Nippon Madonna ‘Bando Yamero’ (Redrec/Sputniklab)
Released 6th June 2012
Words: Paul Spicer
Among the generic crooners, American inspired rap and the sickly idol dominance of the Japanese music scene, it is refreshing to know that beneath it all in a kind of grubby sub-culture lies a rather tasty alternative. Being force fed the aforementioned nonsense on most Japanese TV and radio stations can be truly disheartening but if you look around, you can often uncover a band that restores a little faith in the country’s musical competence. Nippon Madonna, an all female Tokyo three-piece certainly fall into that category. Untainted as yet by major label tinkering, they are tight, fresh and are slowly beginning to make people take notice.
With a prickly attitude towards pretty much everything, they are in complete contrast to the sickly-sweet norm of teenage idols and manufactured boy bands; both musically and lyrically they are light years away from the accepted norms of popular music. Controversially their songs include topics that many other Japanese bands would not even think about discussing. For example, their 2011 mini-album was entitled PMS and one of the best tracks on it Seiri (literally meaning ”Ëperiod’), is a female take on the pure annoyance of that time of the month. It cannot really be explained how such a song would be received in the Tokyo skyscrapers of the music industry elite, however such sentiments would, in this male dominated business, make most executives’ toes curl.
The new mini-album Bando Yamero (Quit Your Band) is Nippon Madonna’s third and although it retains the lyrical sharpness of PMS, musically it seems edgier and more cohesive. The titular track which opens the album is a 2m 29s no nonsense, guitar thrashing slice of retro punk which chastises the current crop of run of the mill Japanese bands. Backed by thunderous drums and a quite nostalgic J.J Burnel bass sound it is a vibrant piece of crunching garage punk. Such a vibe is characteristic of the album and fits in perfectly with a selection of songs which seem to draw upon a range of influences. From the Clash inspired Japanese band the Blue Hearts, the Sex Pistols (the track Idol has overtures of Submission) and the criminally underrated Detroit 7, there are a lot of recognisable elements throughout.
It may seem unfair to say that Nippon Madonna sound like many other bands that have come before. Of course comparisons can be drawn, but in no way does this detract from the overall quality of the album and among the recognisable riffs, lay songs which are indicative of a very creative individual style. For example, OdysseyÃ£ÆÂ»1985Ã£ÆÂ»Sex is a screaming mass of hyper-fast vocal delivery, occasionally interrupted by a bass and drum break before eventually falling into a cacophony of noisiness. Bando Yamero is full of energy, sarcasm and attitude, highlighted by singer Anna’s often vitriolic delivery which is sung over a strong foundation of musical togetherness. This is an extremely exciting album and quite easily one of the best that I have heard this year.
Of course, there are issues and the main complaint here is something which is not exclusive to this album. In 99% of the music I am sent to review, buy, or listen to one question continually arises; why do so many bands think that on an album, which for the most part brims with energy and power, a slow track is a necessity? Maybe there is an argument that it creates some kind of ”Ëdynamic’ or it is proof that the band is not one dimensional. However, on a mini-album which consists of 6-8 tracks, is not the ”Ëtoken slowy’ superfluous? For me, once the ”Ëslow track’ kicks in, momentum is immediately lost and there is little time for the album to get back into its stride. Cases in point here are the tracks Shine to Iwarete Anshinshita (I Felt Relieved When Someone Told Me to Die) and the closing track Koreshika Nainoni (I Have Only This) which are not bad songs by any means but would maybe just one of them would have been enough? Shine to Iwarete Anshinshita is right in the middle of the album and breaks the whole thing up into two parts ”â pre and post. Koreshika Nainoni is the albums finale and although it is the better song of the two, it just leaves you thinking ”Ëis that it?? Of course songs such as these do enhance a bands repertoire but ultimately their inclusion tends to grind everything to a halt. On Bando Yamero this is a side-issue and maybe more of a personal grudge, but when the atmosphere and energy of the album is lost because of a weak ”Ëindie ballad’ maybe it is an issue that bands, with a limited track-list, should address.
Formed in 2009 whilst at high school and with a handful of self-produced EP’s and indie backed mini-albums behind them, the band’s future really depends on whether they intend, like so many do, to compromise on sound and style once a major label comes knocking. This is a story that many fans of indie music in Japan have witnessed in the past. New, innovative and exciting bands get swallowed and destroyed by the all powerful majors with their lure of money and fame. Let’s hope Nippon Madonna don’t go the same way because at the moment, they are one of the great hopes of the Japanese indie/garage scene.
Usagi to Kaiwa Dekiru E.P (Self-Produced)
STOPAIDS NGO&NPO E.P (Self-Produced)
2010 Sotsugyo Seisaku – Jackman Records
2011 PMS ”â Redrec/Sputniklab
2012 Bando Yamero ”â Redrec/Sputniklab
All words by Paul Spicer.