A new record by Jad Fair and buddies is perennial cause for merriment. Nineteen albums in, Half Japanese have once again smashed it out the park, this time with a bewitching assortment of rubbery love songs and caustic noise, all centred on the subjects we truly wanna hear about: celebrities, Hollywood monsters and unrequited love (often between celebrities and Hollywood monsters!).
They took a 13-year hiatus at the start of the millennium after two decades of prolific songwriting, and although it looked like it might have been their conclusion, mercifully the time away from the studio appeared to galvanise them and they’ve been constructing near masterworks ever since.
Mastered by Brian Pyle of the freakily fun noise duo Starving Weirdos, the crude improvisations that were a key element of their first incarnation, have been traded out for ever more slick balladry and effervescent power pop, shot through with the off kilter enthusiasm and motivational pleasantries we so love from them. On The Beastmaster, a two minute swan diving Saturday morning cartoon soundtrack, the band honours the trashy early ’80s Conan The Barbarian B-movie knock off, the lyrics singing of a feral creature who comes to master the animal kingdom, a “controller of the uncontrollable”. It appears Pyle has achieved a similarly impossible feat, making this the most radio friendly effort they have yet to put to vinyl.
And It Is marks the one stab at anything approaching experimental on the record, a keyboard heavy new wave garage sing-along that occasionally lunges into ominous zones. If you can picture a distrustful Pee Wee Herman, deciding to impersonate ? & The Mysterians, and eulogising about the thrill of chocolate covered rainbows and brand new days, then you’ll know just how utterly brilliant it is. With his voice doused in echo and twanging guitars, A Phantom Menace isn’t so much a paean to the Star Wars prequel, as a cautionary tale of space ghost gigolos and the intergalactic police sheriffs who chase them.
Despite his love of the macabre and lurid, Fair never lets the gloom take control. For every Dark World we get a Wondrous Wonder to correct. On the track My Celebrity he tells his lady that she is his idol and he’s her sycophant. He posits “Your smile haunts me / It haunts me / haunts me like a ghost / haunts me like a monster / Spooky, scary, good”. Continuing his fascination with all things romantic, on the wah-wah flecked titular Crazy Hearts, we get the adorably naïve verse “The love bug bit me on my nose / and our love it / grows and grows / and you / are the one I chose / the one and only”.
You really could do a lot worse than have Jad Fair as your paramour. He’d wear your guard down with all that unyielding optimism and tales of subterranean and cosmic ghouls. And really, is there anything more romantic than that?