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
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
All words by Paul Spicer.