Since we’re doing a Jaime roundtable, I thought I’d break out some old punk reviews for the intermission. This Shonen Knife first appeared on Madeloud, the Forever review I think was pubished in Bitch Magazine.
Shonen Knife, Free Time
I haven’t heard any of Shonen Knife’s albums since 1998’s sublimely silly Happy Hour. Honestly, I wasn’t even aware that they were still a going concern. So when I picked up their latest, I was excited, but a little nervous as well. They’ve replaced their founding bassist, they’re a decade past their heydey — Lollipops and Fish Eyes forbid, but…is it possible that they suck now? Could their cuteness have curdled?
I needn’t have worried. Shonen Knife’s formula has stayed the same: Ramonesesque three-chord songs backing adorably dada lyrics about food, animals, or any other topic as long as it is treated as if it were a food or an animal. It’s simple, it’s unpretentious, and — even if the indie scene has moved on to other things — it works every bit as well in 2010 as it did in the 90s. The most characteristic outing here is undoubtedly “Capybara,” an insanely catchy tune about…well, you know. “South American animal/always biting grass….roly-poly body shape/swimming very well.” Sing it in a winsome female voice with a Japanese accent, shifting into a Beatles-y psych chorus to announce “Sleeping, biting, all the time/Sleeping, snoring, all the night” — it’s so comforting. In fact, the only way it could possibly be improved is with a techno version sung in Japanese — which is thoughtfully included as a bonus track.
“Comforting” pretty much defines Shonen Knife’s whole aesthetic. Greil Marcus and a million sad aging morons may point to the Clash and mumble incoherently about fighting the power, but in Japan they know that punk is music to shake your toddler to. “Rock N Roll Cake” isn’t about keeping the faith — it’s a recipe for woolgathering. (“Rock cake/ I want to sleep inside it…Roll cake/I can have funny dreams.”)
Even a song like “Economic Crisis” is not a call to arms but a cheerful ditty. And “Perfect Freedom” isn’t about the allure of Dionysiac abandon, but is instead a thoughtful, cautionary note from your mildly dotty aunt. “An…archy in the UK/it might be a mistake.”
“Love Song” though, is my absolute favorite. The band nods to girl group garage with a tune that adds some sway to the rock as they sing about how they don’t really like love songs, but everyone likes to listen to them. “Maybe I have a strange mind,” they muse, and then, in half parody, half capitulation, they start trotting out the clichés. “I want you, ooooo/ I need you, oooo/ such phrases/embarrass me.” The completely disarming sincerity of the distanced disavowal sung in those little girl voices just about breaks my heart. There are another six albums that Shonen Knife released over the last 12 years, and I’m thinking I’m going to have to go back and get them all.
According to their press materials, Forever was conceived in a van. While travelling as part of Me and My Arrow, Shenna Corbridge (vocals), Jen Nigg (bass and vocals), and Joel Lopez (drums) got the opportunity to go on another tour instantly. Their bass player didn’t want to…so the remaining three just picked up a fourth (guitarist Jael Navas), formed a new band and went anyway.
Forever certainly sounds like it’s the brainchild of a bunch of folks who want the road to go on…well, forever. The music is enthusiastic, unpretentious, professional pop-punk that hits all the genre expectations — fast (but not too fast) tempos; catchy, familiar hooks; raw (but not too raw) production; vocals with a tinge (though just a tinge) of cowpunk swing.
Live, I bet they’re fabulous; enthusiastic, as happy to play in front of 2 people as in front of 300, in love with the true-believers thrashing away in the audience. On record, though, it’s hard to see the point. Not that there’s anything wrong with Forever, just as there was nothing wrong with the first million bands that sounded exactly like them. The only real variation on the 15-minute record is “Who’s Haunting Me?” which picks up speed enough to verge on hardcore. It’s hardly earth-shattering, but when you’ve been in the van this long, any change in scenery is worth pointing out.
Listen To If: You’re a Very, Very Old Punk or a Very, Very New One
Listen To While: Jogging Short Distances