Sunday, June 26, 2005

Number Girl - Transparent Girl

Several nights ago, we climbed into the beetle-shell bunker of Club Quattro to see Bloodthirsty Butchers. Touring behind their righteously rocking Banging the Drum album, the quintet plowed through a 90-minute set of searing posthardcore. Onstage, the Butchers strike a pose similar to the Pixies, thanks to the adorably stoic lone female member and the squinting, semi-autistic presence shared by Frank Black and singer Yoshimura Hideki. But musically, the Butchers sound downright damaged by Dischord. Yoshimura's strident bark, the knife-fight guitar riffs, the stampeding choruses - all roads lead to Fugazi.

It's impressive that harDCore's influence extends not only beyond the beltway, but overseas too. I've overheard musicians hanging out at recording studios mention "Diskodo Rekodo", and found a Koenji record store that boasted the entire Dischord catalogue - the first time I've ever seen it all collected in one place. But, as we've discussed before, Japan is nothing if not a cultural sponge, a memetic mimic that imitates before it absorbs.

I'm personally a huge fan of evolution. Progress lies in the hybrid. But I'm also notoriously impatient, so I can't be bothered with the learning and adaptive phases of social evolution. I want new species, and I want them now. Consequently, I get frustrated with how imitative so many bands sound. If you want a Japanese clone of anyone from Brainiac to the Blues Explosion or Bellini, then come on down! If you want something as daringly different, truly different, as Cibo Matto or the Boredoms (before they flaked out) or eX-Girl... well, you're as likely to find freaks in your own town as you are anywhere else.

But not all rock bands are doomed to their influences; some manage to take that next step up the evolutionary ladder. Three years ago, the Bloodthirsty Butchers gained their second guitarist, Tabuchi Hisako, after her old band broke up. That band was arguably the greatest indie-rock band born of Japan, Fukuoka's almighty and much-missed Number Girl.

Founded in 1995, Number Girl grew out of the southern underground to become the indie darlings of Japan. Before their springtime split three years ago, the quartet released four studio albums and two live records. Their second single, "Omoide In My Head", immediately attracted a cult following and caught the ear of sonic sculptor Dave Fridmann, who worked behind the board for Number Girl's latter two albums. Despite their devoted following in Japan and enduring appeal, Number Girl played a single tour in the States to little notice.

Initially, the band wore its influences on its sleeve as much as anyone else. Their maiden voyage, School Girl Bye Bye, betrayed bandleader Mukai Shutoku's Pixies fixation, along with a few excursions into Police-like reggae des blancs. But by the time 1999's School Girl Distortional Addict hit shelves, Number Girl hadn't just hit their stride: they'd left skid marks. The track title "Pixie Du" summed up the secret to Mukai's songwriting, which delivered quirkily sing-songy indie-rock with blistering speed and eardrum-peeling volume. Yet the music was more than a late-'80s college rock mash-up, it was a razor-toothed beast galloping at full gait. Ahito Inazawa's machinegun drumming was a rhythmic whirlwind worthy of Keith Moon. Tabuchi Hisako raced around the fretboard with an ear for melody that would have Rivers Cuomo destroying his sweater. At the center of it all, the bespectacled Mukai exhibited the spiky charisma of Steve Albini and the hard-charging pop songcraft of Elvis Costello at his angriest. The music recalled any number of canonized American bands - Hole, Dinosaur Jr., Drive Like Jehu - without feeling derivative of any in particular.

And loud. Good god, are Number Girl loud. The sound is so saturated that even at low volume, you feel the songs' gravitational pull.

It's almost criminal how unrecognized in the States the band remains, even with the recent release of a new best-of compilation. But I guarantee that if all those kids still bemoaning the break-up of At the Drive-In had been suckled on Number Girl instead, not only would we have been spared the musical onanism of the Mars Volta and the helium-voiced screamo poetic bullshit of their disciples, but those kids would now be smart songwriters instead of white boys with 'fros.

1 comment:

Josh said...

I've tried to get Mars Volta fans into NUMBER GIRL.

...stubborn as fuck I tell you!