Half Japanese - Overjoyed - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Half Japanese - Overjoyed

by Andy Brown Rating:8 Release Date:2014-09-01

Half Japanese are something of an institution. Formed by Jad Fair and his brother David in 1974, the band produced 13 studio albums between 1980 and 2001. Those albums displayed a penchant for discordant, lo-fi sounds coupled with pop hooks and Jad Fair's charismatic leadership. From the off-kilter noise-pop of '87's Music to Strip By to the darker shades of '92’s Fire in the Sky, the band straddled genres and styles with a joyous, reckless abandon.  

Much like Jonathan Richman’s Modern Lovers, Half Japanese never really fitted in anywhere. Jad’s guitar was often deliberately un-tuned; passion, humour and songwriting took precedence over any kind of muso-y musicianship. The band has played with the likes of Mo Tucker, John Zorn and Kramer (Bongwater/Shimmy Disc) and can count members of REM, Teenage Fanclub and Sonic Youth as ardent fans.  

Overjoyed is the bands 14th studio album and their first in 13 years; understandably, the release comes with a fair amount of anticipation. The album opens with the confident strut of ‘In Its Pull’ and it’s like the band has never been away. The song shows Fair’s unfailing ability with a skewered pop hook as he sings, “Refresh the life that you now have, and be the best that you can possibly be” This positive lyrical outlook stands as one of the album's central themes; Overjoyed is clearly not an ironic title.   

Musically, the album compliments Fair’s frame of mind; the songs bubble with an infectious pop spirit and a genuine wide-eyed optimism. Take the vibrant, danceable African-pop rhythms of ‘Brave Enough’, with its plea to “throw caution to the air”. or unapologetically joyous love song ‘Our Love’. Certainly the unabashed optimism may not immediately appeal to everyone, but give these songs time and just maybe they’ll make your life that little bit better.

We’re certainly a long way from the fucked melancholy of Fire in the Sky ballad ‘Always’. This is an album from a songwriter passionately reaching out for life and all it has to offer. Take the beautifully heartfelt ‘The Time is Now’, on which Jad sings, “Don’t let your time ever pass you by and don’t ever get stuck with that stupid word 'why'”. All this sung over a smooth, hypnotic lounge ballad. There’s shades of the last couple of Silver Jews albums here; a desire to seize the day.  

Inventive and as eccentric as always, Jad Fair has delivered yet another thoroughly brilliant album to add to his already impressive discography. The band has certainly left an influence on the likes of The Lovely Eggs, The Mountain Goats, and Jeffrey Lewis but it’s not quite time for them to resign themselves to the cult band hall of fame just yet. It’s great to have them back.

I’ll leave you with a quote from a huge Half Japanese fan, Kurt Cobain, “If people could hear this music right now, they’d melt, they wouldn’t know what to do, they’d start bouncing off the walls and hyperventilating”.

Comments (1)

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Cool. Love those guys. Jad is a genuinely good bloke as well. No nonsense and unyielding. Respect.

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