With this album, comprising two earlier EPs, Japan’s Nisennenmondai take their gloriously groove-centered noise jams to the international stage. This all-female instrumental trio has garnered plenty of attention in their native land and has recently been lauded by members of groups like Battles and No Age, who on tour had discovered their fearsome live shows. Although they come saddled with a wealth of influences, partly due to their habit of naming songs after influential experimental-rock outfits, they still manage to own it uniquely, deftly careering from krautrock lock-grooves to industrial clang to nihilistic overdrive.
Like ESG, the other all-female rhythm juggernaut, the main muscle behind Nisennenmondai is the drummer: Sayaka Himeno’s standout playing is the group’s indispensible motor. It’s a mighty sound, and it’s sometimes difficult to fathom that it is emanating from three adorable Japanese girls just out of college. The group’s loosely improvised playing style is such a deliciously dissonant freewheeling caterwaul that it’s surprising to find out, for example, that the jarring steel-cage fight of opener “Pop Group” wasn’t recorded by an impromptu studio horde, Red Krayola-style. The track is also a compelling example for the benefits of lo-fi recording: The oversaturated sonics only make the metal-machine stomp sound that much more unhinged and out there.
The follower, “This Heat,” is dominated by lower-gear but even more relentless, blood-stirring wonky rhythms. The jagged, unpredictable drumming and guitar/bass interplay produces a whirling whiplash that after long enough begins to make you feel like you’ve been staring too long into the sun. “Sonic Youth” indeed bears an unmistakable kinship with the titular group’s early releases, like their own self-titled debut EP or the epic tour collage “Sonic Death.” But instead of steering and swerving away from the angular rumble in true no-wave fashion, the girls mind-meld into the kind of clamorous thunder that fans of Liars and the Boredoms are certainly familiar with.
The album highlight is “Ikkkyokume,” a psychedelic burner presented here in two different takes: a whirling torrent of cymbal crashes and guitars that makes it sound like the girls are riding out the currents at the deepest end of the “Diamond Sea.” Such force and free-jazz intensity produces a momentum that feels simultaneously propulsive and extremely static. It’s a trance-rock maelstrom that’s Not Safe for Work because there’s a fair risk you’ll end up in a glazed-eye stare while coworkers wave their fingers to check for signs of life.
The record’s back end sees more of a return to more traditional no-wave maneuvers, all straitjacketed skeletal beats and razorlike guitar work that befits any student of noise-rock luminaries like Lydia Lunch, DNA, Mars, or James Chance: Seems like the New York late '70s no-wave scene is these days not only ripe for scholarly book treatment but fit to be an object of the powerful mimetic impulse that Japanese culture is so renowned for.
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