Music

Fujiya & Miyagi: Transparent Things

Though they're just pretending to be Japanese, Fujiya & Miyagi are serious about making lighthearted but memorable electro-twee.


Fujiya & Miyagi

Transparent Things

Label: Deaf Dumb & Blind
US Release Date: 2007-01-23
UK Release Date: 2006-05-15
Amazon
iTunes

I guess I've been thinking about this a bit, but lately it seems our appreciation of new music, the way we judge it and rank it, comes down to expectation: expectation vindicated and expectation foiled. It's not always the case that the former results in a sense of disappointment -- i.e. we know where this is going -- as it can be a pleasure, like when Snow Patrol come through on the promise of climax on, say, "Run". When certain expectations are set up musically or lyrically and then deliberately left unfulfilled, a song can reveal brilliance, or just weirdness. But the tension of what's just around the bend, whether it be a slight expansion of texture or a whole new musical idea, is one of the joys of listening to music. It's in the grey zone between these two extremes that Fujiya & Miyagi place themselves with a wicked grin and a keen knowledge of where they come from, musically. And because they've mastered this game of setting and fulfilling/denying expectation, the band frees themselves to explore new applications of old source material in a refreshing and lighthearted way.

You may have already heard, but the band's not Japanese, nor are they a duo; they're three British dudes from Brighton. Transparent Things isn't technically their debut -- they released a couple of long-players in 2003 on the smaller British label Massive Advance -- but it's certainly the first to receive mainstream attention. After a May 2006 release in the UK, Transparent Things is bound for the US early in 2007. And Jens Lekman-style, it's not a true album, but a collection of three EPs, released in 2005, with a handful of new material added.

You get the feeling Fujiya & Miyagi would be appealing no matter what genre they chose to write in, but they've chosen what has been called "whisper-electro", or what you could also call electro-twee. The press material name-checks Krautrock standards Can and Neu!, and there's certainly an element of that sound to F&M, as well as Happy Mondays (not quite so obvious), and Talking Heads (a little). Most strongly, though, the electronic music-via-live-instrumentation trick is DFA-esque, albeit in a more relaxed, perhaps filtered-through-the-West-Coast kind of way. And the witty or blasé lyrics deliberately placed over churning electro should immediately trigger Hot Chip comparisons, though vocalist David Best's minimized and covered vocals are certainly unique.

All this affect smacks of transient novelty, but F&M avoids this trap by deft self-effacement and lyrics with absurdly effective imagery. The opening track, "Ankle Injuries", begins with a repeated recitation of the band's name in a deliberately non-Japanese accent. In fact, later on in the disc they counter: "We were just pretending to be Japanese" -- the way it's pronounced, sounds like Ja-pon-ese (with that emphasis). That is, the knowledge of the band's artifice is thrust right at the listener, no apologies. Throughout, Best has great fun with his lyrics, rolling his 'r's and injecting tongue-in-cheek squeals of "sock it to me". A disc highlight: when he breaks into the old kids' song (the ankle bone's connected to the... shin bone, etc), and the song follows the anatomy all the way up, building to a chugging synth climax broken with crinkled spider-effects.

If the lyrics are all gleeful absurdity, Fujiya & Miyagi's music is a reliable steady-state. It establishes its MOA early, with the easy, atmospheric guitars and synth washes of "Ankle Injuries" and frilled-up surf rock of "Collarbone", and continues strong throughout much of the disc. Though it's still very subtle, "In One Ear & Out the Other" has more of a disco-funk vibe, like a minimal interpretation of a Hot Chip song. And the fiercely whispered refrain, "She got me wrapped around her little finger" is irresistible. But in the purely instrumental sections of the record, as on "Cassettesingle" and "Conductor 71", the music can be so level it fades a little into the background, and you could be forgiven for thinking you're listening to a Postal Service album once or twice over the course of the album's 40 or so minutes.

Still, a couple of tracks at the end of the album demonstrate there's more to Fujiya & Miyagi than just a one-trick, whispering electro band of the minute. "Cylinders" swells to a miniature peak of soft synth pads as Best repeats, "I read your star sign before I read my own", and the dislocation is perfectly communicated: Hot Chip can do melancholy, but they can't be this personal -- compare this track with "And I Was a Boy from School" and see what I mean. And the final, US-only track "Reeboks in Heaven" is a perfect, sweet, short send-off. Can you imagine a more fitting elegy to an old engineering professor than to ask if he wears Reeboks in Heaven?

So listen to Fujiya & Miyagi when you get a chance. It's a little bit of a summer record, relaxed and unassuming, but for its patience and surprising originality, it rewards repeat listens. In both the group's music and their off-beat lyrics, Fujiya & Miyagi treads the constant line between predictability and knowing manipulation. And though it doesn't always work out, most of the time Transparent Things finds easy pleasure in the electronic interpretation of this urban life.

7

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Music

GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".

Music

Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".

Music

Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Music

Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.

Music

The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".

Music

Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

Books

Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

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.