Japanther: Instant Money Magic – Critiquing Japanther’s recorded material is about as fair as judging a play based on unfocused video recordings uploaded to YouTube in a dozen parts – the eccentric Brooklyn duo is known first and foremost as performance artists, incorporating synchronized swimmers, supervillains, makeshift prisons/museums, the work of Walt Whitman, and lots of telephones in their chaotic live shows, which are based in part on their slew of recordings dating back to 2001. In a sense, Japanther are exactly what you’d expect from a guitarless art-punk band: raw energy inspired more by creativity than defiance, all channeled through relatively mild-tempered bass thumps and colorful percussive linings. With neo-slacker tendencies, the duo’s buzzing, lopsided joviality is equal parts Ramones and No Age.
Instant Money Magic is the band’s thirteenth release resembling a full-length LP, spanning fourteen tracks while only clocking in at twenty-four minutes. Slightly more surfable than its skate-cordial predecessors, IMM boasts a mostly unfamiliar optimism that launches its strongest tracks and gives its handful of clunkers an endearing argument against skipability. Frontman Ian Vanik attests to the band’s handsome transformation on the album’s opener ‘Take Me In’ in which he pleads we “take another look” at their slightly-modified structure. Shirking their dependence on lo-fi recordings, tracks like ‘Take Me In’ and the equally sunny follow-up ‘Vicious’ are ripe with melodious flavor, despite the latter’s slightly-frustrating proximity to the one minute mark.
Elsewhere we see Japanther’s familiar childishness shine through in odes to the sun, dreams of laser beams, and general impish carelessness, all carried by borderline kid-friendly riffs resembling the flower punk of a less-sardonic Black Lips. Plinking percussive backing harmonizes Vanek’s vocals impeccably on ‘Green Juice,’ while the hushed “la la las” of ‘Onandoga’ seem fitting for a post-pubescent return to Saturday morning cartoons. ‘All We Got,’ exudes joy despite the “fucked up” world we’re stuck in (“it ain’t all bad / sometimes I’m sorta glad / that I’m alive”). Perhaps the perfect anthem for graduating-and-terrified seniors, ‘All We Got’ closes the album with a brief reminder that summer’s coming, and we’ll survive.
Although studio recordings may not be the ideal medium for which Japanther should be ingested, Instant Money Magic documents a certain energy that flourishes off-stage. As the early 90s taught us, it can be difficult to move on from the hiss and squeal of the oft-consoling tape deck, but Japanther’s promotion to a hi-er fi sees them strive for a sound apart from that of their grimy live shows. It may take some time for die-hard fans to adjust, but as an entry-level course, Instant’s right on the money…8.0/10