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Oshiri Penpenz - Micro de Ikou

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Artist: Oshiri Penpenz

Album: Micro de Ikou

Label: Macaroni

Review date: Jan. 9, 2009

Some four years ago I reviewed the self-released, self-titled CD by Oshiri Penpenz, which was a collection of ramshackle tunes constantly in danger of falling apart. Like a learning-challenged descendant of No Wave, the music was filled with primitive, pounding riffs and rhythmic chanting.

Since then, Oshiri Penpenz have become well-recognized in Japan’s Kansai underground scene (the area around Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto), while their music has slowly become less primitive. The band’s live shows have evolved somewhat from anarchic punk-inspired chaos but are still studies in odd intensity, contrasting frontman Motako Ishii’s gutteral shouts and howls with minimal guitar and restrained percussion.

On CD, it can of course be a little harder to convey that intensity, but at sufficient volume much of Micro de Ikou gets it done. Clocking in at just over half an hour, the album nonetheless contains 14 songs - their brevity is wise, not because they couldn’t go longer, but because there’s simply no need. The band kickstarts, Motako shouts or chants hoarsely, and the song’s done. With most of the songs sticking to around two minutes, the band gets down to business without much fooling around.

This isn’t to say, though, that they don’t have their moments of both self-indulgence and good-natured fun. Track 11, the title of which seems to translate to "Motako’s Strategy for Making Love," backs the singer with a snare shuffle and scritchy guitar, with timed breaks befitting a comedy show.

What’s perhaps strangest about this album is the form its devil-may-care punk attitude takes; instead of throwing distortion and loudness at the songs, the band attacks with twisted jazzy guitar licks and relatively light drums. Motako’s vocals are the only punk remnants, at least sound-wise. Album closer "Aa! Hell" is a perfect example: while guitarist Kirara tosses out skittery note clusters, a la Eugene Chadbourne or Snakefinger, and drummer Yuusuke holds down a skeletal boom-chika rhythm, Motako is free to shout his punk poetry. The result ends up being something like a cross between Teenage Jesus, Patti Smith and free jazz, with nary a distortion pedal in sight.

Whether these songs will work for those who don’t know Japanese is hard to say, since the vocals are so prominent. Live, the band is high-energy fun (I was fortunate to play on a bill with them in Kobe earlier this year), but on CD, the stripped-down, deceptively intricate guitar and drums are X-factors. Regardless, check out the video on their MySpace page and on YouTube for a sample of their live madness.

By Mason Jones

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