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Wagakki Band album works best when the rock is held back

by

Special To The Japan Times

Wagakki Band
 ”Yasou Emaki”
 (Avex Trax)

A large part of Japan’s appeal overseas comes from the way it mixes the traditional and modern aspects of its culture. It’s hard to say whether artists naturally merge the two, or whether its a calculated decision meant to up the “cool” factor abroad.

This culture clash is Wagakki Band’s main selling point. The eight-person group blends traditional instruments and enka-style vocals with a fast-paced, hard rock sound. The result conjures up a stereotypical “Asian” sound and sonic elements popular in anime — both things that do well abroad.

Wagakki Band’s premise is an interesting one, but it’s often a bit heavy handed. “Yasou Emaki,” the group’s second album, can often feel like one long, exhausting track. And I can’t help but suspect that this relentless energy is part of an effort to distract from the messiness of it — there’s too much going on.

The onslaught is a problem on album opener “Ikusa,” where the traditional instruments come across as an afterthought put in to make the rock ‘n’ roll “more Japanese.” The stripped-down tracks on the album, such as “Furin no Utautai,” give all the instruments a chance to be heard and it’s here where the traditional-modern combination sounds more like art than commercial strategy.