Release Date: Sep 2, 2014
Record label: Joyful Noise
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Experimental Rock, American Underground, Post-Punk
It feels like everyone who likes Half Japanese loves them. They go crazy for them, in fact. And the majority of them loved them so much that they immediately went and formed their own bands, just to see if being in a rock’n’roll band was as liberating as Half Japanese made it sound. And what’s charming when listening to Jad Fair and co’s first new album in 13 years is how they sound like all of the best elements of all those bands, but more.
If Jad Fair ever needs a second job, he ought to consider becoming a motivational speaker. Fair opens Overjoyed, the first Half Japanese album in over a decade, with the words "Refresh the life that you now have/And be the best that you can possibly be/Enjoy the life that you now have/Happiness is victory -- yeah!" That's merely the first in a long series of salvos of aggressive positivity and tributes to all that makes life worthwhile on Overjoyed, which Jad delivers with the joyous (if nerdy) fervor of a true believer. While the typical Half Japanese album used to be shot full of oddball meditations on girls and old horror movies accompanied by minimalist noise, Overjoyed presents Jad Fair as a quirky but optimistic cheerleader for modern life, and with John Dieterich of Deerhoof as producer, this music is cleaner and more approachable than this group has offered in the past.
Beloved of Kurt Cobain, Half Japanese’s Jad Fair is a prolific artist whose four-decade career has included collaborations from both his side of the Atlantic (Yo La Tengo, Daniel Johnston) and ours (Teenage Fanclub, The Pastels). Combining the disarming naivety of Jonathan Richman and the raw grooves of The Velvet Underground, ‘Overjoyed’ finds a reconvened Half Japanese on bracing, emotionally direct form. Wearing his heart on his sleeve, Fair comes up with hundreds of simple ways to celebrate his love (“Pretty good/Pretty great/Two thumbs up/First rate”).
Earlier this year, The Pixies returned with their first new LP in two decades, Indie Cindy. Its success is neither here nor there; the alt. legends’ comeback was what was really under the scrutiny of the public microscope. Was it a “craven cash-in”? Was it time? Can they do it without Kim? Theirs is (/was) a legacy, held to the loftiest esteem.
Band reunions tend to carry history with them. Some, like Archers of Loaf and Pavement, embrace it and drive around knocking out that history on stage night after night. Others like the Pixies feel like they’re constantly trying to outrun it. Some bands, like Mission of Burma, disappear for so long, the return is more step forward than look back.
"Let's put apples in the lemon pie!" exclaims Jad Fair on "The Time Is Now", one of the least-hinged songs on Half Japanese's Overjoyed. It's the legendary art-punk band's first new studio album since 2001's Hello, and in those intervening 13 years, he hasn't lost his knack for the charm offensive. "The Time Is Now" wobbles and wanders like a tranquilized tiger cub, with a meandering jangle threatening to tug Jad's string of greeting-card pleasantries alarmingly off center.
It’s tempting to hate on an album like Overjoyed. Shamelessly upbeat, unapologetically life-affirming, and not to mention yet another leap away from the juvenile no-wave that first baptized Half Japanese in the early 80s; its Prozac indie snappily mocks every principle of self-flagellation and martyred suffering that art is purported to embody. The idea that someone could have the temerity to even entertain the notion of optimistic music is enough to make us rockists vomit over our Schopenhauer anthologies, so when the Fair clan go ahead and chock their first album in 13 years with motivational workouts and everything-is-great salvos, we tend to spill out in hives.
Let’s get this out right from the start: Jad Fair sings about jumping into a chocolate lake on two separate tracks on Overjoyed. Yes, that’s right. Two. Those paying even the least attention to Half Japanese since their mid-’70s origins shouldn’t be all that surprised. The brothers Fair ….
Earlier this year I spoke to Jad Fair, who recounted the run of dates that his band, Half Japanese, played supporting Nirvana on tour in 1993. Nirvana had just followed up the breakout Nevermind with the difficult, abrasive In Utero, but if this was in some way an attempt to sabotage their newfound success, they would find that the genie would not be crammed back in its bottle. These venues were large – college halls, mostly, and several orders of magnitude larger than the sorts of establishment that Half Japanese, a noisy, weird, intuitively DIY group from suburban Maryland were used to playing.