These guys are Marylanders and that sort of makes me proud to be one too. I was born in D.C. but I spent the majority of my life in Maryland, despite some stints down south (New Orleans) and overseas (Hong Kong). I'd like to say that there's something in the water here that explains the odd pop genius of Half Japanese and that there are loads of lesser-known bands just like this here but...nope. These guys are one of a kind. Or should I say "two of a kind"?
Jad Fair and David Fair are Half Japanese. They have been for almost 40 years. Their 1994 record of their live show in Europe in 1992, Boo!, is all set for a deluxe reissue on Fire Records next Friday. If you get the vinyl, you'll not only be getting this for the first time ever as a vinyl release but you'll be getting a nice Halloween mask in the record.
Please your neighbors and go as Jad Fair this Halloween.
What's on Boo! is a pretty good account of what makes these guys special. As the press release notes, this was recorded at a time when the band were about to get a lot more attention due to connections with Kurt Cobain on the Nirvana tour in 1993, and some associations with Teenage Fanclub and a few other bands. But, really, the band didn't necessarily need that sort of help. Their charms shine through on these 24 songs and the music is direct and infectious and sharply funny and poignant in spots.
It would be a futile effort to try to describe the small changes in style or tone in these cuts 'cause, let's face it, they are all little gems created through a limited set of tools by this two-piece. That said, there's some points to highlight: maybe the twang-guitar in "Big Mistake" or the Luna-like gentleness of "One Million Kisses" perhaps? The real highlight of the album for me was "King Kong" seeing as how it namechecks Willis O'Brien, the guy who did the stop motion for that classic 1933 film, a film I watched a dozen times as a kid in the Maryland. I like to think that while I was watching it late at night on some D.C. TV station maybe these 2 dudes were too. At least they understand the appeal of monster movies.
What charms most on Boo! is probably the warm affirmations of "Turn Your Life Around" which bears a trace of the previously-mentioned Teenage Fanclub, or even Velvet Crush. It's a great number and the sort of thing that reminds a listener what natural songwriters these guys are. Of course, there's also the funny "Sex at Your Parents' House" and tracks that are a good deal sillier, for lack of a better word. But if those cuts are silly, it's a sort of gentle and non-ironic silliness that seems to be the sort of thing that many would emulate but rarely pull off.
What made the music of Half Japanese so good was that it was natural and without a lot of artifice. In a sense, this is punk rock if only in terms of execution and presentation. There's not a lot of waste on this 24-track album. You either dig this or you don't and that's the kind of music that earns a lot of hardcore fans. If you're not one yet, or on the fence still, get with the Half Japanese program and grab Boo! this week from Fire Records.
More details on Half Japanese via the band's official Bandcamp page.
(I couldn't find any tracks from this release to share online so here's one of the cuts on Boo! from another Fire Records release!)