Review Summary: Larger than life freak-pop for the morbidly optimistic
Shinsei Kamattechan are one of the most wilfully and successfully tasteless bands I have ever encountered. They’re best described as noise pop, but that label doesn’t really do justice to the extent to which they dissect and rearrange the aesthetic of pop while generally keeping its song structures. They’re lurid and over the top, but the reason why I view them as successfully tasteless is that they take the irreverence and volatility that underpins their sound in their stride. A lot of their songwriting and production choices are ridiculous, but they pull them off with such confidence that it’s hard to land a scratch on their style and delivery.
Their debut (and most celebrated album) Tsumanne (Boring) was a morbid portrait of depression and misanthropy. It had moments of brilliance but indulged a little too much in the same aesthetic trappings (mismatched shoegaze and dream-pop overlaid with suicidal lyrics and toneless vocals) in a way that wasn’t entirely supported by its bleak tone. Tanoshii Ne (How Fun!) is unmistakably made by the same band, but there’s a shift here. Tsumanne was a such black hole of an album to the effect that every catchy hook or dreamy synthscape felt like a flat-handed exercise in the bitterest irony. On the other hand, while a glance at any lyric translation is enough to immediately write off any conceptions of Tanoshii Ne as an outright positive
album, the music here gravitates strongly in a more uplifting direction. The band’s trademark synths and pitch-shifting are still core here, but these songs are much closer to stadium-appropriate pop rock than to Tsumanne’s brand of cataclysmic dream pop.
When I say ‘stadium-appropriate’, what I mean is that the sheer scale of this album is nothing short of pure hyperbole. The first ten seconds alone sounds like a synthesised choir of angels heralding a messy spat of guitar heroics that soon gives the first verse all the momentum it could ever have asked for. When the chorus kicks in, inevitable evocations of the word ‘epic’ are on the table. The second track is much the same story, with the same angelic synth sound at the forefront. The wall-of-sound production and instrumentation around this tone has been compared to shoegaze, which would be fair enough if it weren’t for the defining fact that that style tends towards static performers and audiences. This is not music to sit still to.
Case in point: the third track, which drops the synth in favour of very
upbeat keys, pitch-shifted vocals and pounding beats that are nothing less than violently catchy. By the stage most listeners will find either the album irresistible or intolerable, but either way Shinsei Kamattechan’s cards are firmly on the table. Things progress in a similar vein. Much of the album’s mid-section leans more towards a somewhat less intense 3/4 swing, while the closing section of songs ramp back up to a thoroughly climactic finale. There isn’t really a weak link or pause for breath here, and the tone never deviates from its upbeat tour-de-force, laden with dubious positivity; I think the moment that captures this best was when I first heard the closer, thought it was hugely uplifting in a somewhat desperate way and then realised the title translated as “Hana-chan is a Wrist-Cutter.” Oh well…
In any case, while the thrust of this album is extremely effective, there are a couple of caveats. Homogeneity is a slight issue here; while the sequencing is quite smart, opening and closing the album with very strong combinations of songs and varying the pace and style of tracks where appropriate, one thing that varies very little from start to finish is the band’s commitment to utter maximalism. Any given moment on Tanoshii Ne is either a sky-high explosion of all things anthemic or a clear build into one of these moments. I say ‘moments’ - they make up at least 50% of the album. This is not entirely a bad thing - the band certainly maintains a high level of excitement! - but it does make it somewhat inviable to listen through casually; this was clearly produced as an overwhelming album, and it should be treated as such.
There’s also frontperson Noko’s vocal stylings, which are a category of their own. While their performance here is nowhere as abrasive and tuneless as on Tsumanne, now suiting the music here rather than feeling deliberately at odds with it, the liberties they take with pitch-shifting filters will still not be to everyone’s taste. On the whole though, their voice is melodic and unfiltered, very much at the fore of the mix and quite comfortable there.
At the end of the day, Tanoshii Ne is a stormer of an indie pop album that will split opinions but is ultimately the work of an inspired, ballsy band just as interested in craftily subverting styles as they are blowing them to pieces. For those this will appeal to, it’s an overlooked must-listen.