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Merpeoples bewitch; The Party’s . . . party

Sex and magic served up by two new Japanese girl bands

by Simon Bartz

Four cute young women clad in ghostly white robes prance around in a forest holding twigs: No, it’s not an outtake from the classic 1973 pagan spookfest “The Wicker Man.” Yes, it is the excellent video for the Merpeoples’ spankingly sublime song “Sherman.”

Singer/guitarist Charlotte and drummer Rico must be the star pupils in their art-school class, as Merpeoples — completed by keyboardist Sayaka and bassist Ikuko — made the video themselves.

“Sherman,” boasting a hypnotic but spiky guitar lick, is the catchiest song you’ll hear this year and deserves to be a staple hit on all indie dancefloors. Like most of Merpeoples’ eponymous debut album — released Feb. 17 — “Sherman” is dreamy pop melded to post-punk guitar riffage, but the band aren’t afraid to experiment, and on the track “Midara na Story” (“Dirty Story”) Sayaka’s ivory-tinkling conjures up an exotic buzz — like the music from a James Bond scene in a souk.

Shame they spelled “Sherman” wrong.

“You mean it’s S-H-A-M-A-N?” asks Charlotte.

I’m afraid so. Sherman is an old U.S. tank. I didn’t see a tank in the video.

“Thanks, but on the CD it’s in katakana, so it’s OK,” Charlotte says (she got her nickname ‘cos a friend said that in profile she looks like Charlotte Gainsbourg).

“I love British fantasies like ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and ‘Peter Pan.’ I want to be a wizard,” the flame-haired singer adds at a cafe in the studenty Shimokitazawa area of Tokyo.

“She has a sixth sense,” chips in Rico, whose voice is as seductively husky as Nancy Sinatra doing Tom Waits after a bottle of whiskey and five packs of fags.

“I get these overwhelming feelings,” says Charlotte. “Like, I was on a train and I sensed that this elderly woman standing behind me was about to die.”

Do any of you girls have black cats?

“Me and Rico have black cats!” says Charlotte.

Broomsticks in da house?

“I have a broomstick too,” she adds.

Just as I thought. You’re witches!

“In my mind those scenes in the video were not the images of witches but of an ancient culture,” Sayaka says.

Oh, Sayaka, you’re ruining my theme! Put a curse on me instead! Girls, what are your favorite magic potions?

“I would have a potion that whoever drinks it would smell really sweet,” says cute, bambi-faced bassist Ikuko.

So your boyfriend has odor problems. Bad luck, Ikuko. Rico?

“You drink mine and things become transparent, metallic and then colors merge and it makes you feel fantastic.”

That’s called LSD, Rico. Make sure the cops don’t catch you cooking that up in your caldron. Sayaka?

“With mine all anxiety disappears and your senses and reflexes become sharp. And you get really inspired.”

Sayaka, that’s a speedball — a mix of heroin and cocaine. We don’t want to go there. Charlotte?

“Magic is all about change, so my potion stops things from changing,” she says, her eyes misted over as usual as she gazes softly into space, like she’s stoned. “When I think what might happen in a few years, I might get anxious and worry. With this potion, nothing changes — a bunch of flowers doesn’t die, a gift lasts forever.”

That’s a great answer, Charlotte. You’re a romantic poet. Marry me or tie me naked to a pole in a scary forest. Preferably both. I idolize you! Speaking of idols — on your Web site your musical style is described as “Rock, New Wave, Idol.” Is becoming idols as important to you as the music?

“It’s a joke,” says Charlotte. “Some people might think, ‘Oh, four girls in a band! They want to be idols,’ so we were just having a laugh at their expense.”

We talk about art, and how Charlotte wants to pursue a career in both art and music, and she often combines both, like in the video. Then Rico pulls out a book full of pencil portraits she’s drawn of people, with some text jotted down beside each one. I am stunned to see that I resemble Hitler. Perverse! I’ve even been adorned with a vile mustache! Even worse!

“Sorry Simon. I have a really bad memory, so I use this book to remember people,” explains Rico. Well, at least she has written “MORE CUTE” next to my portrait. Then again, who isn’t more cute than that prancing Nazi dwarf?

“I’m not the only weirdo in the band,” says Rico. “Sayaka thinks everything has to do with sex. Like Freud.”

“People always joke about sex,” says Sayaka. “I can be casual and talk dirty, but sex is worthy of greater discussion.”

(Note to readers: They mentioned sex first so don’t blame me this time!)

Then the talk is sex, sex and more sex (I won’t bother you with it, readers) until Charlotte says: “This article is going to end up being all about sex now!”

That’s right, girls. The intro just popped into my head: “Merpeoples are all about sex, with the music coming a sloppy second.” Yeh, this sounds good. Don’t you think so girls?

Charlotte and Ikuko cringe and shake their heads. But the next thing I know, Charlotte is smelling my neck.

“Charlotte is like an animal,” says Ikuko. “She has a really good sense of smell. She can sense what people are like just from smelling them.”

I lean in close. Her hair smells like a bed of rampant roses. The things I have to suffer for the sake of professional journalism.

‘W e call ourselves The Party’s because we like the image of party girls. We love having fun. We love partying!” says The Party’s drummer, Nancy. “The music we want to play is just fun, simple and easy to understand. And it’s like a party on stage with all members singing and joining in choruses.”

That playful mike-sharing spirit reminds me of The Libertines, but The Party’s music is a Waterloo away — more like a combo of sweet melodic Shonen Knife and the retro, 1960s bubblegum-pop of bands like The Pebbles and Mama Guitar.

The garage vibe is helped by the fact that Nancy, guitarist Betty and bassist Jennifer couldn’t play a note when they started last year and probably thought a C chord was a type of obi used in the Taisho Period. Karen doesn’t play at all; she’s described as the “angel” of the band — MCing, dancing and singing.

Their lack of musical skill is irrelevant; it’s their enthusiasm, cutie style and infectious melodies that count.

The Party’s signature tune is “We Love Boys,” and the lyrics of their heart-shaped songs brim with boys.

“Our hobby is boy hunting,” says Betty.

“We like Japanese boys because they are quite shy. We like what Japanese call soshoku-dansi (herbivore boys),” says Jennifer. “We do not like sekkyokuteki (aggressive chatting-up) boys.”

“And we love the idol group Arashi,” says Betty.

“In order to meet Arashi, we have to become famous,” adds Jennifer.

“I don’t like boys much,” says Karen, who, coincidentally, sings in another band called Miracle Marmaid (sic). “My hobby is playing with cats and reading.”

And why are you called the “angel”?

“The angel’s role is to MC, dance and give the crowd energy,” she explains. “Also I’m a fortune teller. It’s not tarot, but you use cards. It’s called Oracle Cards. Actually, in life, I get help from real angels, fairies and invisible spiritual beings, but on stage it’s all about fun.”

Merpeoples play Red Cloth in Shinjuku, Tokyo, on March 3; www.myspace.com/merpeoples The Party’s play Shinjuku Jam on March 3; www.myspace.com/thepartys Simon Bartz’s Web site is at www.myspace.com/yojimbotokyo