Thursday, February 23, 2006

The In Sound From Way Out East

When I applied to Tiny Mix Tapes, I handed over a review of Friction's self-titled (in Japanese) debut, a hard-charging gem of an album I discovered at my local CD rental store. TMT didn't end up printing the review, but Atsureki is too great an album to go unadvertised, so here in full is my unpublished write-up:

"I Can Tell" - Friction (from Atsureki)
"Out" - Friction (Ibid)

If the New Wave revival hadn’t devolved into a fashion show, obsessive indie one-upsmen might have dug deep enough to unearth this jagged little gem. Bristling with barbed-wire guitars, tourniquet-tight drumming, and manic energy, Friction were one of Japan’s finest indie exports. Their post-punk pedigree earned in No-Wave heavyweights Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, James Chance and the Contortions, and Lydia Lunch, the band established itself with its 1980 debut, Atsureki.

Unfortunately, the album opens with its two weakest tracks. “A-Gas” sounds like a failed B-side by the Fall, and “Automatic Fru” is unremarkable punk paint-by-numbers. From there, the album’s teeth sink in. The moddish rave-up “I Can Tell” establishes the M.O. for the rest of the record, bashing through danceable fits of strum-and-clang. Bouyed by Reck’s John Lydonesque vocal lunacy, the trio manages to outdo many of its peers. Gang of Four never had this much fun, and Big Black never wrote riffs this memorable. Many songs even anticipate the shape of noise to come. Throw some more distortion on the gliding guitars of “Crazy Dream” and shoegaze is born. Later, “Cool Fool” beats the Jesus Lizard to its aggressive, angular punch by a decade, and the six-string abuse on “Cycle Dance” and “Big S” mustn’t have escaped Thurston Moore’s attention.

Shifting down tempo for the devastating closer, “Out”, the band claws at the walls for seven claustrophobic minutes. Abetted by a skronking saxophone, they sound on their way to meet the Stooges at the Funhouse. In spite of the lean production, it packs a harder punch than any of the brats currently gracing the cover of NME.

Given how necrophilic rock has become, it’s a wonder that Friction has never been name-checked by the “New New Wavers.” But for whatever reason that it remains so unnoticed, Astureki is a classic slab of raw power, at once a retro trip and utterly contemporary.

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