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Yura Yura Teikoku - Sweet Spot

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Artist: Yura Yura Teikoku

Album: Sweet Spot

Label: Mesh-Key

Review date: Jun. 22, 2007

Japan's Yura Yura Teikoku have a long history, starting in 1989 as members of Tokyo's psychedelic scene. After several releases from the indie Captain Trip label, the band began in the late ’90s to explore a somewhat more pop-oriented psych style, corresponding with their very popular 1998 major-label debut 333. Since then, the band has remained far above ground, with a series of albums that, while popular in Japan, remained unavailable in the U.S. Recently the New York-based Mesh-Key label began releasing Yura Yura Teikoku's albums domestically; Sweet Spot is the most recent.

The band's appearance on the second volume of PSF's notorious Tokyo Flashback compilation series (among such stars as High Rise, Overhang Party, Ghost, and Fushitsusha) might lead one to expect Sweet Spot to be long on fuzzed guitars and heavy atmospheres. Strike any such expectations, because this is far from the rocket-powered engines of High Rise or the pitch-black depths of Fushitsusha. Instead, the songs here step awkwardly down a path of ponderous garage rock, pseudo-funky rhythms, and head-scratching, vaguely pop-afflicted decisions.

Despite the occasional glimmer of energy offered by the garage tunes like "Kyusyo" and "Kantsumae," the main problem with Sweet Spot is that it's simply boring. "2005 nen Sekairyoko" has an initially appealing vocal chilliness and burbling space synths, but doesn't hold up over seven minutes. A semi-funky, skeletal bass-drum rhythm drives "It Was a Robot" in a fairly weak, if amusing, way as Shintaro Sakamoto chants his vocals, until weird keyboard and piano sounds take over during the break. The noises make for a welcome break, but don't go much of anywhere.

Bright spots appear here and there, like the jagged guitar strums in "Kyusyo," the wah-wah vocals of "Hate Ningen Wa?" and a cool rapid vibrato on the guitar in "Soft Death." But unfortunately these moments are pretty lost amidst yelping vocals, unchanging riffs, and generally aimless songs that ultimately feel deflated and lethargic.

It's puzzling that Yura Yura Teikoku still get categorized as a psych band of any sort, as none of these songs fall under even the widest of definitions. Just to remind myself, I pulled out the band's third album (Live, from Captain Trip in 1995), and sure enough, the trio was playing a particularly garagey brand of psych-rock at that time. It's certainly been a long, strange trip to Sweet Spot. Unfortunately, they missed the mark.

By Mason Jones

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