Two reviews?! Why is this? Why not? Aural Wes presents two takes on The Japanese's new EP:
Wesleyan's super-senior/alumni alt-rock band The Japanese (Adrien DeFontaine ’13, Neo Sora ’14, and Dan Moakley ’13) released their Skyward EP last month, featuring three newly-penned songs and a more thoroughly-engineered sound throughout. Skyward is The Japanese's second EP, and was crowd-funded via a kickstarter campaign full of funny things.
The EP's opener, “Apocalypse Now,” starts promisingly. Guitar, bass, and intermittent keyboard pangs play off each other with a super-funky dexterity.It's a playful apocalypse, and the cry of “where the fuck is everyone?!” is a suprisingly catchy hook that sounds more like something you'd hear at 3 in the morning on Fountain than at the end of the world. You can see the lyrics' love-in-a-hopeless-place shtick coming from miles away. The pop-predictability is ear candy, and it all hinges on the chorus... which sadly doesn't deliver. The guitars step up a notch, but the chorus's drawn-out “babyyyy...maybeeee” and other limp cliches bog down the wonderful pop-y punch of the verse. Apocalypse Now ends with a guitar flourish that sounds like the UI-jingle you'd hear after selecting “medium difficulty” in Guitar Hero. It's a shockingly stale sound-byte that is a red-flag for the overexertion of audio engineering that arises at other points throughout the EP.
"Animal Kingdom" is an exhilarating surge of a song that gets the EP back on the right track. A deviously slithering bass lines and richoteting guitars propel the song forward into a glorious breakdown section. Solid. The following track Part of the Weekend is an old track re-recorded. On their debut Chase Sequence/Part of the Weekend EP, "Part of the Weekend" had a fantastic lo-fi fuzz and twinkle. On Skyward, "Part of the Weekend" seems to be the same energetically rambling song, but really isn't. The bass is pulled too far forward in the mix, and compared to the intimacy of their past's EP's lo fi sound, "Part of the Weekend" feels overproduced and distant. Regardless, "Part of the Weekend" is still a great song. It's just an over-wrought version of an idea that was expressed better before.
"Part of the Weekend" falls short of its past, and the characters in the followng song "Kids in Love" coincidentally look back on a relationship with feelings of frustrated nostalgia. Building from sparse bass arpeggios and vocals, "Kids in Love" expands into atmospheric post-rock , focuses down to a tight drum-driven verse, and finally surges into an exhilarating final chorus. Where "Part of the Weekend" fell short, "Kid in Love" picks it up. Skyward's finale "Chase Sequence" is another re-recorded track. While "Part of the Weekend" sounds smothered by the EP's production, "Chase Sequence's" more sparse instrumentation excels. Rippling synths and lilting guitar interplay gorgeously over hazy, half-whispered vocals. "Why don't we fake it" echoes over a hyptnotic guitar line as the song recedes and then builds into a searing wall of overdriven guitar. "Chase Sequence" on Skyward has improved massively since its debut on the Japanese's first EP, and is definitely their strongest track yet. It's a satisfying conclusion to an EP that falters at points, but delivers in the end.
Last month, Adrien DeFontaine ’(13), Neo Sora (’14) and Dan Moakley (’13), better known as the Japanese, released their Kickstarted, alternative, post-rock EP Skyward, and I haven’t turned it off since. The record is a saccharine blend of time changes, dense instrumentation, and a pop-ready vocal style that rewards repeat listens.
The release is short, only five songs, but each packs a wealth of melodic earworms that keep listeners interested from the opening doorbell-esque bass notes of “Apocalypse Now” to the final synth line of closer “Chase Sequence.”
The album begins with “Apocalypse Now,” my favorite track on the album which gives each instrument its time in the spotlight, as well as allowing for a wide range of lyricism. The verses are very lyrically dense, while still maintaining pop-sensibilities for the simple hook “Baby, we’re all out of time.”
The next track “Animal Kingdom” is a more progressive and frenetic track with blipping guitar that can border on annoying, but with a welcome time change in the middle to get heads banging.
“Part of the Weekend” begins with a very smooth guitar introduction that calls to mind the seaside during a gentle winter snow, and once again makes use of dynamic lyricism. The verse beginning “Sleeping with my ego and my nihilist bushido” belies the bands clever, if-overeducated side, but brings back the sing-a-long with lines like “I can be your anyone”. The song also features an excellent bass-heavy middle eight.
The fourth track, “Kids in Love” is the most grounded on the album, eschewing the band’s more progressive proclivities, and placing the guitar more in the center of the track. This is the closest thing The Japanese write to a pop song and the subject matter is self-explanatory.
“Chase Sequence,” the album closer as well as the only track with a video is the most low key song on the record, it’s much more synthesizer heavy and aside from a few raucous moments creates a much more chill atmosphere. The video is made mostly from footage of celebrity sex tapes that the band slowly invades while playing their instruments, and is definitely worth a look.
The thing that most impressed me about the Japanese is their ability to share the spotlight. Each member and each instrument has its moments, and knows when to back off. I definitely got the sense that the band knows what they are doing, and their ability as songwriters and musicians clearly shines through on this release.