Perhaps there should be an unwritten music critic code about not inflicting pain upon the harmless. I can certainly see the ways in which Pine*am would make a great soundtrack for playing with My Little Pony figurines or dumping imaginary tea down Raggedy Ann’s yarn smile. But “harmless” and “serviceable” really only act as masking adjectives, easy refrains that get tossed out, in part, because of the constipated agony of describing a record that fills you with nothing so much as pure boredom. Boredom, by its nature, resists articulation like a child going limp to avoid a fed-up mother’s clutches. Art that can’t even evoke hate is vampirism; with each listen, you shift uncomfortably in your chair, and your emotional palette drifts further and further out into the inert seas of indifference. Words don’t fail you so much as they feel like a waste to muster.
Pine*am is the sound of Cibo Matto scribbling into thin air. What most strikes you when listening toPull the Rabbit Ears comes in the overall recessed feeling of the album, as if every musical element is competing to be ignored. Tsugumi Tasashi, Chizuko Matsubayashi, and Taeca Kinoshita don’t sing as much as they mutter mousy implosions, buried under marshamallow guitar and electronica by Mattel. Everything from the beats to the tinkling keyboards feel smothered into saccharine backdrop. Creating a song or two certainly wouldn’t kill them. I thought J-Pop required the writing of over-the-top garbage gorged hooks that stuck to your brain like drool-covered suckers in shag carpet. “Afterglow” provides a good example of Pine*Am’s empty ambience, with it’s pillowed thump of a club beat, phone dialing keyboard and, the only saving grace, a glamorous guitar riff that would be better served by being mailed to St. Etienne. But nothing happens, the song unravels its length in a stream of gauzy murmurs of glassy inflection, with no tempo shifts and nothing to speak of other than a insubstantively pretty surface that could stand to be choked off somewhere at the two-minute mark.
Pine*am borrow liberally from many different kinds of electronic music only to rob them all of impact by smearing them in sticky-fingered cute. “Starlight, Star Bright” has some of the music box preciousness that make Mum so haunting, but so drowned in little girl vocal affect and blurry wah wah guitar, it sounds like a toy version of a proper song. At least there’s a chorus, albeit so wispy and repetitive that it utterly exhausts the songs like a grin held to the point of muscle spasm. At the risk of playing Miss Cleo, it’s hard for me not to wonder if Pine*Am intend their structural looseness to be given the charity one extends to risk-taking musicians. Pull the Rabbit Ears frequently drifts around in its own tinny soundscapes, unmoored and listless. But tangential asides can be just as much about sloppy songwriting as innovation, and Pine*am’s only contribution to J-Pop is adding a layer of vagueness to a genre that openly embraces its active evanescence. That’s a bit like adding a comma to silence.
The lyrics also add cut to bruise. The stream of consciousness Speak N Spell subject areas of the songs melted my enamel. Red cars, the chocolate shop, stars in sky, yes, yes, I used to do that on long car rides with my parents and my father, rightly, would tell me to clamp my pie hole. Here, rather than creating an endearing inroad on the record, the lyrics merely make the dashed off feel all the more glaring especially when the backgrounds sound like the songs I used to tape off the television with a $20 jammer. The attempt at capturing some sort of wide-eyed children’s vision sounds and feels more like arrested artistic development of the worst sort. Even the most narcissistic child engages the world more than spitting up a breathless treadmill of shiny nouns.
Huge J-Pop fans will find grounds for disagreement on much of the above analysis and, like committed jazz fans, there’s probably no talking to them. Pop music can be sweet from ear-to-ear without rotting the space in between. I’m no enemy of frivolity and I could see another incarnation of this record, one with real pop chops, that would make me bolt from my chair and buy a pair of snap-on pigtails rather than liquefying my eyeballs with gauzy dullity. That, however, will have to wait for another day and another band.