Krautrock has become one of the trendiest influences for indie bands to claim in recent years, from the arena-size bombast of Secret Machines to the stale interpretations of the Black Neon. But few honor it as successfully in service of their own sound as Fujiya & Miyagi, as evidenced by Transparent Things, the band’s third album, released in the U.K. back in May and only now making it to U.S. listeners.
Transparent Things offers hints of a much deeper thematic intent than we might expect from band members named after an irascible fictional sensei (Miyagi, a.k.a. David Best) and a turntable company (Fugiya, nee Steve Lewis). Song titles vary between referencing material goods both corporate (“Photocopier”) and industrial (“Cylinders”) and human parts broken (“Ankle Injuries”) and whole (“Collarbone”). Most significant are the points of intersection between the two, in song titles like “Cassettesingle” and “Reeboks in Heaven,” succinct representations of the union between the cultural products we make and the societal bond they provide us.
Eyeing its song titles, it comes as no surprise that Fujiya & Miyagi’s sound recalls other neo-futurists. Neu!’s motorik beat, Kraftwerk‘s compu-thrum, Boards of Canada‘s airy soundscapes, the rhythmic depth of Brian Eno-era Talking Heads, and Caribou‘s steady persistence are but a few of the touchstones here. But Fujiya & Miyagi is undeniably its own band, with peppy melodicism and upfront sense of humor (“We’re just pretending to be Japanese,” Best whispers in “Photocopier”).
That charming goofiness can be expected from Brits who go by silly Japanese monikers. Opener “Ankle Injuries” starts with a cheeky incantation of the band’s name, repeated in time with the sparse motorik groove. Lyrically, the band is as repetitive, softly propulsive and minimalist as its music. While at times distractingly cute-see “Collarbone,” where the “shin bone connected to the knee bone” nursery rhyme functions as a chorus-the music is unfailingly spot-on and flows lockstep with the computerized-tightness of the rhythm tracks and the sexy slither of Best’s guitar lines. Standouts like instrumental tracks “Conductor 71” and “Cassettesingle” play critical roles, not only serving as a welcome respite from Best’s whispery vocal style, which grows tiresome by the album’s final third, but as the purest summation of the band’s roomy drum, guitar and keyboard thrust.
Analog and digital. Organic and mechanic. Winkingly goofy and deceptively deep. To paraphrase Fujiya & Miyagi, looking through Transparent Things feels more than okay.