Posted in SHOFT on Tuesday 12th July 2011 at 10:07pm
Summer isn't a great time for music in lots of ways. As the entire industry appears to decamp to the ever growing list of festivals and new releases dry up, somehow the general public enters a strange, collective stupor where only the most inane rubbish seems to be played as loudly as possible through open car windows. So to combat my seasonal prejudice, The Japanese War Effort had to produce something pretty special, and in conjunction with the sterling efforts of Song, By Toad records they've pulled off something of a triumph here. Firstly, I've got to mention how great this record looks. Sliding the disc out of it's sleeve reveals a marbled ten-inch record, pressed on opaque vinyl shot through with an explosion of colour not unlike a Damien Hirst splatter painting. The sleeve itself is a bold and rather stunning, a close-up colourful picture of tooth-breaking seaside rock - a packet of which accompanies each order. Once again I'm struck by how the physical artefact is increasingly important at this end of the market. The opportunity to own something that has thought, care and inventiveness at it's heart supplanting the immediacy of the 'having it first' iTunes culture which sadly guides pop music nowadays, losing the sense of anticipation of hearing new music in the process. To clarify the personnel here, The Japanese War Effort is effectively the solo vehicle for Jamie Scott - half of Conquering Animal Sound. Whilst on this record he takes a very different approach to that of his other project, there are threads of similarity which bind them together. However on "Surrender to Summer" there is a sense of experimentation and playfulness which makes it feel more like a low fidelity garage band than the crystalline otherworldliness of his work with Conquering Animal Sound. That's not to suggest anything sloppy or unfinished about this EP where every track threatens to develop into a miniature pop anthem. Some of them indeed do - while others meander delightfully off on their own terms.
Opener "Summer Sun Skateboard" is an air-punching call to arms - because, after all summer is for the geeks too. It's full of the pasty pre-sunburnt optimism you hear in airport departure lounges, with some strange lyrical twists and an almost absurd amount of things happening. But it sounds wonderful - constructed cleverly from a patchwork of throbbing bass, jittery effects and skilful flecks of guitar. Throughout, Jamie Scott's vocals vary from a distant distorted megaphone rant to a strange uncomfortably-close-to-the-microphone chant. By contrast "Beach Buddies" fades in with a shoegazey screed of guitars and reverb shrouded vocals. Swiftly joined by the trademark metallic percussion and organ drone, the song mutates into a rather melancholy lament before it finally finds it's anthemic sweep of an ending. This is possibly my current favourite on the EP if only because it's neighbour-irritatingly loud - certainly enough to drown out the distant thud from the car stereos in the traffic jam outside.
"Pool attendant" is the EP's risquÃ© seaside postcard, beginning with a damaged Blackpool Tower Wurlitzer noise, which is soon buried in an stirring electronics. A squall of analogue synthesiser noise bounces around one of the more involved compositions here. After a flourish of keyboards, it ends with subsonic bass and Jamie menacingly whispering "I shouldn't be kicking kerbs over you quite so early". The low rumbling bass sticks around into the next track, and is joined by what sounds remarkably like an original Rolf Harris Stylophone on "Bucket and Spade". Embellished with a shimmer of electronics as Jamie intones quietly above the noise, I'm curiously reminded of "Drums and Guns" era Low with it's sparse, spacious menace. Finally "Yr Tanlines" closes the record with its swooping, gorgeous pop melodies dotted with disturbing squalls of noise and stabs of static. This is perhaps as close to Conquering Animal Sound as the EP becomes in terms of both sound and the construction of the track, but it's still worlds away from their more restrained other-worldliness. Discordant vocals repeatedly asking "ever felt so small?" over the layered sheen of noise and all too soon this oddly captivating record is stuttering to a close.
This EP is a loose collection around a theme, owing more perhaps to the humid, drunken British summer than any slick continental variant. It's always tricky when someone already known for their work elsewhere releases something on their own terms, and despite the day job of its protagonist, The Japanese War Effort material has a clear identify of it's own - strangely but ultimately successfully leaning more towards shoegazing, lo-fi noisy pop than straight-down-the line electronica in many ways. It's rare to find musicians who can live comfortably in several worlds at once without suffering a crisis of confidence, but Jamie Scott appears to be one of these. Coupling this playful, exuberant and inventive music to the beautifully conceived packaging and design, this becomes both a must have artefact and the soundtrack to the more discerning listener's fleeting British Summertime.
The Japanese War Effort's "Surrender To Summer" EP is available from Song, By Toad Records on resplendent coloured vinyl including a digital download code. Alternatively, it can be purchased via iTunes or Amazon - but in doing so you would largely miss the point, and indeed miss out on free sweets.
The Japanese War Effort - Beach Buddies
I've had a home on the web for more years than I care to remember, and a few kind souls persuade me it's worth persisting with keeping it updated. This current incarnation of the site is centred around the blog posts which began back in 1999 as 'the daylog' and continued through my travels and tribulations during the following years.
I don't get out and about nearly as much these days, but I do try to record significant events and trips for posterity. You may also have arrived here by following the trail to my former music blog Songs Heard On Fast Trains. That content is preserved here too.