The Band Apart

Adze of Penguin

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Pleasing both the critics and the regular audience can be a tricky thing, but the Band Apart's Adze of Penguin pulled it off, charting in Japan despite the group's indie rock roots, and that was no glitch of public perception. TBA still trace their lineage to proper J-rock with its bright, positive melodies, clean electric guitars, positive vocals, and the preference for harmonies over hooks. But this heritage is nowhere near apparent on the album: for one, Takeshi Arai sticks to English lyrics, and, although his enunciation leaves to be desired, he doesn't come across as a tourist asking for directions like some of his J-rock peers who try to crossover to an international audience. More importantly, there's a lot going on within the songs themselves. The Band Apart are very good at composing guitar textures which have a stripped-down jangly quality; they compensate for the lack of effects with their inventiveness. The guitars and the rhythm sections are constantly busy, but all instruments are locked onto each other with math rock precision: that's something early Mercury Program were good at, but the Band Apart are on the less esoteric side of things, cruising the realms of indie pop, lounge, and '70s soundtrack music with the almost uncanny ability to keep the music catchy. The end product sounds more like Stereolab or Broken Social Scene than a staple of Japanese soft rock scene like Remioromen, although it must be said that, unlike Broken Social Scene, the Band Apart keep things fairly unvaried throughout. This is another typical trait of Japanese music, but here the side effects are negated by the density of the arrangements: sure, there's only one tempo and a single guitar tone on the album, but any further upgrades to the sound could tip the balance between complexity and pleasantness so carefully crafted on Adze of Penguin.