Music

Fujiya & Miyagi: Ventriloquizzing

Photo: Paul Heartfield

British neo-Krautrock quartet with one of the most idiosyncratically addictive vocalists in music expand their sound without losing their touch.


Fujiya & Miyagi

Ventriloquizzing

Label: Yep Roc/Full Time Hobby
US Release Date: 2011-01-25
UK Release Date: 2011-01-17
Amazon
iTunes

No disrespect to the rest of the band, but the real reason I love Fujiya & Miyagi is David Best's vocals. Not lyrics, mind you, which are fine if a bit word salad-y at times; vocals. 2006's stellar Transparent Things paid faithful homage to the pulsating, repetitive grooves of '70s Krautrock, yes, but these days it's not like F&M are the only band doing so. No, the real glory there was the way that Best would rip into phrases like "And we were / Just pretend / Ing to be / Japanese", "A photocopier and Yellow Magic Orchestra", or "You got to know / Your place on the food chain" like they were particularly juicy soliloquies and he was a talented enough actor to know just how much ham they needed. His perfect use of "witchu" on "Collarbone" alone was a thing of beauty.

Lightbulbs from 2008 was a bit underwhelming because the band (which started out as the duo of Best as Miyagi and Steve Lewis as Fujiya and now seems to have settled into a quartet with Matt Hainsby and Lee Adams) focused so much on messing around with the rhythms they were using that they forgot to write the kind of naggingly compelling melodies that worked so well before. With a few exceptions, especially first single "Knickerbocker", a perfect distillation of the band's sound, and "Goosebumps", which sounds like Best singing over the end of "In the Court of the Crimson King" to surprisingly moving effect and includes both "dodecahedron kites" and "Stella Artois mixed with beef burger" for him to toy with, the whole thing sounded a little flat.

Thankfully Ventriloquizzing is much feistier, for Best and Fujiya & Miyagi both. The music still expands the band's palette away from the wonderfulyl straightforward surge of Transparent Things, but it feels like now they've worked the kinks out of their setup, and the jauntily menacing "Sixteen Shades of Black & Blue" rumbles along just as satisfyingly as the more Kraut-y "YoYo", and the stripped-down "Minestrone" works just as well as the stately swells of "Spilled Milk". And best of all, these songs see Best give maybe his finest performances; certainly they're among his most fun.

"Minestrone" is priceless just for the part where Satan reveals the titular soup to Best, not to mention the line "the Devil was caucasian", while "Taiwanese Roots" is catnip for Best aficionados from the title on down (which gets both a pause and a slur, both strong tools in the singer's arsenal). He even finds time to interpolate a bit of "You Got the Love" into the intro to the wonderful "Tinsel & Glitter". As always, Best's tone manages to be both coolly removed and marvellously insistent, wryly compassionate and hilariously bitchy, and always a marvel of sound over sense without ever quite losing the sense in the sound. Most other singers wouldn't be able to do much with a line like "these little pills may give you dizzy spells" or "you don't know which side your bread is buttered on", but Best makes them foreboding and silly and knowing and even kind of wise, all at once. It's not as if there's no emotional impact in Fujiya & Miyagi's world, just that it's one where God's compassionate, omniscient voice never shuts up and can never quite disguise the faintest trace of a smirk.

But as much as I could dine for days on Best's idiosyncratic, addictive phrasings, Ventriloquizzing might be Fujiya & Miyagi's best album to date (although Transparent Things is still a strong contender) because of the way his performances mesh with a newly impressive band. Like Lightbulbs, Ventriloquizzing is more formally straightforward than Transparent Things, but here everything works and Fujiya & Miyagi nail a much wider range of textures and emotions than they had previously. The descending pianos and syncopated drumbeat of the warm "Ok" or the spacerock drive and increasing desperation of the title track both work flawlessly, and the closing "Universe" builds itself up to the point where "you/are/not/the/cen/tre/of/the/u/ni/verse/there is no centre of the universe" is a genuinely stirring moment. Of course, the glory of Fujiya & Miyagi is that it's also a pretty funny one.

8
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

The Top 20 Punk Protest Songs for July 4th

As punk music history verifies, American citizenry are not all shiny, happy people. These 20 songs reflect the other side of patriotism -- free speech brandished by the brave and uncouth.

Books

90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.

Music

Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

‘The Avengers’ Offer a Lesson for Our Time of COVID-19

Whereas the heroes in Avengers: Endgame stew for five years, our grief has barely taken us to the after-credit sequence. Someone page Captain Marvel, please.

Music

Between the Grooves of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'

Our writers undertake a track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana's Nevermind. From the surprise hit that brought grunge to the masses, to the hidden cacophonous noise-fest that may not even be on your copy of the record, it's all here.

Music

Deeper Graves Arrives via 'Open Roads' (album stream)

Chrome Waves, ex-Nachtmystium man Jeff Wilson offers up solo debut, Open Roads, featuring dark and remarkable sounds in tune with Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Even in the coronavirus-shortened record release schedule of 2020, the year has offered a mountainous feast of sublime music. The 50 best albums of 2020 so far are an eclectic and increasingly "woke" bunch.

Books

First Tragedy, Then Farce, Then What?

Riffing off Marx's riff on Hegel on history, art historian and critic Hal Foster contemplates political culture and cultural politics in the age of Donald Trump in What Comes After Farce?

Reviews

HAIM Create Their Best Album with 'Women in Music Pt. III'

On Women in Music Pt. III, HAIM are done pretending and ready to be themselves. By learning to embrace the power in their weakest points, the group have created their best work to date.

Music

Amnesia Scanner's 'Tearless' Aesthetically Maps the Failing Anthropocene

Amnesia Scanner's Tearless aesthetically maps the failing Anthropocene through its globally connected features and experimental mesh of deconstructed club, reggaeton, and metalcore.

Music

How Lasting Is the Legacy of the Live 8 Charity Concert?

A voyage to the bottom of a T-shirt drawer prompts a look back at a major event in the history of celebrity charity concerts, 2005's Live 8, Philadelphia.

Music

Jessie Ware Embraces Her Club Culture Roots on Rapturous 'What's Your Pleasure?'

British diva Jessie Ware cooks up a glittery collection of hedonistic disco tracks and delivers one of the year's best records with What's Your Pleasure.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.