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Tsu Shi Ma Mi Re, Pregnant Fantasy (Australian Cattle God) Rating: 7
Describing Tsu Shi Ma Mi Re as three young Japanese women who sing about plums, boyfriends, tea, and babies makes them sound winsome, unless you like Shonen Knife in which case it makes them sound like Shonen Knife. They have a rougher energy than the 'Knife -- more rock, less pop, more shouting, less harmonising -- and a more frenetic repertoire. "Tea Time Ska" turns from a piece of slow rock with tweeting vocals into a heavy metal growl and then into pumping ska. "O-cha O-cha O-cha!" they sing. "Yay!" The title song starts off with a creeping whisper (the singer is pretending to be a mother addressing a fetus) which erupts into a scream. (that's the fetus, who, according to the loose translation in the liner notes, complains that, "If there is no meaning of my birth / You shouldn't bear me, mom.") On the way to work I've caught myself da-de-da-ing "Ebihara Shinji", their tribute to a homeless man who watched them busk outside Chiba station in the rain; the band has a knack for melodies that stick in your brain. They're cute and noisy and I love them to pieces, not only for the warped-kawaii subject matter, but also for the balls-out enthusiasm with which they deliver it.
Last Target, One Shot, One Kill (Better Youth Organization) Rating: 7
This punk rock outfit is a Japanese band that has a thick accent but have loads of fun dishing out these catchy punk gems, especially during "Truth For You" which resembles Dropkick Murphys at an all night Japanese karaoke bar. Meanwhile, Rancid is also quite apparent as an influence on the bouncy "Don't Shine Your Boots With a Half-Baked Will" and the havoc-filled "Gods Gamble". Throughout the album, there's a playful energy and good-time feeling that a lot of punk bands on this side of the ocean have lost, but Lost Target are never guilty of this judging from the powerful "Tokyo Memories". The lone lowlight is "My Life, My Way" but they make up for it with the hell-raising "Tube Baby" that Social Distortion would be proud of. The highlight is the pop punk of "Teaching" but a close second is the frantic "Toss & Turn". The record falls more into punk pop feeling during "Ikuji" but nonetheless it's a great album.
Abandoned Pools, Armed to the Teeth (Universal) Rating: 6
Are you ready to emo? Abandoned Pools have the emo-for-the-MTV-crowd thing nailed. They've got the requisite whiny vocalist, the insistent walls of guitars, and songs that don't really bother with melodies. At least, that's how the first half of the Pools' new album Armed to the Teeth sounds. In reality, there are two little albums contained in Abandoned Pools new 12-song opus. The first six tracks create a well-meaning, if na´ve emo disc, as songs like the six-minute "Tighter Noose" ride odd builds and constant high-hat clanging to little effect, while album opener "Lethal Killers" is an exercise in dissonance wrapped in an MTV-friendly structure, dancing around the key of the song without ever quite settling on it. The second half, however, reveals a decent pop band just waiting to bust out of an emo shell that's likely maintained for the sake of some sort of artistic credibility. "Sailing Seas" rides one of those new wave beats that the kids love these days to a land of dream-pop bliss, and "Goodbye Song" is an anthem that reaches for the stratosphere with big strings, big guitars, and a lovely, soaring vocal melody. Unfortunately, lines like "You're so weak / Beat up a geek / Makes you complete / Not so tough / I've had enough / Now I leave" are a bit simplistic and potentially alienate anyone over, say, 15. Even so, Abandoned Pools might just have a career in power pop, if only they'd embrace their more melodic tendencies.
Sponge, The Man (Idol) Rating: 2
It's the holidays, the so let's not dwell on the negative. The latest album by '90s grunge also-rans Sponge merits two points for being a perverse sort of guilty pleasure with its familiar head-banging riffs and narcissistic pity party lyrics. Of those two points, one is awarded specifically for aping early Stone Temple Pilots so closely that it actually makes you remember "Sex Type Thing" somewhat fondly. The second point? Because if you actually make it through the duration of The Man while sober, you will feel assured of your successful maturation into adulthood that lines like "I'm screwed down / And I'm glued down just like a fucking insect" or "I'm just a fuck up baby / I can't lie my life's all fucked up" no longer do anything for you. Congratulations!