Omoide Hatoba & DemiSemiQuaver
This time I’ll write about two great bands that have both been around for a while, but haven’t gotten the attention they deserve. To some extent that’s probably because what they share is a completely unique vision, which makes them very hard to categorize or compare with anyone else. Which of course makes them very interesting, too.
Omoide Hatoba is not as well-known as they should be outside Japan, despite the relatively famous membership and the group’s longevity. The band was started by Seiichi Yamamoto in 1990, while he was still guitarist with the Boredoms. After several albums, Vuoy was released in 1997 and that seemed to be the end of the band; but it wasn’t, and in 2004 Osaka Ra appeared (pictured above). Other members have included bassist Atsushi Tsuyama (now best-known for his participation in Acid Mothers Temple), drummer Chew Hasegawa (now known for his band Corrupted), and well-travelled studio drummer Takashi Ohgushi. Guests have included almost everyone: Yoshimitsu Ichiraku, ATR, Katsui Yuji, Otomo Yoshihide, and so on and on.
Osaka-Ra is the most recent album, but if you’re in the U.S. or Europe you may find it easier to find some of the releases from the 90s, such as Kinsei, which was released in America by Birdman Records; or any of the releases from Alchemy, which may be available at such outlets as Aquarius Records or Other Music. They’re all equally baffling, in a good way. You never know what will come next: spacey rock, quirky pop, avant-puzzlement, funny noises… The more recent albums are slicker, both because Yamamoto’s had better recording gear to work with and because he’s simply always improving his own techniques. On Vuoy and Osaka-Ra the rock songs rock more, the spaciness is more pronounced, the pop moments are more fully realized and memorable, and overall it just seems as though whatever he’s intended, he’s succeeded at. Being one of those rare, true musical geniuses, that’s not surprising. This is the guy who, years ago, counted and then guessed that he was in 27 different bands, each of them equally important. Those groups have included the Boredoms, Omoide Hatoba, Rashinban, Live Under the Sky, Rovo, Sun Kich, Novo Tono, Guitoo, and more.
Of them all, Omoide Hatoba is perhaps my favorite, because its blend of wackiness and serious composition, structure and free form dynamics, is entirely unique. Nobody but Yamamoto could have created these songs, and his blend of consummate skill and oddball humor shines through it all. Do yourself a favor and track down one of the albums above; I’ll recommend Vuoy, Osaka-Ra, or Kinsei as the best places to start, if you can find them.
Another band that has the potential to appeal to a large number of people, but which hasn’t had the opportunity over the years to reach an audience outside Japan, is DemiSemiQuaver. They’ve played in the U.S. a couple of times, and had several albums released by Hoppy Kamiyama’s always-terrific God Mountain label, but have been relatively quiet recently. Their most recent album is Dog Bless You, from 2003, which is packaged in a very cool 3-D cover which couldn’t really be scanned, so the above is the inside cover.
DemiSemiQuaver is based around singer Emi Eleonola, a keyboard and accordian-playing fashion plate whose vocals channel everyone from lounge chanteuses and Nina Hagen to Diamanda Galas and Eartha Kitt as a punk rocker. The band’s other members include Rovo violinist and well-known producer Katsui Yuji, percussionist Steve Eto, and others who play with bands such as UA, Chara, Rittz, and Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra. Which is to say that the band is technically excellent, which matters because the songs are so unusual.
DemiSemiQuaver rock, but in unexpected contexts like the violin-led “Lolita!” which manages a rocket-blast through some weird universe of gypsy village dance music; and the outer-space grind of “Happy Monster,” with its complex changes and strange sound effects. Describing DSQ is tough, because there isn’t really anything with which to compare them. Let a bunch of skilled players construct songs through a pastiche of disparate influences with a singer who primarily uses her own manufactured language, and you get something indescribable that, in this case, still rocks hard. Great stuff.