Fujiya & Miyagi – [Album]

Saturday, 29 November 2008

The problem for a modern artist who fetishizes a deceased musical subgenre—punk, proto-metal, no wave, bouncy '60s pop, etc. ad infinitum—is that it's basically impossible to grow as an artist. The people who pioneered the sounds you're aping made only a few records in the milieu that fascinates you before moving on to something else. The Sex Pistols self-destructed. Sabbath lost Ozzie and then Ronnie, and then broke up. The Kinks became a country band. The challenge for contemporary artists, then, is what to do when that first blush of fame fades and it's time to get together and make that second record. You can just record that same record over and over (see the oeuvre of any punk band formed since 1985 for reference), or you can try to expand your sound, and hope you don't lose too many fans in the process. Lightbulbs finds Fujiya & Miyagi at this crossroads.

Their debut, 2006's Transparent Things, was an orgasmic experience for Krautrock fans. Here was an act breathing new life (or at least paying tribute to) the complex, mile-wide sound of bands like Neu! and Can. Transparent Things was a propulsive, enigmatic, expansive nostalgia trip that stood up to years of repeat listens, much like he best work of the artist that inspired it.

, Fujiya & Miyagi's latest, is another story. Some tracks retain the feel of the follow-the-bouncing-ball bass lines, spacey synth notes, and intriguingly nonsensical lyrics that made their first record such a joy. "Sore Thumb" is the most in-line with what you could call the vintage Fujiya & Miyagi sound, although the "Stop Making Sense"-style synth moves are a bit more blatant than on their previous work. "Hundreds & Thousands" is another great moment; a track that moves inexorably forward, making a bass line and some synth tones sound as deep and interesting as the London Philharmonic.

Mostly, though, Lightbulbs is an exercise is pulling the throttle back a bit, and trying to expand the band's sound beyond their roots. It's mostly unproductive work. Track after track adds additional elements into the mix—they've expanded from a trio to a quartet for this disc—but feel more sparse. "Lightbulbs," the Air-y sounding "Goosebumps," and "Dishwasher" are just a few examples. The band throws everything they have at these tracks; "Pickpocket" alone has finger snaps, a descending bass line intro, and a bit of Morse Code in the bridge, none of which is related to the main body of the song. They sound like afterthoughts, and they don't add anything meaningful.

There are also some attempts at dance tracks, "Uh" and "Pterodactyl" among them. While they sound like they'd be fun to stomp around a college party to, they're mostly forgettable.

Trying to prove they are more than some British lads with a hard-on for Neu!, Fujiya & Miyagi do their best to cast out from the corner they obviously feel painted into by their debut. The result, while occasionally enjoyable, sounds mostly like a band desperate to move in some new direction, although what direction that might be they can't agree on. They try to sound more spare, more dancey, more '80s, and more like they used to. A listener can't help but wish they would just jam a little and not worry so much.


Fujiya & Miyagi – "Dishwasher" – [mp3]

Lightbulbs is out now. Buy it on Amazon.

Related Articles:
Fujiya & Miyagi: X-Ray Vision – [Feature]
Fujiya & Miyagi – [Live]

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