Otoboke Beaver, an all-female quartet from Kyoto, has been a mainstay on the Japanese punk scene for nearly a decade, releasing a plethora of singles, EPs, and albums in Japan. Damnably Records stepped up to release a compilation of some of this material in 2016, Okoshiyasu Otoboke Beaver. In the interim the band has continued to release new songs, so now Damnably is putting out Itekoma Hits, which collects all of that and throws in a few brand new tracks to boot.
The first thing that jumped out to me while listening to Itekoma Hits was the wide range of styles that Otoboke Beaver plays and plays well. Their songs run the punk gamut from raging hardcore to bouncy pop-punk and hit most of the points in between. The record’s two shortest tracks, the 18-second “Mean” and the 53-second “Binge Eating Binge Drinking Bulimia”, are total bursts of hardcore aggression. “Mean” starts with shouting vocals as the guitars and bass blare out a rudimentary chord, and there’s some super-fast hi-hat work in the drums. But it still manages to have three distinct musical sections in its 18 seconds, which is a good indication that there’s a little more going on with Otoboke Beaver than just anger.
“Binge Eating” is even simpler, which the vocals repeating “You are not mine!” and “I cannot stop eating!” over instruments that mimic the vocal rhythm. In the second half of the song, though, an actual singing vocal (in Japanese) comes in, and that melody is doubled in the bass while the guitars, drums, and shouted vocals continue. It gives the song an ear-grabbing bit that 50 straight seconds of shouting and noise wouldn’t accomplish on its own.
The band often uses their longer songs (that’s a relative term as nothing here even comes close to the three-minute mark) to show off their songwriting and instrumental chops. “Bad Luck” is kind of a mess of a song, construction-wise, but it’s also a fascinating kaleidoscope of styles. It starts with a grooving drumbeat reminiscent of the Offspring’s “Come Out and Play” and then adds some chanted unison vocals on top. Then it goes to a fast kick drum beat as the vocal shouts “You are all dead to me” in Japanese. After running through this twice and adding bass the second time through, the rhythm section stops and a solo guitar comes in to play a three-fourth waltz. The vocals are now singsongy, and for a brief period, Otoboke Beaver sounds like the twee indie band the Moldy Peaches. They follow this with a shouted hardcore interlude, a singing gang vocal punk section, and a finish that sounds like a cheerleader chant. And it’s all squeezed into two minutes and seven seconds.
The start-stop of “I’m Tired of Your Repeating Story” is an example of when the band’s short attention span works against them. Fifty-five seconds of pure aggression and some surprisingly nimble bass and guitar playing finishes with the band shouting in unison at the top of their lungs. And that seems like the end of the song, but then the story repeats, I guess? And the song picks up again with the same riff and goes along for a full second half. “What Do You Mean You Have to Talk to Me at This Late Date” plows along with similar aggression for a full minute before stopping for a bass solo. And then it falls apart with a series of bad rhythm section breaks followed by more bursts of guitar aggression for another minute. It’s sort of interesting but doesn’t hang together as a song.
It’s when Otoboke Beaver gets focused that their combination of energy, instrumental skill, and attitude come together. “Akimahenka”, a holdover from the previous compilation, has the same energy as their more hardcore songs, but the spoken word vocals aren’t quite as raw, and the shouted refrain “Akimahenka” is an easy thing to latch onto as a listener. “Datsu. Hikage No Onna”, has a melodic guitar and bass riff, and the singsongy “I hate you” is one of the song’s hooks, as is the later response “You hate me!” It even has a bit of a guitar countermelody near the end.
“Bakuro Book” sounds like it’s going to get by on the chanted refrain “Bakuro book!” that opens the song and returns repeatedly. But then it swings into a melodic sing-along chorus, turning the song into one of the album’s catchiest. “Don’t Light My Fire” has another ear-grabbing opening with the entire band repeatedly chanting the title over a simple beat before becoming a speedy hardcore workout. The band blazes through the next two minutes, before ending quietly with a whispered refrain, “Go to hell” over the same kick drum beat.
There’s a lot to like on Itekoma Hits for those inclined towards punk music. The mixture of styles, both instrumental and vocal, is impressive. The wide range of vocals keeps the record lively and interesting, even if you don’t speak Japanese. And listening to the album multiple times starts to bring out the musical skill. It’s not too hard for a punk band to play fast, but Otoboke Beaver often includes sneakily complicated guitar, bass, or drum parts within its fast hardcore-style songs that are not at all easy to do. There’s also the band’s enthusiasm. Even when they’re angry, these women are clearly having a great time, and that enthusiasm makes for an infectious listening experience.