Thursday, April 14, 2005

Hip Tanaka


I’m sure you’ve realized by now that I’m a giant sap (you haven’t been reading long or well if you haven’t.) Hip Tanaka is a band that I feel fortunate to have seen and heard as many times as I did- a bunch of absurdo mad scientists who spend time tinkering in their basement laboratories, blowing shit up, coming up the stairs covered with soot and ash nine days out of ten, smelling like roses and holding a pound of synthetic gold on the tenth.

The germ of the eventual juggernaut is evident in ‘Polish,’ the band’s first EP- ‘Geode’ features lyrics that are (apparently) about having sex with a rock, featuring one of the trademark vocal tricks of Alex, taking a phrase and stretching it past what you think is the breaking point. The absurdist bent of the lyrics, of course, grew to be another one of the band’s hallmarks over time.

‘Le Jihad’ is a tremendous leap forward- the band’s got some swagger, some chops, and way better production. H.T. writes about what they know- unborn babies are bequeathed to aliens, a drum contest is held with Sheila E, Christmas is ruined when someone (TGFJ2) throws up under the tree. The songs on ‘Jihad’ are sung as if through an audio prism of Catholic guilt and self-conscious paranoia, rendering the mundane extraordinary upon repeated listens. That Girl From Jaws 2’s slap bass lines border on funk metal, Alex’s keyboards and vocals sound as if they’ve escaped from the penance service of some church that has devoted their lives to Supertramp (thanks, Ned), and Brendan’s sportsguitar casts an indie rock shadow over the entire affair. There’s no reason why this shit should work, no way to carry the one and cheat the whole skewed equation, but somehow, impossibly, it does. And it’s not like ‘oh, they somehow manage to keep from collapsing.’ It’s ‘Holy shit, I’ve never heard anything like this before.’ When it works, a whole lot of ass is kicked, and it works more often than it doesn’t.

‘The Sky Is Smaller Than The Sea’ is a concept record chronicling the life and times of Charles Lindberg. No shit- from start to finish, the record details the man’s life: the first solo trans-Atlantic flight, the abduction of the Lindberg baby, ‘borrowing’ planes to fight the Germans in World War II (and how about the last song, complete with silence before the bonus track, being nineteen minutes and 26 seconds long? You know, 1926, the year he flew over the Atlantic!) Great performances from start to finish, both musically and lyrically- the words spell out what’s going on, but are never cloying or heavy-handed, to the point where it’s possible that the concept went over some people’s heads (lord knows what those people thought of the record.) ‘I Don’t Know What You Want Me To Say’ continues to shine- the vocals glisten and intertwine. An amazing accomplishment, a treasure which (ouch) seemed to fly under everyone’s radar.

What to do after recording your magnum opus? If you’re Hip Tanaka, you marry off one of the main songwriters and send him packing to Ireland, replace him with a guy who is possibly (somehow) even more tapped, and find a drummer who covers Slint albums in his spare time. ‘Splinter’ was cobbled together from both the new lineup’s songwriting and tapes that Alex made prior to his departure overseas. There’s a lot more obvious studio fingerprints on ‘Splinter’ than on the earlier stuff, but that’s cool- the same can be said of like ‘Pet Sounds’ or ‘Sgt. Pepper’. Both ‘Heart Attacks and Autographs’ and (especially) ‘Dr. Highway’ feature vocals from Joe, the new/tapped vocalist in the band- just about as straight ahead vocally as anything the band is done, even though both songs feature unexpected musical twists (especially ‘Dr. Highway,’ which ends with a mathrock bit that would make Albini circa: ‘Action Park’ drool all over himself.) ‘Heyday’ is beautifully grim, and ‘Freedom & Alex’ features unexpectedly subtle, propulsive, pretty vocal harmonies. And ‘Casino Driver’? Instrumental greatness. A hell of a swan song from a band that is sorely missed.

Mix Tape: ‘I Don’t Know What You Want Me To Say,’ ‘Heyday’


Blogger timous said...

very true!!!!!!

5:02 AM  

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