Half Japanese - Volume 3 : 1990-1995

by Andy Brown Rating:9 Release Date:2015-04-27

Fire Records continue to re-issue the back-catalogue of everyone’s favourite lo-fi art punks, namely the magical, shambolically glorious Half Japanese. 

The three albums in this collection cover their LPs from 1990 to 1995, during which the band continued to blaze a uniquely chaotic and charismatic trail. Frontman and songwriter Jad Fair delivers deceptively simple paeans to love, pain, and UFOs in a style that encompasses noise, a punk rock ethos and a keen ear for a life-affirming pop hook.

Following on from an album as wonderful as The Band That Would Be King would be a challenge for any band, yet back in 1990 Half Japanese seemed to take it all in their stride. We Are They That Ache With Amorous Love represented something of a departure from the more accessible stylings of the band's previous few offerings, instead harking back to their frantic, noise-laden debut LP.

The album opens with the cantankerous blues-stomp of ‘Every Hour’ and gets progressively stranger from there on. We get a barely recognisable distorted ramble through Them classic ‘Gloria’, the jazz-improv shuffle of ‘All of Me’, the post-punk strut of ‘Our Eyes’ and the noisy-fury of ‘How Did You Know’.

Not that Fair ever completely abandons his gentler side; just listen to their rather magical rendition of Daniel Johnston’s ‘Titanic’ or the lovelorn jangle of ‘Secret’. Overall, though, the album represents the band at their most wilfully challenging and discordant, most of the songs sounding as if they’ve been recorded in a dustbin (not a criticism by the way). With Sun City Girls Torch of the Mystics and Bongwater’s Too Much Sleep being released the same year, the album stands as a snapshot of a time where some mighty fine (and mighty, mighty strange) bands were in the alternative spotlight.

1992 saw the band change tact again and deliver something of a personal favourite; the dark, more varied and frequently beautiful Fire in the Sky. Before the melancholy can really start we get the furious, Pixies-worthy scream-along of ‘UFO Expert’, with Jad howling like a particularly agitated conspiracy theorist.

After the jazzy ‘Tears Stupid Tears’, we’re introduced to one of the album's finest moments and one of Fairs most tender compositions. ‘Always’ is a sparse, 12-minute acoustic drift that see’s Fair unfurl some touching, stream-of-consciousness lyrics that vary from The Beatles' response to Pet Sounds, Bob Dylan’s trip to Newport, and baseball player (“broken man”) Pete Rose. 

It’s also one of Fairs most melancholic love songs. The song pines and dreams aloud as a lonely harmonica sighs and Fair delivers a yearning, sad-eyed performance, “I think about you always/ not just now and then/ always”. It’s an incredibly absorbing song.

It would be inaccurate to describe the whole album as melancholic, far from it. ‘This Could Be the Night’ is a hopeful swell of a song, with brass arrangements underpinning a particularly sweet lyric from Fair, “I have an angel who comes to me and makes sure I’m alright”.

There’s a genuine, wide-eyed optimism at the heart of many of Fairs finest moments. The brief, noisy burst of ‘Turn Your Life Around’ makes you want to do exactly that, while a faithfully distorted rendition of The Velvets' ‘I Heard Her Call My Name’ proves to be suitably thrilling.

This mighty fine trio of albums finishes with 1995’s Hot. The album sees the band indulge their love of heavy-rock, a ‘grunge’ album of sorts but with strong undercurrents of The Stooges primitive garage-rock cool. The songs display Fair's combined love of pop songwriting and noisily, shambolic punk rock. The variation on offer is spelt out in the album’s first two offerings, the ear-splitting distortion and throaty screams of ‘Drum Straight’ sitting comfortably next to the bouncy jangle of ode to true love, ‘True Believers’.

In some ways, the album is a little more straight-ahead than the previous two LPs, preferring to go straight for the proverbial jugular. The band lay on thick, Nirvana/Wipers-worthy riffage on the likes of ‘Vampire’ and ‘Guess Again’.

There’s a genuine love that shines through all of the band's material, Fair standing out as an honest, passionate and unique songwriting talent. Just listen to the immaculate, steadily-paced sparkle and grace of ‘Lucky Ones’ for proof of the bands effortless genius: “The blue sky just keeps getting bluer every day/ Here at last it’s love/ There used to be dark clouds up above/ but no longer”. 

These three LPs represent a band that deserves to be adored by millions but will no doubt continue to be intensely loved by the relative few lucky enough to hear them. The band's influence can be felt on the likes of The Lovely Eggs and Jeffrey Lewis; primarily cult acts with utterly devoted fan-bases.

Just like Fire’s previous set of Half Japanese re-issues (Volume 2: 1987- 1989), I’ve had this latest set of albums on constant rotation for over a week. They’ll still be on my headphones in weeks to come. And the years after that. 

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