By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
Japanese bands that have gotten noticed on this side of the Pacific seem to fall into one of two camps: Either they're infatuated with cutesy pop culture or they're musing on high art. Those Technicolor imps in Cibo Matto and Shonen Knife alternately charm the slacks off slackers and anger them with their simple, fractured English-language nursery tales. Aesthetes--but not necessarily the general, mainstream music-loving public--enjoy Yoko Ono's archly advanced sound calisthenics. Buffalo Daughter fall somewhere in the middle of this spectrum, and I offers further proof that the trio is neither maddeningly cute nor off-puttingly artsy.
The best collision of sweet and surreal found on I is the inexplicably titled "Robot Sings (As If He Were Frank Sinatra With a Half-Boiled Egg and the Salt Shaker on a Breakfast Table)"--also the top contender for strangest Japanese song title since Shonen Knife's "Tortoise Brand Pot Scrubbing Cleaner's Theme." Under chilled electronic drumbeats and noise best described as a radio being tuned, a robotic voice sings, "My mind is puzzled/While bacon in a pan is frizzled/Since you're so beautiful." Lyrically quirky, yes, but the song also retains wonderful texture that takes the glare off the verse.
That's something that one might not say about "I Know," one and one-half minutes of voices chirping, well, "I know," over a series of electronic hiccups. The track might come off as some sort of silly telecommunications advert if it didn't serve as a prelude to the freaky, post-apocalyptic fight song "Earth Punk Rockers." "28 Nuts" is a grrrl-ish guitar-pop proclamation, and the album's title track is subtle acoustic self-pondering. But I isn't just empowerment-rock poems and digital love. The Hello Kitty-goes-to-Carnivale "Discothèque du Paradis" and the spacey soul song "Moog Stone" offer a sexy escape from the more electronically reliant compositions.
Overall, it's Buffalo Daughter's fretwork that threads together the disparate pieces of I--which is apparent even as the three tra-la-la their way through the opening track, "Ivory," or recall "sitting in a bright shiny white light" in "A Completely Identical Dream." The plaintive strumming found in "Mirror Ball" and "I" serves as a reminder that Buffalo Daughter are not content simply twiddling knobs for art's sake. Or espousing the joy of slurping an ice-cream cone while sitting atop a bison, for that matter.