Review Summary: Tentenko III: Tentenko Sings?Tentenko is an ex-idol freelance artist who runs her own label and has released an extensive range of experimental pop and techno EPs. This review is part of an ongoing series dedicated to exploring her discography. For a point of reference and orientation to her discography as a whole, please see the first instalment in the series, the review for Good Bye, Good Girl.
Having kicked off her trail of CD-Rs with the headscratching Dokusai
, Tentenko clearly felt it was time to bring things down to earth a little. As such, we are treated to four renditions of songs from one of her apparent touchstones, the Halmens. The Halmens were a new wave band from the early 80s remembered largely for their jittery style, their quirky songwriting and the launchpad they provided for art pop legend Jun Togawa (Togawa guested on the the Halmens’ albums and covered them herself - but more on that later). Given that Tentenko’s most palatable output tends to lean into the 80s and contains discernible Halmens influence, the prospect of a cover EP is a neat idea and an early indication of her roots; at this point in time, Tentenko’s musical solo identity could only be pinpointed from a pop single and an ambient noise EP, so bringing her Halmens fandom into the picture adds a welcome centre of gravity.
Beyond this, the shape of Tentenko Sings Halmens
is largely dependent on the listener’s familiarity with the originals: if you haven’t heard these songs before, you’ll likely be at least somewhat impressed by the bounce and flair on offer in Tentenko’s versions; if you have heard the them and need no further convincing that the Halmens were, indeed, pretty cool, then the principal point of attraction here is the mid-key murder of classic pop numbers. The bottom line is that Tentenko’s voice is far from the strongest, and while she later proves to be pretty adept at writing tracks that complement it well, she is an awful replacement for the post punk warmth and charisma that originally underpinned Halmens vocalist Kenzo Saeki’s performance. Nowhere is this more obvious than on “Konchuugun”, once made famous by the Halmens and Togawa alike (Togawa’s cover sits comfortably in the #3 slot on her infamous debut Tamahime Sama
); the song is reduced to a shrill shadow of its former self. Tentenko’s vocals here are completely insufferable, especially on the warbling vocal hook that made the original’s verses so memorable. Saeki and Togawa both delivered this hook in beautiful, bizarre tones, holding onto the first part of the phrase for just longer than was bearable before taking it heavenward with a swooping glissando; Tentenko splits the phrase into two separate breaths, boycotts the glissando entirely and captures the full measure of her predecessors’ ugliness but none of their grace. A fair representation of all three might go as follows:
Tentenko: eeeeeeeeeeeeee . EEEEEEEEEEEEEE
It’s an earful. In other cases, Tentenko’s forthright bass wobble, uptempo no-nonsense percussion and fantastic midway synth break might have been enough to elevate things, but her performance on this one is both totally focal and utterly unsalvageable. Things fare better elsewhere, where her arrangements are sufficiently lively and faithful to the spirit of the originals to keep things alive, with a few surprises thrown in for good measure (opener “Motor Humming”’s newfound rock overtones, for instance). On the whole, however, this EP brings little to the table beyond a fun statement of influence and a pointer to give the Halmens another check. Neither of these points are misplaced, but it doesn’t exactly make for a bright patch in Tentenko’s early discography.