Release Date: Apr 1, 2016
Record label: On-U Sound
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Post-Rock, Instrumental Rock
At this point, there have been enough guitar/bass/drums bands that the curious listener could be forgiven for looking at Nisennenmondai’s lineup and assuming the results would be anything like (say) 95% of the power trios out there. Those who have been following the band since 2014’s N know that Masako Takada (guitar), Yuri Zaikawa (bass) and Sayaka Himeno (drums) lock into grooves of such astonishing simplicity and force that it’s almost intimidating. Those who’ve been following along for longer (or have gone back to see what came between Nisennmondai’s inception in 1999 and N) know that they’ve honed their grasps of their particular instruments and their interplay to the point where repetition becomes the point of this music rather than an affectation or a gracenote.
Formed in 1999, Tokyo’s Nisennenmondai have garnered a cult following from their blistering live performances. In 2014, N saw the trio of guitarist Masako Takada, bassist Yuri Zaikawa and drummer Sayaka Himeno successfully translate that energy into recorded form, as they shifted their dense, pulsating instrumentals towards a more techno-informed sound. Although they managed that transition without the aid of sequencers, it’s perhaps inevitable that their dalliance with dance culture has led to a further use of technology, and for this latest long player they’ve enlisted the services of legendary dub producer Adrian Sherwood.
Nisennenmondai's obsession with repetition and minimalism reached almost meta levels on the releases that came after their breakthrough N: N' reworked the album's songs and included a pair of Shackleton remixes that underscored their commitment to "organic techno," while Live at Cloud Hills reaffirmed the album's precision wasn't the result of studio trickery. Just when it seemed like they might be endlessly -- and perhaps fittingly -- riffing on N, Nisennenmondai reaches another level on #N/A. Masako Takada, Yuri Zaikawa, and Sayaka Himeno find an inspired accomplice for their boundary-pushing experiments in rhythm and space, in dub mastermind Adrian Sherwood, another expert in these matters.
In the beginning, the Japanese avant-rockers Nisennenmondai made no secret of their influences. Tracks on 2004's Neji EP bore titles like "Pop Group," "This Heat," and "Sonic Youth," and for good reason. On guitar, drums, and bass, the trio whipped up a ferocious, muscular racket scarred with pockets of deep silence—a post-punk template shot through with the ghosts of dub and free noise.
Nisennenmondai have been around for 15-odd years, but for a growing section of their audience they're a recent discovery. The shift started in 2011, when the Japanese trio began to introduce a dance music influence into their noisy, kosmische-inspired rock. They've since taken the "do lots with little" credo to a masochistic extreme, focussing on just a handful of long, loopy songs—recorded on 2013's brilliant N, refined through their incendiary live show and re-recorded last year for the Japan-only N'.
Repetition. The old adage goes that repetition is the mother of skill. Although melody is undoubtedly seen as top dog when it comes to writing a good song, even the most saccharine modern chart-topper will boast an airtight rhythm at its core. If an appreciation for melody developed as early man listened to the fascinating, dangerous world around him, then the pull of rhythm must have come from within, from the steady drum of the heart that is our constant companion.
One of the earliest documented investigations of boredom as psychological phenomenon was by Victorian polymath Francis Galton. He noted the effects of extreme ennui attending a public recital in London in the early 1880s. Stood at the back of the room, Galton was struck by the degradation in atmosphere as the reader at the lectern droned ever on. "When the audience is bored," he wrote," the several individuals cease to forget themselves and they begin to pay much attention to the discomforts attendant on sitting long in the same position.
Tokyo minimalist instrumental trio Nisennenmondai have been quietly building a dedicated cult following since forming in 1999 (their name means "Y2K bug"), largely on the strength of their live show. Their earlier work drew from noise rock, Krautrock, no-wave and post-punk, but in recent years they've had more in common with minimal techno than guitar bands. Many acts who've tried to marry electronic music and rock end up sounding like an indie band with a drum machine and a synth.
Tight, rhythmic and visceral though Nisennenmondai are, something gets lost in translation - and we don’t mean from Japanese into English. Words are superfluous to a band like Nisennenmondai - too clumsy and lacking in expression. They are a band so unconventional, their communication with us is other dimensional. Body language is a key part of their live performance, as their focus turns energy into elaborate noise patterns.