Seagull Screaming Kiss Her Kiss Her – a retrospective

Seagull Screaming Kiss Her Kiss Her – a retrospective

Paul Spicer recalls the glory days of one of Japan’s great bands.

For those into late 20th Century Swindon new wave/indie, the name of this band will come as somewhat of a comfort. Taken from an XTC track from 1984 album The Big Express, Seagull Screaming Kiss Her Kiss Her were a three piece from Japan whose critical position in that country’s chequered musical history remains unchallenged, despite their split over 10 years ago. Led by singer/songwriter/guitarist Aiha Higurashi, and supported admirably by the skill of bassist Nao Koyama and, until 1999, drummer Takaharu Karashima, they released some of the most exciting, diverse and scuzzy indie inspired rock.

 

I first heard them during my initial foray to Japan in 2003. I was engrossed in a discussion about PJ Harvey with a Japanese music journalist who remarked ‘you should listen to Seagull Screaming Kiss Her Kiss Her … I’ll make you a tape’. True to his word, three days later I had a compilation made up of a selection of their back-catalogue. Admittedly, at this point I was not too familiar with the more obscure Japanese artists; however since then I have heard a ton of stuff from here but am yet to find anything that comes close.

The band’s attraction is, unlike many of their peers, they seem to mean it. Their sound is not exclusively commercial but often renegade and disjointed, creating a feeling of authenticity which, in the land of sales graphs and public acceptance, is both admirable and refreshing. This is a factor which has blighted many other bands, before and since who, despite their musical prowess, feel as if they are going through the motions, living up to expectations and bowing to stereotypes. Of course these bands are technically gifted … but they ain’t got no soul! As John Lydon once remarked in a 2004 interview “if your focus is all on ‘note perfect’ you’ve lost it. It’s unemotional and it’s dribble. It’s like Japanese Jazz, everything in the right place, but so what“? This is an astute and completely accurate observation and even today, the indie scene here is full of bands more concerned with looking and sounding perfect. Of course SSKHKH can play, but their sound carries with it a natural feel … born to do it.

From the sparseness of early tracks such as Davy Baby and A Prince Happy, to the funky overtones of Chik-Chik-Ah or the indie Avant Garde of Coma, with its 3 minute guitar intro, the band’s musical progression from album to album is steady. From the first EP Losey is My Dog (1993) to the last album Future or No Future (2001), SSKHKH take you on a journey across rich and wildly eclectic musical landscapes, each album raising the bar just enough to pique the interest of the uneducated but at the same time keeping devotees on board. These are well crafted songs with recognisable and devilishly catchy riffs. This is not to say that their music is generic, there is just too much going on for it to be so. But, within these tunes there lays a musical foundation which is unmistakeably familiar. This could arguably be down to Higurashi’s time spent in New York and London and her personal influences which include 70s Punk and Acid House, both of which can be heard clearly within the band’s output.

To pinpoint a stand-out album is challenging although the 1997 album 17 is arguably amongst their finest work. Vocally, Higurashi’s delivery drips with attitude while musically the band combine and experiment across genres to create a wonderfully divergent set of tunes. In-fact the period from 17 up to the final album, 2001’s Future or No Future, could be described as SSKHKH’s most accomplished. The band raises the bar and offers a selection of tunes that are delivered with forceful swagger.   Gigs at 2000’s Fuji Rock Festival and support slots with prominent bands such as Mogwai and Modest Mouse raised their profile, but at the time their music was available only at the gigs or on expensive Japanese imports.

This problem of access to their tunes was partially resolved in 2002 when two compilations, one in Japan and one in the UK, were released. The Japanese edition Dying for Seagulls, and the British Cherry Red release entitled Red Talk complement each other well as the albums contain a completely different set of tracks. However, soon after, the band split leaving fans with the challenge of hunting down their back catalogue.

Since the break-up, Higurashi has gone on to write songs for Japanese artists such as Yuki, and has also released accomplished solo albums.  In addition she has collaborated with Japanese DJ Tsutchie on the album Ravolta and has released albums with the bands GAL, and Loves! She returned in 2011 with a new project The Girl, a 2 piece who rekindle the attitude and skill of SSKHKH. Their debut album Lost in Wonder harks back to the energy and punky overtones of her original band and is quite superb (the title track in particular is outstanding). The band’s follow up, 2012’s UR SENSATION, is another reminder of Higrashi’s talent and although by no means a one-woman-show, her drive seems to ignite a flame in whatever project she undertakes.

 

Singles and EPs

Losey Is My Dog (1993) – Trumpet Trumpet Records – TT007

Seagull To Hell (1993) – Trumpet Trumpet Records – TT502

Swallow Up (1994) Cardinal Records – BDCAR-CS0001

Fly (1996) Polystar Co. Ltd. – PSCR-5431

Side Walkin’ (1996) Pamgrier – PG-002 – 10″ Vinyl only

Pink Soda (1996) Polystar Co. Ltd. – PSCR-5533

It’s Brand New (1997) Polystar Co. Ltd. – PSCR-5601

Sweet Home (1997) Polystar Co. Ltd. – PSCR-5654

Pretty In Pink (1999) Polystar Co. Ltd. – PSCR-5754

Sentimental Journey  (2001) Polystar – PSCR-5952

Lullaby (2001) Polystar – PSCR-5979

 

Studio Albums

Give Them Back To Me (1996) Hate It, Damn It Records – HDR-001CD

17 (1998) Polystar Co. Ltd. – PSCR-5703

No! No! No! (2000) Polystar Co. Ltd. – PSCR-5861

Future Or No Future (2001) Polystar – PSCR-5957

 

Live and Compilations

No! No! No Star 2000 (2001) Polystar – PSCR-5935 (Live)

Dying For Seagulls! (2002) Polystar Co. Ltd. – PSCR-6039

Red Talk (2002) Arrivederci Baby!/Cherry Red Records – CIA0002CD

 

Seagull Screaming Kiss Her Kiss Her can be found on Facebook. Aiha Higurashi’s website also has useful links.

All words by Paul Spicer. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

18 thoughts on “Seagull Screaming Kiss Her Kiss Her – a retrospective

  1. Tom McBride

    It is about time that this band were given some love. I picked up the aformentioned Red Talk on a blind buy a few years ago and then set about finding their back catalogue. Incredible band so underrated.

  2. Freya Alden

    My friend told me about The Girl a while ago and I found out about Seagull Screaming from there. I agree that they are completely eclectic in sound although Future or No Future is their best album. It is nice to see them still written about

  3. Neil B

    First time hearing them and I love it! The song No Telephone is dead good. I’ll have to try to grab some more of their stuff – For the time being I’ll snag the best of CD – it’s proper cheap too!!!

  4. Christine

    First time I have heard their stuff but judging by the You Tube and Soundcloud examples, they are certainly a band I want to hear more of. Also, I checked out the other band mentioned, The Girl … they are also pretty excellent too. Really interesting piece and thanks for pointing me in the direction of some great new sounds …

  5. Mara Banciu

    This is why I come to this site often … I always discover new music to listen. I think Seagull Screaming Kiss Her Kiss Her are so great and very much of my taste. I will listen to more but where can I buy some albums of theirs now? I check on Amazon and eBay but there are few?

  6. Aldona Miller

    As people have said it is great to see an article about this band. I heard them from a Japanese friend who also made me a compilation on a CD (not tape). This features the band very well I think, their style is very varied but you can always here things which sound familiar. So it is easy to like. I also love the voice of Aiha Higurashi which is always in English. I have not heard of the Girl or any of the other music but I would like to find it. It is great that many people have heard of and like the band.

  7. Russ Beech

    I am a regular at LTW and to be honest – as a huge XTC fan – the band’s name brought me here. No idea about Japanese music but gotta say, this band are great. Attitude, sounds, look it’s all there. I also get where the Japanese journalist was coming from with the PJ Harvey reference. That first track in the review sounds like the riff from Rid of Me (I expected Polly to cut in at one point). What is also interesting is that all the songs are in English? Is this for purpose (to suit the review) or is the majority of this band’s lyrics English? I also checked The Girl on YouTube using the links above and that was also good, although the newer live videos with no bassist was like ‘White Stripes light’, pretty bad. This kind of music demands a bassist surely!! Anyway, nice retrospective.

    • Matt

      I so agree with your comment about the lack of bass on those YouTube tracks, sounds so weak!! I am quite familiar with Japanese indie and two bands I really like have gone down this kind of shitty, weird White Stripes road. Firstly there is a band called Detroit 7 who were kind of like Seagull but maybe a little heavier. They got rid of their bass player and with that, lost an integral part of the groups dynamic. Now The Girl seem to have gone the same way. I am not sure if they are going to be ‘bass-free’ from now on but I did notice that the reviewer altered this article – yesterday (and on the CDs I own by them) The Girl were a 3 piece but today they are a 2 piece!!! Thing is, I really dig this stuff and get pretty pissed when it is mucked about with … I am in Tokyo in September and hope to catch a couple of gigs while there. Would love to see The Girl but on with a full line up!!!

  8. Jen C

    Had to post (long time lurker), to say this is a really great piece with some ‘amazing’ music. Never heard of this band before and generally my taste is for more heavier music, but I LOVE these songs.

  9. Oscar

    For those wanting to buy some of this music, I live in New York and there are a few shops here, and in surrounding states, that sell imported Asian music either instore or online. You may want to do a Google shopping search? As for the retropec, I do take issue with what the author says about Japanese Indie bands kinda ‘going through the motions’, I do not find this at all. I am quite familiar with music of the region and I find many of the bands to be colorful and exciting.

  10. Barb

    Becareful when you listen to the Down to Mexico song because it will bury its way into your brain! I listened this morning and it was with me all day … at work, on the tram, in the bar, at home … DaDaDa .. DaDaDa … DaDaDa … DaDaDaDaaaa …. Audio Drugs!!!!

  11. Fran

    I like the article very much. I read it yesterday and enjoyed the music. People are asking about buying some of the CDs, I have bought 2, Red Talk from Amazon and 17 from eBay. Yesterday there were many variations on eBay, but not so many this morning. I did try the official website but the link is in Japanese. So I think that these are best to visit to buy.

  12. Martin Pearce

    Nice article – would never had heard this if not for LtW … it damages my wallet coming here! Anyway, there is a ton of stuff on the Japanese i-tunes store. Bought a card on ebay, had the code sent and voila – takes a while to make an account though as it is all in Japanese!!! Have to say that the writer is bang on with the first The Girl album, it is stonking! Cudos to Louder than War for publishing something so leftfield though – good discussion too.

  13. Baker

    @Barb I was too late – I clicked the link before I saw your message and now I am doomed forever!!!

  14. Webby

    The tunes highlighted here ain’t too bad but I checked some of the other stuff and although couple of previous posts mentioned it, the live videos with just the guitarist/singer and the drummer is godawful! Hope their album don’t sound like that.

  15. Gillian

    @Webby from what I can gather their bass player only just left, or was sacked or whatever so I think that maybe these gigs were too soon to find a replacement hence the 2 piece. The album is completely different. I get where people are coming from tho’ – This White Stripes formula, so ‘yawn’

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