Sunday, November 9, 2008

Fujiya & Miyagi -- Lightbulbs (2008)

Fujiya & Miyagi -- Lightbulbs (Deaf Dumb and Blind)

The low key electro-funk of this British band is pretty insinuating. Funk is a hot music and they play it cool, without sounding stiff. You can certainly dance to it. But can you mix funk with Kraut rock?

The deadpan approach extends to the vocals and the simplistic lyrics. How simple? Fujiya & Miyagi are probably only a notch or two above the mechanistic German ‘70s disco band Silver Convention. This approach is both a help and a hindrance. On one hand, the minimalism makes it catchy. On the other hand, the songs often convey their message in the first two minutes or so. Then it’s all up to the groove. And this is where the chilly vibe may hurt some of the tracks. Funk grooves work because they cook. They stir the listener. The measured approach of F & M makes this likeable but makes it hard to get fully engaged.

So the album is a bit of a mixed bag. A few songs announce the groove and then don't really go anywhere. This includes songs like "Pussyfooting", "Knickerbocker" and "Pickpocket". They all have enough to be memorable, but, as I alluded to earlier, after about 90 seconds, I've heard all I need to hear.

This is especially true of "Pickpocket", which has exceedingly stupid lyrics, even relative to the rest of the words on the album. "Why do you put your hands into other people's pockets," David Best sings in his typically muted voice. I dunno David, maybe because he can't convince people to buy his CDs? Illegal downloading is a bitch, you know.

Not all of the grooves run out of steam for me. "Sore Thumb" sounds like a demo for an old Shriekback tune, with a nice hook, as the groove stops for Best to sing, "My favorite song is "Strange Times"/sticks out like a sore thumb." The instrumental break rides the beat while some poor man's Bernie Worrell keyboards work their magic.

And "Uh" is the song that deserves an extended 12" mix for the clubs. Lee Adams' drums are crisp and the entire quartet commits to the rhythm, and the rhythm rewards them. Thumbs up.

My other fave rave is the one real change up on the album, "Goosebumps". This is a pretty slow song, with spacey electronic backing. If Wire collaborated with Goldfrapp, it would have sounded something like this. It's the classic chilly yet warm vibe that you can get from well deployed electronics, and Best's whispering vocals are perfect for the track. This is one of two tracks which show how F & M can become more well-rounded.

The other is the instrumental that closes the album, "Hundreds & Thousands". This track demonstrates the potential Fujiya & Miyagi have as a four piece band. Steve Lewis plays some simple keyboard lines, with compelling melodies, contrasting with the metronomic rhythm track. I'd love to hear more songs in this vein.

I generally enjoy the basic Fujiya & Miyagi sound, but the band's base sound does not wear well over the course of an entire album. The tracks that deviate from the formula show the potential for growth. Of course, there is also the matter of the lyrics, but one thing at a time.

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