being up front by telling you that this review is by and for the newbies out there in audiophile-land (of which I suspect there might well be more than a few).

That said, I really like these recent albums by Half Japanese and their fearless leader and singer, Jad Fair. Now the thing that impresses me about these records is that they are good, melodic, hook-filled rock records. I started babbling about this in my review of their previous album Overjoyed here on Audiophilereview.com back in 2014.

What I don’t fully appreciate (yet) is the reputation these guys have for being all things alt-rock, alternative and noisy. Maybe when I get back to their early stuff — they started recording in 1975, known as one of the earliest of DIY / Lo-Fi recording artists — I’ll find some of that weirdness for which they are renown. 

AR-HalfJapanesePerfectSplatterAlabel225.jpgHonestly, diving into their music I was expecting something somewhere between early Butthole Surfers, The Residents and, perhaps someone like George Crumb.

Listening to Jad Fair & Danielson’s 2014 release Solid Gold Heart  I’m quite charmed by the innocent, decidedly non-cynical can-do attitude permeating the music and lyrics. Consider a song like “Reddy Steady” which encourages listeners to “enjoy your life” to a near-dance beat (with acoustic guitars) that could be mixed with a Tom Tom Club song or maybe even George Clinton’s Atomic Dog. 

If “Rockin’ on the Good Side” had been presented with a more massive drum sound and a bit faster, it could pass for a lost B-52s song, with Fred Schneider-esque lines like “We’re rocking like Superman…  rockinglike Batman… rocking like John Lennon.”

This should have been a single…

AR-HalfJapanesePerfectSplatterLP225.jpgCorrespondingly, consider the latest release from Half Japanese called Perfect, which sounds like a somewhat rawer take on Jad Fair’s pop sound. There are bigger louder drums here, for sure.  But a song like “We Cannot Miss” could again be another lost B-52s tune — in fact, this song would sound awesome segued into “Private Idaho,” replete with two chords, a clap-along beat and an organ / guitar power chord hook. Perhaps the difference between Half Japanese and Jad Fair’s solo stuff is that extra dose of dissonance and odd tunings this side of Sebadoh. 

The title track here on Perfect is a nifty samba — complete with flute solo — that sounds like what might happen if late period Moody Blues were fronted Jonathan Richman.

I mean this in the best possible way, folks…

I guess the point is folks, don’t be afraid to check out this fine music by Jad Fair and his frolicking friends in Half Japanese. This is really fun music that is NOT that out there. If you liked Sebadoh back in the 90s, you’ll dig these guys. If you like The dBs in the 80s,  you’ll like these guys.  “Listen To Your Heart” sounds like a lost out-take from Blue Mask-era Lou Reed, replete with big strummy acoustic guitars and warm bell tones not all that far removed from The Velvet Underground’s “Sunday Morning.” 

If you like The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne’s voice — and his latter day tripping post-punk-hippie perspectives — you’ll probably enjoy Half Japanese and Jad Fair. 

AR-JadFairSolidGoldHeart225.jpgNow, you audiophiles need to know that these albums are not sonic wonders — but they are good old modern rock ‘n roll records!  Drums! Bass! Guitars!  The pressings are clean and well centered and often are offered on nifty colored vinyl options. For example, I bought the super deluxe splatter-blue-and-clear VIP edition ordered directly from the band’s label Joyful Noise Recordings which you can probably see pictures of here in the review layout. The baby blue vinyl edition is still available as is the regular black pressing at the Joyful Noise website but you can also get the regular CD at Amazon.

The package even includes a nifty suitable-for-framing album size print of one of Jad Fair’s lovely woodblock print art pieces (the likes of which grace the album covers, labels and even the download card!).

Perfect is the band’s second new album since breaking its 13 year hiatus. I’m glad Half Japanese are back and making new music for a new generation of fans — people like me and maybe you — to discover. I’m sure I’m not alone in this new found appreciation for them — check them out. You might be as surprised as I was. 

At their core, Half Japanese are a whole bunch of indie rock fun!

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