In the 1950s, America was obsessed with predicting the lifestyles of the future. Sleek and silver was the philosophy of the day, and everything from refrigerators to Winnebago’s were as sexy and shiny as the back of a spoon. Every corner on every object was rounded for maximum aerodynamic efficiency, so if you shot your silver toaster out of a cannon, it would hurtle around the world and hit you in the back of the head, provided that its path was unimpeded. Progress, man, progress!
Of course, the future turned out to be nothing like that. Plastic, which was matte and dull as can be, became the go-to material, and designers squared off all those curves. The ’70s and ’80s were nightmares to those who had dared to dream in the ’50s. Just look at the 1985 Toyota MR2. Or pictures of your mom. Good god, those shoulders.
What, then, did people during the ’70s and ’80s imagine the future would be like? What did the forward-thinking nerds think of while Detroit roared and London called? Kraftwerk and Neu, two prophets of the time, put out records with repetitive beats, angular yet groove-locking bass lines, and, above all, weird-ass noises, brilliantly alien and arranged in subtly touching human melodies. This was their vision. Someday, they reasoned, robots would fuck to their oldies.
Now we are living in the future of the past, so again we ask, How did their predictions stand up? Not very well, I’m afraid, because what’s hot now is, somehow, what was hot then. The future is not now, the past is now. Catch all that?
Take Sushirobo. Former bass player for the Posies Rick Roberts saw that the Seattle sound was effectively over, picked up a guitar, decided that he was henceforth to be known as Arthur, and worked to realize the prophecies of the ’70s.
The band does have contemporaries in Enon and the Dismemberment Plan, but Sushirobo produces all its space-phaser noises and UFO computer beeps with nothing more than guitar, bass and drums. But the most impressive aspect of The Light-Fingered Feeling of Sushirobo is just how damn tight it is.
The robot-love bass lines drive these songs forward while the guitars freak out with every effect imaginable, yet every note is precisely placed and locked down. “Last Call” begins with an intro reminiscent of Joy Divison in high Earth orbit before breaking off into driving pop. “Let’s see what the clock says,” sings Roberts. 1978? 2003? Is there a difference? “Heart, Lungs, Etc.” draws the most Neu comparisons. During the chorus, the band settles into a groove that alternates two-notes, conjuring that “wheels on the highway” feel that is the staple of Krautrock.
“Watch You” sounds a bit like the Flaming Lips in a mellow, tripped-out groove. Roberts’s voice, hushed and at the upper end of its range, tries hard to imitate Wayne Coyne’s scratchy whine. Indeed, it is Roberts’s voice that is the weak spot of this album. Most of the record features him singing like John McCrea from Cake, spoke-sung with such forced indifference that it comes off as, well, dorky. Besides Roberts’ voice, the main problem with this record is that it drags on too long, which is inexcusable since it runs under 37 minutes.
The sad truth is, despite the impossibly cool sound that the band has developed, there are not enough new ideas to keep the songs from mashing together into one continuous drone. Yeah, it’s damn awesome that they made all these space noises with analog instruments, but the album itself is like a trip to Alpha Centauri: monotonous, empty and long. Once you get past the initial novelty, the rest is all the same. It doesn’t help that the lyrics are sometimes inane. “Shiva the Destroyer / Will cut down all your clover,” or “Hot dog fingers smeared through the beard.” Right.
While you certainly can’t blame Sushirobo for trying, the record comes up a bit short. The band’s retro version of the retro-future is enticing, and, while the record is not without a few great moments, The Light-Fingered Feeling is short on ideas. But there is light in the future, as there always has been. Give them another record or two, and Sushirobo may emerge as a groundbreaking pop band.