Pizzicato Five

Pizzicato Five
Happy (End of the World)
Matador Records

WATCH A FEW Japanese TV commercials and you'll notice that many delight in exaggerating and mocking desire. While American ads try to convince us that our pesky, indomitable avarice is perfectly reasonable, Japanese pitches often foil perfection by lingering a fraction of a second too long on a super-groomed face, giving it just enough time to flinch or wink. Perfection is overachieved and joyfully undercut. It's as if they're gloating at us, gibing, "Isn't it funny that everybody desires these things?"

Famous for humor and spectacle as much as for their overbright grooves, Pizzicato Five come on like a commercial for themselves, subverting their eclec-tronic martini music with irony. Like fellow Japanese genre busters Shonen Knife and Cibo Matto, the cartoonishly lounge-friendly P5 play with a pop & roll fantasy that percolates with pomo absurdities.

At his best, the Pizzo's mainstay auteur Konishi Yasuharu counterpoints vocalist Maki Nomiya's earnest delivery with splashy game-show-theme schmaltz. A 1993 collaboration with the Pharcyde, "Baby Love Child," suggested Little Red Riding Hood dancing blithely through an ominous forest, waiting (maybe wanting) to get nabbed. On this year's Happy (End of the World), "Porno 3003" places spoken-word patters over dissonant bossa nova in a similarly effective contrast. An insistent spy-flick organ number, "Mon Amour Tokyo," sports smart harpsichord, moog, and tape loops, while "Contact," a requisite spin for the space age, takes a stealthily compressed synth boogie straight down Electric Avenue. On "Collision and Improvisation," Nomiya rides a bah b-b-b-bah bah lyric over a snappy kiddie roller-coaster track.

Japan's recent love affair with Swedish pop product--like the Cardigans' amazing 1995 retro-slice Life--reveals a nation giddy for Konishi's lounge-disco posing. Although it's easy to imagine P5 and the Cards taking adjoining time-shares in Xanadu, Konishi one-ups the Swedes' icy-disco moves by crosscutting his funk with the ultimate breaks and beats. And unlike the Swedes' blasé conceit, P5 isn't cold, or even "quirky"; it's the perfect representation of quirk: quirkulacra. "Hello World. We thank you for loving us today. We thank you for loving us all the way," Maki says, straight-faced, letting us insert the irony, revel in it, and realize we've been had. They win again: wink wink.

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