PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Half Japanese: Overjoyed

Overjoyed, Half Japanese's first record in over a decade, is all unapologetic, whole-hearted declarations of love that, oddly, make for some of the band's most confrontational material yet.

Half Japanese


US Release: 2014-09-02
Label: Joyful Noise
UK Release: 2014-09-01
Label Website

Band reunions tend to carry history with them. Some, like Archers of Loaf and Pavement, embrace it and drive around knocking out that history on stage night after night. Others like the Pixies feel like they're constantly trying to outrun it. Some bands, like Mission of Burma, disappear for so long, the return is more step forward than look back. No matter the path, though, there's something over a reunited band's shoulder, whether it chooses to look back at it or not.

The new Half Japanese record, Overjoyed, isn't and doesn't really feel like a reunion album, but it is the band's first record in over a decade. As such, it's bound to run into questions of whether or not it is a return to form or a breaking of new ground or whatever shifting expectation we have of bands that come back with new material. It may not surprise that Jad Fair's band sounds blissfully unaware of expectations. The group that started with Fair and his brother David clanging out oddball pop in their bedroom still comes off as irreverent and overcharged, wild-eyed and innocent as ever.

Overjoyed is a great set that feels very much of the moment, like a set of songs the band just plainly wanted to make. It wasn't time to make another Half Japanese record, it was time to make this record. Fair himself, who is more giving impassioned speeches than he is singing, speaks often of "the moment" on the record. Wandering epic "The Time Is Now" finds Fair constantly demanding that someone "don't let life pass you by". Both opener "In Its Pull" and closer "Tiger Eyes" speak of luck as a fleeting thing to be taken advantage of right the hell now. Even love, of which there is much here, sounds like a volatile, exciting element Fair discovered, one he worries has a short half-life.

Fair does sound unabashed in love on Overjoyed. "I'm so glad we're us," he exclaims in "The Time Is Now", and he repeats this in variations across the record. His declarations of love are plainspoken and sweet. On "Shining Star", he sings "You have a very winning way" with all the starry-eyed energy of a person newly in love. On "Our Love", he simply says, "You and me, you and I / yeah, that's love." He lists characteristics he loves, he uses the noun "we" with relish.

But what's fascinating about Overjoyed is that often declarations of love double as or run alongside motivational mantras. "Don't let our time pass us by," he sings, coming back to that idea of seizing the moment. On "Shining Star", his love is "a brand new you" that's "here to stay". "Do It Nation" is a fuzzy howl-and-hiss rattler where Fair repeats "do it" over and over again with a kind of subterranean snarl. But everywhere else the mantras are bright assertions, and so capturing the moment goes hand in hand with being in love.

So on Overjoyed true love becomes the ultimate motivator. Appropriately, the music is edgy with the sort of newfound energy that comes with finding love and constantly moving forward with propulsion. With all the influence 1/2 Gentlemen/Not Beast had, it's easy to forget that Half Japanese evolved on later, excellent records like Hot and Fire in the Sky into a much more immediate and accessible art-rock band. The eccentricity is still there on Overjoyed, but it has morphed into something deeper and more considered than the fits and bursts of those records. The playing has also tightened overtime without losing its ability to surprise. The way the moody wobble of "The Time Is Now" shifts to the sunburst power-pop of "Our Love" may spin you on your heels. "Each Other's Arms" has a dusty shuffle that both sets up and counterpoints the surf rock of "Overjoyed and Thankful".

If the album hops along different tangents of rock, it also provides simple joys at every turn. The insistent rumble of the bass that starts the record on "In Its Pull". The funky percussion of "Brave Enough". The jangly spaces of "We Are Sure". In each of these moments, you feel the band discovering new expressions of their sound. This constant jumping around also, on yet another level, sells the equal parts restlessness and focus love seems to lend to the life depicted on this record. For all the challenging experimentation of the Half Japanese catalog, Overjoyed's unapologetic, whole-hearted declarations of love, all seeming devoid of cynicism, make for some of the band's most confrontational material yet. Half Japanese hasn't returned on Overjoyed. They just found something they wanted to write songs about.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.


The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.


Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.


15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.


'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.


20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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