On Yer Living Grave – fifteen minutes and thirty seconds of tumultuous noise arranged into what amounts to seven songs that are really just bursts of sounds organized to varying degrees – the members of Japanther nailed their live sound and delivered another EP that can kick in your teeth and make you smile anyway.
Ian Vanek and Matt Reilly, with some enlisted help, recorded these tracks at a friend’s place in Flagstaff, Arizona, about as far from their Brooklyn base as possible, in every sense of the word. It’s a short recording – some of the tracks are all but two minutes long – but I was left wanting more. The genius is in Vanek’s and Reilly’s ability to take sounds that shouldn’t really work together and cobbling them into catchy songs – gritty but not in that self-consciously lo-fi way. They mix elements of punk, free jazz, sound collage, and analogue electronica without sounding pretentious or contrived. And this EP is just as immediate, shambolic and aggressive as Japanther’s live show.
“Wolfenswan” opens the EP with hint of free jazz that gives way to a chugging punk beat. The bass line gives a nod to Joy Division, and the vocals are disembodied and low in the mix, giving the song a huge sense of foreboding. The following song, “The Gravy,” is the best bits of the Saints, the Cars, the Ramones and the Misfits’ sing-along hooks all filtered through Japanther’s stripped-down and dirty production, creating a sloppy, could-only-be-more-fun-live, feel-good song. And when the guitars kick in after the numerous drum segues, they sound even louder.
The other songs bounce between Joy Division/Warsaw put through a food processor, chugging galloping punk, and a cut-and-mix of vocal samples and power chords that bring to mind dirty basements and garages. But on closer “Furrs Is Gone,” the members of Japanther completely harness the energy of dance beats they apparently wrung from old synthesizers and welded it to the DIY punk aesthetic. This combination of groove, drum rolls and layered sing-along vocals is a statement of both artistic intent and genre bending. Who needs slick production? Japanther is the master of sculptured racket.
Prefix review: Japanther [Dump the Body in Rikki Lake] by Jay Riggio