Monday, December 22, 2014

Working For the Week: The Music of Shonen Knife


For real deal--some jobs are never done.

Never judge a book by its cover, a film by its cinematography, or a record label by its owner.  Good Charamel Records was started in 2003 by Goo Goo Dolls bassist/co-founder Robby Takac.  (You may remember the Goo Goo Dolls from such wretched songs as every single one they ever recorded.)  Good Charamel's impressive streak of eight years without releasing a single album I cared about ended when they put out Shonen Knife's 18th studio offering, Pop Tune.

"Welcome to the Rock Club"--Drum beat, it's a rock beat.  Welcome to the raw crab, indeed.  Fists stomp, feet pump, words do-si-do.  Naoko Yamano is a goddess in her own mind, which is the only requirement.  Asian buffets replace Colombian ones and stuffed animals occupy the bed-space the lesser deities might reserve for sleazoid leech-types.

"Pop Tune"--Pop having wistful thoughts of punk.  Memories that wrap 'round rather than smother.  The women of Shonen Knife are superheroes with no traceable villains, tailoring melodies for episodes of a lovably off-kilter animated series favored by viewers with the eternal kernel of childhood popping forever about.

(Might have been no call for that key change, but there was a text for it.)

"Osaka Rock City"--"I need more excitement," goes the litany.  Not terribly enticing the first few swings, but after I loaded up an animated gif of a dancing Snoopy and let it loop whilst playing this 'un, the enjoyment level increased exponentially.  As the enjoyment level is wont to do whenever dancing Snoopy is in the vicinity.

"All You Can Eat"--The organic peculiarity of the Knife means a song titled "All You Can Eat" was inevitable.  That it features a kazoo solo is merely a honey-dipped bonus.

A tidy break from the wall of sound, "AYCE" boasts chords with discernible footprints.  "Fill yourself with food, " Naoko beseeches us, and you don't gotta tell this feedbag more than once.  The succulent selections of sushi; the gloriously-sauced and deeply-fried meats; the rolls both spring and egg--there's a reason I wait until late at night to write these reviews.

"Paper Clip"--A shadowed strut along the snoozer's edge.  The winds are for sails only.  I've seen this sky before.  "Life is a journey/No need to cry."

"Psychedelic Life"--The Seventies vibe that permeates Pop Tune pulsates strongest here, the sole turn at the mic for drummer Emi Morimoto.  Nothing fruity or alarming here.  So many of SK's songs sound like short story concepts set to music.

"Mr. J"--Not about weed.  Or Julius Erving.  Absolutely about cotton candy.

"Ghost Train"--"Oh yeah."

Say it again.

"Oh yeah."

Pigs decked out in penguin costumes achieve a tenth of the coolness on display here.  Oink and waddle all you want, Wilbur, but Charlotte is still dead, and the rockin' shudder of Shonen Knife still cannot be surpassed.  

"Sunshine"--Bass-slinger Ritsuko Taneda offers up a track which manages to come off more psychedelic than the song with the actual word in its title.

"Sunshine" is comparable to someone who believes in love reading the first few lines of an above-average romantic poem. 

"Move On"--An odd conclusion.  By-the-numbers optimism that is either heartening in its consistency or discouraging in its consistency.  Only you, the listener, can decide. 


See?  They just won't go home.  Bless 'em.  The furnace is probably on the fritz, anyway.

"Bad Luck Song"--Naoko Yamano listens to naught but Seventies rock radio stations for one solid weekend while vegging out at home, noshing on every type of comfort food but veggies.  Come Monday, she has an album written in her head, raring to go.  Not to mention a roiling tummy.

"Bad Luck Song" is akin to wolfing down an entire pizza.  I don't know why I did it.  I know it felt good while I was doing it.  I know, furthermore, that in spite of that excruciating discomfort doing the Double Dare obstacle course run around my insides, and in spite of the repeated assurances to self that never again will I allow my appetite to rule so rapaciously, the day will come when I yet again take a whole pie to the face.

"Black Crow"--A diamond kiss, a hazardous bliss.  Dark without being dank, greased-up but not slippery.  Shonen Knife love their heavy metal suffused with dreams that scrub the brain clean of all those scruffy boy-sins.

"Dance to the Rock"--No choice is left!  At the rock club, it's only right!  Exuberant ducks all in a row, keep the bread in yer pocket.

"Ramen Rock"--SK eschew the trappings of the rawk life for smooth noodle indulgence.  Chuckles by the basketful.

"Shopping"--Classic rock mall life.  Eh?  These mash-ups are leaving me Brak-brained.

"Fortune Cookie"--Worst part of any Asian buffet experience.  Hokey advice, mush-mouthed proverbs, who needs it?  Gimme a fried banana with a fiver wrapped around it any day.

"Like a Cat"--If you are wondering whether or not "meow" sounds are inserted into "Like a Cat," I wonder how familiar you are with this band here.

I Am a Cat?  No I am Like a Cat.  Big big.  Big Cat.  Pump it up...slow it down.  Every day they read the cookbook:  To Serve Cats.

To frolic and play the feline way--never could I pull off such.  I'm the stern-faced creature carrying more weight than most on my four legs, so forget the slinking and the slithering, and why ever would I purr when a bark goes better?  Still...I just can't resist these curious charms.

"Green Tea"--Spiked with the stuff that shelters ears in fuzz.  This one is much better than actual green tea, or really any tea you can name.  I much prefer coffee, but a Shonen Knife under the collective influence of all that caffeine would bring about an adorableness too fidgety and bubbly for the world to contain.

"Robots From Hell"--I'd love to see them play this live, if only to grin up at 'em from my spot in the front and yell, "Y'all still cute as all hell!"  Clank and burn, but wait your turn!

"Jet Shot"--I was going to specify a single subject, but forget that--"Jet Shot" is the entire Candy Kingdom from Adventure Time.  Grab all the goods, savor all the tastes, marvel at all the colors, and above all appreciate the goddamn textures.

Naoko Yamano has gone on record stating her desire that Shonen Knife should last forever.  Not in the sense that they have recorded classic music that will be listened to generations from now.  (Though by my estimation they have.)  She means that the band Shonen Knife should, literally, last forever.  Even after she's moved on to that great buffet in the sky, there should exist on Earth three irrepressible Japanese women filling the increasingly ugly air with pretty sound under the name of Shonen Knife.  

I can't say that Naoko's wish is either foolhardy or undesirable.  I can say, however, that if Shonen Knife indeed prove to be the cockroaches of rock, I need to start training someone to take over these reviews. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk

AIRDATE:  11/4/88

STORY:  Brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright had spent three years designing and testing gliders in the hopes of proving that man was indeed capable of sustained controlled flight.  Failure after failure left them disheartened and pessimistic.  Desperate, they decided to relocate from Ohio to Kitty Hawk, NC, a small beach town whose shores appealed to men who needed unobstructed land and strong winds.

On December 17, 1903, the first-ever pilot-controlled flight of significant time and distance was taken in a 700-pound aircraft called "The Flyer," as flown by Orville Wright.  The world was literally never the same after that day.

The narration that kicks off the program, detailing mankind's multitudinous attempts to gain meaningful access to the skies, is more interesting on its own than a couple This Is America segments I could name.  Soon enough, we join Charlie Brown and Linus on a rip-roarin' horse-and-carriage ride to see Linus' cousin Dolly in Kitty Hawk.  The timing of their visit is quite fortuitous--December 16, 1903!

Dolly has been keeping abreast of all the news regarding the recent arrivals and their experiments, and has no trouble convincing Charlie Brown and Linus to bike with her down to the beach.  Once there, they run into not the brothers, but a slightly less innovative duo:  their assistants, Peppermint Patty and Marcie.  After some shenanigans with a kite, Orville and Wilbur materialize and decide the conditions are as good as they'll get--time to try and fly.

Air travel revolutionized the world.  But millions worldwide remain fearful of getting onto an airplane.  Some of us can't get through a flight of at least four hours duration without suffering panic attacks.  You know what method of transportation rocks harder than a plane?  A train.  Fuck yeah, trains.  Slower and lower, and I've never once thought I was going to die while seated on one.  So I give this segment a 9.

MUSIC:  For modern jazz that sounds most at home played at a respectable volume in a coffeehouse, call on Wynton Marsalis. 8

ANIMATIONThe usual well-done job, despite some infrequent weirdness with mouths.  I get a kick out of the kids wearing jackets that correspond color-wise with the outfits we most associate with them.

The crayon drawings that are shown on screen as Dolly relates the pre-Kitty Hawk adventures of the Wright Brothers are pretty awesome.  As in, if a kid did those and showed them to me, I'd muss their hair and give 'em a cupcake.  9

VOICES:  Erin Chase (Charlie Brown) and Brandon Stewart (Linus) prove themselves yet again to be reliable reciters of dialogue typed on paper.  8.  In fact, I'm handing out that number out like crazy--here you go, Jason Mendelson, you do a fine Patty; Gregg Berger and Frank Welker, who could do the adults better?; finally, Brandon Home, very nice job as Dolly.

Sadly, Tani Powers underwhelms as Marcie (5), sounding as though she was overdubbed.  She says her lines in the same maddeningly laconic manner as that "not-Flick" kid waiting in line to see Santa in A Christmas Story.



You done goofed, son.

--Can we just, each and every one of us, appreciate how dashing Snoopy looks in a top hat?


By 1950s standards, Linus and Charlie Brown are a married couple.



Sand sandwich!


I wasn't entirely sold on his plan before, but now that Snoopy has accessorized, I'm confident we will see a dog in the air on this day!


Sand sandwich!

The story of the Wright Brothers is one of perseverance, ingenuity, and obsolete first names.  Definitely give this segment a watch.  (Or a rewatch.)