Nisennenmondai has awesome written all over them. A Japanese all-female trio who plays jagged instrumental post-punk in the vein of This Heat, the Pop Group and Sonic Youth? Yes, please. This awesome-factor only increases when considering such other diverse Japanese groups as Melt Banana, Yura Yura Teikoku, Guitar Wolf, and Boris that have crossed the Pacific and found their way into the hearts and minds of obsessive indie-music lovers. It its thus reasonable to approach Nisennenmondai’s stateside-debut Destination Tokyo with excitement and high expectations. Fortunately, the trio’s raw and repetitive no-wave sound does little to disappoint.
The first track off Destination Tokyo could easily pass as a B-side to post-composer Glenn Branca’s 1981 seminal no-wave album The Ascension. Beginning with an incessant dull ringing from what sounds like a tin-bell, the 12-minute track builds into a furiously eerie collage of repetitive strings and scratches backed by a dance-y post-punk drumbeat. However, the opening track would work better as a soundtrack to an art-house horror flick than to induce butt shaking. Much like Branca’s 1981 album, the track emits the sensation of the inner-workings of a dense urban landscape gone completely awry. If we’ve reached Tokyo, then it’s one scary place.
From here, Destination Tokyo eases up and becomes more playful. The following track, “Disco”, while far from the genre it drops in its title, is a rough, start-stop number that finds the repetitive guitar and bass lines interacting over the clang of a snare/high-hat combination. Halfway through, a saxophone appears, and the rest of the song plays out like James Chance showing up to a This Heat jam session. With the final two tracks, “Mirrorball” and title-track “Destination Tokyo”, the trio delves into their krautrock records and do their best to re-invent the best moments of Neu!, Guru Guru, or even the more recent outputs of the cacophonously atmospheric noise-rock of Matthew Bower. Each track begins by setting up a simple, cyclical rhythm that is slowly used as a foundation for other elements to build upon that eventually accumulates into a cluttered patchwork of pyschedelic sound. At the climax of each song, a wailing guitar momentarily takes the lead before fading back into the unified collective of random elements chugging along with the rhythm by song’s end.
If all the name-dropping of semi-obscure groups from the ‘70s and ‘80s is overwhelming, it’s because Nisennenmondai wear their influences on their sleeves. Each song can immediately be identified by one or two bands that the trio was evidently trying to imitate at the time of its recording. This resignation towards almost total imitation hurts and helps Destination Tokyo. For the most part, the album comes out of leftfield. Not too many bands right now are attempting to rehash or re-incorporate the no-wave and krautrock acts that so clearly influence Nisennenmondai. This makes Destination Tokyo a refreshing listen in one sense. Yet, it also leaves lots to be desired. These three make little, if any, attempt to separate themselves from their influences. With all that is showcased on Destination Tokyo, it’s a wonder why no effort is made to move beyond the foundations of their music in an attempt to create a sound that is more their own.
Despite remaining content at being strictly imitative, Destination Tokyo is a largely satisfying collection of fringe music existing outside the lines of pop genres and conventionality. Much like their influences, the album is not for everyone, but remains an impressive curiosity-album that will gratify the more explorative music listener.