The latest release for the all-female Tokyo trio Nisennenmondai is as much about the label behind the release as it is about the band: Since Neji / Tori is really only two EPs from 2004 and 2005, the credit here must go to Norway’s Smalltown Supersound not only for picking them up and smartly combining the two releases, but also for repackaging them in brand new artwork. Smalltown big shot Kim Hiorthøy’s cover art vaguely recalls the Henri Fantin-Latour painting adorning the cover of New Order’s Power, Corruption & Lies. Like, New Order’s art director Peter Saville, Hiorthøy offsets the classical flowers with an ovular color gradient underneath. The bands, on the other hand, take a different approach to the classicist image: New Order used synthesized sheen. Nisennenmondai use industrialized clatter.
In regards to the music, nothing has changed from their initial releases with Dotlinecircle. There is no remastering, there are no unreleased tracks or buried b-sides, and unfortunately there are no remixes from the Scandinavians behind the re-release. Preserving the two original tracklistings does nothing if you already knew these releases, but if you did not, Neji / Tori is a stunning display of Japan’s newest noise-rock underground at its finest. New is a relative term, mind you: “Computer bug problem” – the band’s English translation – has been around since the three members met at a music club in 1999 during their time at a Tokyo university. The name was a joke before they started getting serious offers for shows, and when they couldn’t think of anything better, it stuck.
When Dusted’s Mark G. Davis interviewed Nisennenmondai for the Destined feature in January of 2006, he noted how guitarist Masako Takada was cagey about the group’s influences. What’s interesting is how Neji shows they weren’t afraid to spell out a few names directly: “Pop Group,” “This Heat” and “Sonic Youth” are all titles on the five-song EP. Each member of the band uses their respective instrument to maximize its effectiveness in a song: Some listeners will hear the throbbing bass of Yuri Zaikawa; others will hear the fiery drumming of Sayaka Himeno; still others will focus on Takada’s harsh, metallic six-string tones. There’s no question all three are vital to the final sound of the band, which culminates at halfway in the spectacular seven-minute psychedelic frenzy “Ikkkyokume.”
As Neji’s concluding track, “Ikkkyokume” works well as a dynamic send-off. As a segue for Tori, it works even better. “Kyuukohan” was recorded just seven months later, but the sonic blueprint has changed: Instead of saturated delay on an increasingly grand scale, Takada’s guitar is crisp and the band sounds tighter. Perhaps the best example of this is in a revised version of “Ikkkyokume.” Apparently the band knew a good thing when it heard it: In addition to being slightly shorter in length, Zaikawa’s bass is slightly higher in the mix and you can hear it all unfold again right before your ears.
In any incarnation, “Ikkkyokume” remains the finest example of Nisennenmondai’s bread and butter. Each song is borne out of impromptu jam sessions that sometimes travel the way of Lightning Bolt and sometimes travel the way of the Psychic Paramount. Their releases have been sparse recently, but newfound support from Smalltown Supersound can only help bolster a band that deserves more than just repackaged EPs and opening slots for Battles or Prefuse 73 as they pass through Japan.