Half Japanese Asks "Why Not?" on New Album

Publicity photo via Bandcamp

Why not shoot for whatever lofty goal you have in mind? It's an old cliché worn to a thread, but if there is a musician that really means it, it's Jad Fair.

Why Not?
Half Japanese


19 Jan 2018

Half Japanese songs are usually about girls or monsters. It's funny because it's true. Furthermore, Jad Fair, the main songwriter for the group, is some kind of special. If you're looking for an easy descriptor, you could use 'twee' or 'ramshackle' or both. He's simple in a comforting way, like a blanket on a cold evening, like giving your little nephew a noogie. On Half Japanese's new album, Why Not?, there are still songs about girls and monsters, but it's all framed by the question, "Why Not?" Why not take that chance on that project you've been dreaming about? Why not start a band? Why not shoot for whatever lofty goal you have in mind? It's an old cliché worn to a thread, but if there is a musician that can put some heft behind it, it's Jad Fair.

Half-Japanese are a respected institution. They've been making noise since the late '70s. Noise is an important word here because one defining feature of the group is this: In spite of playing on much of his music and composing it as well, Jad Fair does not know how to play an instrument and has no interest in learning. The band has been quoted saying that the only chords you need for guitar are for plugging into the amps. It sounds overly cute yes, but it's what they live, and that's why the ethos of the album rings so true. If listening to anybody say such a worn out phrase like "Yes we can" is believable, well Jad Fair is the person. This is the guy who built and led a rock group through 30 something years, dozens of albums, and loud acclaim among other, more-famous artists without even knowing the notes on a guitar.

Why Not? is the fourth album since their decade plus hiatus from recorded music as Half Japanese. All the albums going all the way back to the early '80s can be categorized as some sort of "pop", whether it be "jangle" or "indie" or "DIY" that precedes the word "pop". So, their style is not wide: this band plays pop with guitars and drums and occasional keyboards. It's speaks to the effectiveness of the record though that this one stands out in a particular way: Its sounds pleasantly slap-dash. As Fair spits out words that sometimes sound stream-of-thought, you can almost see the band bouncing on their heels getting ready to respond appropriately, as the blissful keyboard solos on "Amazing" and "Better Days" reflect so well.

Lyrically, it's an onslaught of the positive and the fun. The record begins with "The Future Is Ours", where Fair states, "Happiness in the words 'Yes we can'. The future is now ours. Let's do it!" The title tracks tells us to, "Surround yourself with happiness." Later, he tells us that, "We're here for better days and better ways, and we're gonna get 'em…now."

All of this sugar can definitely turn stomachs for some. But, next time someone presents wild optimism your way, ask yourself, "Why not?" What's wrong with an uninhibited smile sometimes? Jad Fair knows.

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