Review Summary: What got stuck when I was trying to breathe out wasn’t words. I think half of my body is composed of excuses and hypocrisy.
Consistency can be a double-edged sword. For some groups, making music becomes routine and developing a consistent artistic aesthetic/identity can mitigate the tedium of the work. But for some groups, it helps them to develop a thematic and linear discography that draws the listener into a world of similarly themed and orchestrated Art. For school food punishment, the latter seems to be the case. From their EP “school food is good food” forward, the group would end up being remarkably consistent and, with the exception of their final album “Prog-Roid,” constantly improving. The first evidence of their continual upward trend was “air feel, color swim,” a mini-album/EP that boasts some of the band’s most lean and well-constructed songs.
The project begins with lead single and obvious standout ‘you may crawl,’ a straightforward electronic rock song that features a killer bass riff and one of the band’s most infectious choruses. On the song, lead singer and guitarist Yumi Uchimura questions the very nature of conflict, while also lamenting its duality. She does this in a highly effective way by likening it to two eyes and the subtle pauses in the chorus gives it a playfulness on par with a Little Dragon release. This song is followed by the piano-driven ballad ‘sky step.’ And if there’s one musical area where school food punishment thrives, its piano ballads. Keyboardist Masayuki Hasuo lends each of their piano-based tunes a jazzy repose and a vivaciousness that some of their other songs (especially the ambient works on Prog-Roid) lack. This trend of klavierwerke continues onto loop,share in a track that sounds more like early Tori Amos than any of the band’s contemporaries (read: Spangle call lilli line or Passepied).
The lyrics on this song are heart-rending as Yumi’s existential crisis is perfectly spelled out over a schizophrenic and immaculately constructed instrumental (Hasuo is credited as one of the composers on this one, so of course this is what we get). The rest of the EP’s tracks continue in a similar vein, bringing with it forays into ambient songcraft and more post-rock leanings. And while it may sound par for the course with regard to SFP releases, what sets this project apart is really the intense effort that can be felt through all the tracks. The lyrics are strong and meaningful, with no superfluous throw-away pop tracks about eyelashes or something. Each of the songs brings with it its own charm and narrative. Uchimura is really at her lyrical best on this album as songs like ‘loop,share,’ ‘you may crawl,’ and ‘sky step’ serving of strong reminders of just how poignant emotions can be when properly communicated. Even if you don’t understand the Japanese, you can still understand the grit and inner turmoil being communicated on ‘loop,share’ or the yearning of ‘you may crawl.’
For a band as consistent as school food punishment, finding a release that really stands above the rest can be a daunting task. It may be easy to find the weak links (read: Prog-Roid), but to find a high point can sometimes result in useless pedantry. With “air feel, color swim,” they’ve made it easy. While their subsequent releases brought with them their own special qualities (“riff-rain” its focus and refinement, “amp-reflection” its variety and staying power, “How to go” its brilliant instrumentation), this EP marks the point where the band really came into its own and became one of the best rock/electronic acts of the decade.