For Japancakes fans, a new album is like a favorite meal. You know what ingredients are going to be there: gorgeous cello work, panoramic slide-guitar lines, and retro-futuristic synth chords. So it’s to the band members’ credit that they’ve made a career out of such recurring motifs. Even better, Japancakes bring all that old good stuff back home to make Giving Machines a quality rebound after the band’s previous album, 2004’s career low Waking Hours.
Giving Machines opens up like a beautiful sunrise with “Double Jointed.” Broad cello strokes from Heather McIntosh (long the group’s MVP) duet with a jangly, sparkly guitar line, which soon get abetted by those signature slide-guitar and synth sounds. And so it goes through seven more songs. Does the band try anything radically new? No. Should it? Probably not.
The early rap on Japancakes was all about how the band stemmed from leader Eric Berg getting friends together to play one D chord over and over again, exploring what happened organically from there. This many years later, Japancakes is still enthralled with stretching and modulating patterns of sound. With so much stasis, when Japancakes does throw in a new element, it tends to perk up the ears. Such is the case with the stark piano work on “Recovering Australia” and the dominant bass line of “Tracing New Maps.”
Of particular interest is a cover of the Cocteau Twins’ “Heaven or Las Vegas.” It goes down as both the band’s first recorded attempt at reworking another group’s music and as a preview of things to come. Japancakes’ next album, due out before the end of the year, will be a completely instrumental reworking of My Bloody Valentine’s landmark Loveless.