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.


Nisennenmondai: #N/A

Japan’s masters of ‘organic techno’ team up with Adrian Sherwood, with results that show their sound can withstand just about anything.



Label: On-U Sound
US Release Date: 2016-04-01
UK Release Date: 2016-04-01

At this point, there have been enough guitar/bass/drums bands that the curious listener could be forgiven for looking at Nisennenmondai’s lineup and assuming the results would be anything like (say) 95% of the power trios out there. Those who have been following the band since 2014’s N know that Masako Takada (guitar), Yuri Zaikawa (bass) and Sayaka Himeno (drums) lock into grooves of such astonishing simplicity and force that it’s almost intimidating.Those who’ve been following along for longer (or have gone back to see what came between Nisennmondai’s inception in 1999 and N) know that they’ve honed their grasps of their particular instruments and their interplay to the point where repetition becomes the point of this music rather than an affectation or a gracenote. The trio’s recent work is an example of a band who is comfortable enough being influenced to outright call early songs things like “This Heat” and “The Pop Group” has now synthesized those influences into something that’s not quite like anything any other power trio has ever done.

There are plenty of live videos out there of Nisennenmondai, so it’s easy to confirm for yourself that, yes, Himeno does pull off those relentless hi hat/cymbal runs, ten and 15 minutes at a time seemingly without pause or variation, just through human will (and practice); and Zaikawa and Takada do manage the high-wire act of playing often just as fast and precisely in and around those drums and of neither upstaging them nor shrinking into their shadow. The result is something that partakes equally of minimalism, no wave, krautrock (especially the most purely refined part of the motorik subgenre), post-rock, even various forms of techno and other electronic music genres, all using one of the most well-worn instrumental setups in modern music. If you just hit play on Nisennenmondai’s recent work without knowing anything about it, you may well assume this is the sound of an exceptionally tuneful industrial setup, or the work of people painstakingly guiding various pieces of software to slight shifts in atmosphere. Both of those are perfectly respectable ways to make music, but there’s something that feels a little extra death-defying in the way these three do so with sticks and wires. Even then, though, it’s as thrilling conceptually as it is viscerally.

That sound is so idiosyncratic and potent that they could keep well within the limits they defined on N and still be worth following, but Nisennenmondai show a distinct lack of desire to rest on any laurels. That album was followed up by N’, which had the band reworking the tracks from N and brought in Shackleton for a couple of remixes that were both very much in keeping with the sensibility of the band’s work but also quite different from it. Now, with #N/A, they’ve brought in another simpatico collaborator in the form of On-U Sound’s Adrian Sherwood. The lauded dub producer is an interesting choice as a partner for the band, because while there are few explicit nods to dub in their past work from concept on down it seems like a fairly obviously good fit. Dub tends to focus on the rhythm and work well with music where there’s a pronounced sense of space (if not creating that sense of space itself if it has to), and as much as Nisennenmondai have spent the last few years winding their sound tighter and tighter, a producer like Sherwood knows how to keep that tension and propulsion while also subtly adding new types of depth and shade to the sound.

On the five numbered tracks that make up the bulk of #N/A (the title intended to indicate precisely the collaboration between trio and producer), he does exactly that, in an interesting restrained way. If you played the first tracks of this album and N back to back to someone who’d never heard Nisennenmondai before they might have trouble putting their finger on what’s really different about them, but after enough listens to get past the initial head-spinning rush of what the band does those differences begin to flesh themselves out. Zaikawa’s bass is still completely capable of driving a track forward (see the brief “#3”, the closest thing on #N/A to an easy entry point for the curious), but on much of this album she tolls away in the background, letting Himeno (as relentless as ever) and Takada (sounding like everything from a piano to a metronome, as well as a guitar) race forward and putting emphasis in just the right places to keep a track like “#1” from plummeting right off the rails.

Sherwood himself keeps his bag of tricks mostly turned to small, subtler effects, easing the band’s work through transitions with a little more colour and flavour than before, but that gives tracks like the abstract static formations of “#2” more room to work with. “#1” and “#5” are the most similar things here to Nisennenmondai’s recent work, but those middle three tracks are a great example of how thrilling it is to hear the trio’s current mastery of their sound brought to wider range of structures. The result is something that’s not quite as monomaniacally focused as N but every bit as distinctive and powerful.

The two “(Live in Dub)” tracks that round out the album, with Nisennenmondai taking on two-thirds of N in concert with Sherwood behind the decks, suggest that if anything the latter could have taken a more obviously active hand in the recorded material here without any damage to the band’s sound. If anything, the way Nisennenmondai just locks into their particular pocket and keeps forging forward as Sherwood strafes the tracks with every bit of echo and reverb he can muster makes for some of the most obviously fun material without ever feeling like anything but Nisennenmondai. For a band that’s spent years working towards such a singular and satisfying sound, it’s a sign of the tremendous strengths of that approach that they can take everything Sherwood can throw at them. They’re also, at this point, a band that keeps finding new ways to make that sound fresh and thrilling again, and it’s exciting to wonder what they might have in mind for us next.


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.





Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.


Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.


'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.


ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.


The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.


Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


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.

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.