The High-Lows

Relaxin' with the High-Lows

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By the time of Relaxin with the High-Lows, Hiroto Komoto and Masatoshi Mashima had been the masters of Japanese commercial punk for almost 15 years -- they were bound to grow bored eventually. Thankfully, Relaxin isn't a blunder that bands release when they have lost direction; it's just something mildly different -- not revolutionary, but still fun. High-Lows are not above providing a couple of prerequisite punk ditties in the early half of the album, because disappointing the core audience is as frowned upon in Japan as anywhere else, but when that duty is done, they begin trying to play every style that punk can be connected to (hardcore and metal excluded). Komoto and Mashima have always dabbled in rockabilly and classic rock & roll, and they do it a lot on Relaxin, but there are also a couple of honest-to-God ballads -- with one as dramatic as if it was still 1987, the other piano-driven and folk-boosted -- and "Yuunagi" is an intentionally primitive rock track that recalls the White Stripes, although it remains unclear whether the High-Lows would intentionally draw on a "young" band whose members were still learning their letters when they were already packing Tokyo clubs. Some reggae tunes pop up, too, as well as a handful of pop/rock tracks that were probably intended to be chart-topping hits, but sound too rough and too ‘80s -- songs like "Tan" or "Mara" could have shared the charts with Adam & the Ants or the Cars, but not 2000s heroes. But that's all right, High-Lows are an acquired taste anyway, but as long as they're not trying to be what they're not, their hoarse, jangly, and slightly sentimental guitar music sounds just fine, and only benefits from fresher stylings.