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Ni Hao! - Marvelous

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Artist: Ni Hao!

Album: Marvelous

Label: Tzadik

Review date: Sep. 7, 2011

Osaka, Japanís Ni Hao! draws from the same wellspring of semi-contained chaos thatís brought us so many other noteworthy bands from the Kansai region. Centered around Osaka and Kyoto, the area has spawned a long string of genre-busting groups: Boredoms, Hijokaidan, Nasca Car, Grind Orchestra, Afrirampo, Dubmarronics, Oshiripenpenz, and many more. The stereotypes have it that Tokyo is home to bands that prize technical skill, while Kansai groups will try anything. While itís certainly not an accurate picture, like all stereotypes, thereís a kernel of truth there. Since Boredomsí success some 20 years ago, thereís been a clear interest on the part of young Kansai bands to push boundaries and see what might happen.

Back in 2005, the first U.S. album from Ni Hao! was issued on Tzadik Records, the same label that released Ni Hao! bassist Yukariís other band, Limited Express (Has Gone?), two years earlier. Both bands take the notion of rock and stretch it like taffy, with Ni Hao! being the more elastic. Dual basses, drums, and all three members contributing vocals made for an unusual start; unpredictable changes, quirky pop-punk singing, and fragmented riffs pushed it beyond categorization. Since its debut, Ni Hao! has shrunk from a trio to a duo: Blue Yukari (bass) and Red Ariko (drums), with both contributing vocals. But their unpredictability and catchy anarchy remains intact.

Donít get me wrong -- catchy doesnít mean the 39 minutes here are easy going, and by no means should you misjudge Marvelous because Ni Hao! is a duo of Japanese women. Yes, there are some cutesy touches here and there, chirping vocals and occasional pop moments, but whatís cute one moment will likely turn avant-garde the next. Most of these songs reach just a minute or two in length, and then youíre speeding on to the next burst of energy. The oddly-named opener "Adrenaline Ha Anadorenai" (it translates as something like "you didnít reckon on adrenaline", though itís printed in English so itís hard to tell) is almost three minutes, and serves as a good enough template for the album as a whole. Its click-clack percussion and fuzzed-out bass line, punctuated by vocal yelps, is full of attitude and energy thatís playful above all else.

Distorto-bass and splashy drums anchor the other instruments (sometimes provided by friends) on Marvelous, but the vocals are often the focus. Whether itís the poppy chanting of "Redxblue" or the call-and-response of "O.C.," Yukari and Ariko usually sing around each other, rather than harmonize. The alternating, quick and complicated rhythmic vocals that open "Leave It To Me!" are a particular highlight, and an instance where the words set up the song rather than the other way around.

A couple of oddities do stand out. "Love Song" is an acoustic guitar-strummed song with English lyrics, a simple pop tune that grows increasingly strident until the punked-out caterwauling during its (false) ending. A remix of "Redxblue" is the true odd man out, driven by techno rhythms and percolating synth sounds. Planted right in the middle of the album, itís a puzzler.

Call it chaotic pop, avant-punk, whatever fits, Marvelous is a fun, crazy listen. Ni Hao! does well by its pedigree, certainly owing a debt to earlier Kansai purveyors of controlled anarchy but staking out an area of its own. Sometimes Yukari and Ariko may come across as a bit overly clever for their own sake, but as the results are always leavened with a sense of fun, itís easy to let it slide.

By Mason Jones

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