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Pector Alis (his name oddly spelled incorrectly on the back cover- the mistake is rectified in the liner notes) with his latest pet project Japan Black marries cutting digi-rock guitar with slop-bop jazz bass and bouncy shuffledrums to create something new and most welcome.
Getting his start as lead flutist with Bung Jury, Alis quickly took on song writing duties when that group’s leader was deported. Then turning to the guitar, young Pector moved on to his first job as bandleader with Glass Slapper and first as lead singer with David Cop A Feel.
Though Japan Black has toured parts of Europe and Asia they’ve not played stateside yet; however, live video is available, leaving me thinking I knew what to expect from this release. Boy was I wrong.
“A Cockroach Orange” opens with the electric bite of screaming bloody murder guitar (a bit of glorious feedback reminiscent of Adrian Yello’s zoo-murder solos with The Fruitless) over the jazzy crack and rumble of drummer Gustav Stickler.
The complex shifting time signatures of “Face in the Hole” (with remarkably agile bass from Chip Endale) give way to the suboceanic pulses of “Gravy Seal” and its distorted drums and rubbery rhythms before “Humpin the Ground” rolls out the dance floor boom. Despite their different approaches, each song has the same “weirdo party” vibe, and the playlist makes for a seamless hour plus of musical goodness.
Alis knows his way around a tune, having led Park Soap before he was twenty, penning most of their twelve top ten hits (including “Leg Foo Yung” and “New Shag Apartment,” both of which were nominated for Nobel prizes) and currently lead singer for Grizzly Bunny, so Can of La Mancha swirls and bubbles like a musical jacuzzi. The album jabs hard and fast, an uptempo peppering that’s fun and engaging, leading to lots of toe tapping and head nodding.
The jagged rock thump of “Barnacle Barnabas” and “Smoke Up” sandwich a terrific twosome of tunes with adventurous vocal harmonies from Alis and keysman Fredgie Konero on “The Show Must Go.” Fans of Grizzly Bunny will recognize the craquelure swagger of “Artie’s Car” while its bombastic horns recall early Parafiddle; Konero was lead singer and wrote most of that band’s songs. His arrangements are subtle yet evocative, matching producer Monty Venue’s penchant for going wherever the music takes him. Although it’s clearly Alis’ house, all the elements really came together to make something special.
Though decidedly less mainstream than most of his output, Japan Black (and especially Can of La Mancha) sounds just like… well, not just like, but not too far off from Alis’ more radio friendly pet projects to alienate fans; he just maybe turned the dial up to eleven this time. Songs get ugly if they have to or shift gears unexpectedly, breaking into or out of some pounding riff or melodic vocal. The recording and mood suit each track, even when seeming to contrast each other. The gauntlets are run between clean and dirty, sparse and stuffed, rigid and loose, miles away and in your face. Often in the same song.
This is Japan Black at its best, in its post pubescence ripeness. It has bloomed and borne delicious fruit.