Release Date: May 6, 2014
Record label: Yep Roc
It’s been over three years now since Fujiya & Miyagi’s last long player Ventriloquizzing intrigued listeners with its tongue-twister of a name and also slight detour from the norm. A different feel was sought, and subsequently brought, to their fourth studio effort upon the introduction of a live drummer – Lee Adams – along with a respected producer in Thom Monahan. Three years is, coincidentally, also the length of time that the Brighton outfit took to release a single track after forming in the late ‘90s.
After an impressive string of albums that were built for the dancefloor and had an inescapable charm, it might seem like the time was right for Fujiya & Miyagi to stumble. They don't even break their stride a little on their fourth record, 2014's Artificial Sweeteners, and it delivers all the light-hearted, rubber-limbed fun of previous efforts, while mostly abandoning the slightly melancholy feel that bubbled under the surface sheen of previous record Ventriloquizzing. Stripped back down to a trio, Artificial Sweeteners has a punchy, streamlined sound that is layered with blipping vintage synths, warm washes of colorful sound, acrobatic basslines and steadily pulsing machine driven rhythms.
Not Japanese (they’re from Brighton) and not a duo (a trio at last count), Fujiya & Miyagi have spent the last decade (and a bit) carving their own little niche of motorik electro pop mischief. Whilst the have moved away from the more experimental work of their 2002 debut, their krautrock-indebted template of streamlined pulse-based electronic music has still maintained a spirit of genuine eccentricity as exhibited in the object fetishism of the title-track from 2006’s Transparent Things and ‘Dishwasher’ from 2008’s Lightbulbs. Three years on from their last album, the solidly entertaining Ventriloquizzing, there has been only a small scale transformation in F&M’s sound.
Ten years ago, Fujiya & Miyagi seemed fresh and cool. Stitching together lush synths and rigid, springy beat programs with thin golden wires of electric guitar, they made electro-pop feel metropolitan, dislocated and somewhat detached from human affairs—qualities embodied in David Best's aloof vocals and the smoothly machined forms they nestled into. Their music descended from 1970s German experimentalism at a time when krautrock hadn't yet become a common influence in indie music.
Fujiya & Miyagi were making music that sounded like Hot Chip – upbeat, effusive synthpop with slightly geeky indie vocals – before Hot Chip were. Thus, it feels reductive and backwards to be so frequently thinking of Alexis Taylor and co as ‘Artificial Sweeteners’, F&M’s fifth album, plays, but they are disarmingly similar. The Brighton outfit’s stated influences, from ’70s krautrock to ’90s techno, are canonical and respectable, and occasionally strike gold: ‘Tetrahydrofolic Acid’, an instrumental raver which resembles Warp Records stalwarts Plaid, and the addictive disco-punk bassline of ‘Daggers’.
Fujiya & Miyagi — Artificial Sweeteners (Yep Roc)At this point, if you’re not listening to Fujiya & Miyagi at least partially for the snark, I don’t know why you’re listening to them at all. Not that the Brighton band (a trio again now) doesn’t make compelling music in its own right, but plenty of bands do that. When Fujiya & Miyagi first came to some sort of prominence in 2006 with Transparent Things (and more specifically ”Ankle Injuries,” which still feels timeless) their post-Krautrock sound was distinctive enough to turn heads on its own.
There's always been a dichotomy bound up with the music of Fujiya & Miyagi. Their last release, 2011's Ventriloquizzing, found the Brighton purveyors of beat-driven kosmische dance grooves exploring themes of darkness and shadowy activity whilst presenting them with a sheen so gloriously buffed up that sunglasses were a necessity in its presence. Hardly surprising given that the album was recorded in California – a state with more than its share of questionable activity bubbling beneath its sunny veneer.
The most impressive thing about Fujiya & Miyagi reaching the fifteenth year of their career is that they’ve survived the ebb and flow of dance-pop’s popularity over the past decade or so. That they managed to carve out a significant enough cult fanbase to sustain them in an early-noughties alternative scene largely in thrall to the guitar and the likes of The Libertines is hugely to their credit; it’s probably not a coincidence, either, that their most successful release to date, Lightbulbs, dropped in 2008, around the same time that Hot Chip’s “Ready for the Floor” cracked the top ten. The key to the Brightonians’ continued cult appeal though, is likely the cerebral approach that they take to their work; their records might ultimately turn out to resemble dance-pop, but they’re born of a fascination with the complex textures of Krautrock - the band are well-documented Can fans.