Since I was handed an advance copy of “Haifai Shinsho” (“Hi-Fi Anatomia”) a couple of months ago, I’ve been unable to go a day without hearing it. I think I need help. This album is aural crack.
While Soutaiseiriron have come heavily recommended by several friends, I failed to get into their 2008 debut minialbum, “Shifon Shugi” (“Chiffon Doctrine”). It sounded like The Smiths being covered by Japanese indie-pop also-rans Advantage Lucy: all uptempo Marrsy guitar and off-key cutesy vocals. But the Soutaiseiriron who made “Haifai Shinsho” are not the same band. Here the sound is incredibly fragile, as if played on instruments made of glass; tiny, introverted music tanked up on melancholy and longing. Everything appears to have been played at minimum volume and close-mic’ed to capture every last nuance of sound; not least the vocals of Etsuko Yakushimaru, whose voice (now on-key and marginally less cutesy) carries a hint of optimism despite an ever-present aura of sadness.
The songs retain the feeling of movement established on “Shifon Shugi,” but here it is represented by kinetic bass lines and subtle chorus- and delay-treated guitar phrases that draw you ever closer. Stylistically, the songs flit between delicate indie, playful dub and subdued club music, always with a blueness that is heartbreakingly addictive.
Why the sudden change in style? We may never know, since the band don’t give interviews or even show their faces in photos. Their music videos are abstract, depicting smoking nurses or airplanes in flight, never syncing the images with their music; at their live shows, Yakushimaru stands almost totally static, her only movements coming when she slowly, deliberately bends down to sip some water. And like real crack, the whole thing’s over way too quickly: After just 33 minutes you’ll be reaching again for the play button, unable and unwilling to stop listening, ever.