Tsu Shi Ma Mi Re Pregnant Fantasy

[Benten; 2004]

Styles: Japanese indie pop/rock
Others: Go!Go!7188,’s, Noodles, Kokeshi Doll

Since I'm sure you're dying to know, the 'kawaii' in my TMT handle means 'cute' in Japanese; a fact that, if anything, is a suitable lead in for discussing the country, or for the sake of this review, its music. Though some would say that to understand any nation's song, you have to understand its society. As made painfully clear to Westerners through imports like Hello Kitty and Pokemon, Japan's pop culture is riddled with idols, iconic trinkets, high-pitched enthusiasm, and a general quirky naivety. You get a sweet tooth just thinking about it. Yet only so many assertions can be made from an outside perspective. Like any irresistible exterior, the core is usually rotten. Japan is indeed home to a host of subserviently sweet cultural devices, but it also produces some of the grittiest. This dichotomy has held my attention with the nation's culture for quite some time, an interest that inevitably spilled over to its music.

Tsu Shi Ma Mi Re is a byproduct of such bustling cultural exchange, one of Japan's many Grrl groups that balance their countries heavy importation of Western music, whether it be punk rock, metal or surf music, with an undeniable character of their own. Despite an obvious divide in influence, TSMMR's debut, Pregnant Fantasy, is above all else a rock 'n' roll album; its charm lying in a clear, at times comical juxtaposition of cute and abrasive. And like the best rock albums of our time, virtuosic playing isn't necessarily a prerequisite. The bass, guitar, and drums that make up Pregnant Fantasy are played competently, but these three girls true punch is packed in their delivery. At her best, singer and guitarist Mari injects a sense of old fashioned yearning (just listen to her vocal stretch in "Lingerie Shop"'s chorus) but can switch to J-pop sweetness at the drop of a dime. "Tea Time Ska" is perhaps most representative of TSMMR's sound; it starts with a simple bass and drum pulse (recalling Shellac, of all things), but quickly shifts into a verse full of death metal barking, then switches again into a shamelessly irresistible J-pop chorus. Pure theatrics, and the album is full of them. A critic would inevitably sense a lack of maturity weighing things down, but I would argue that more often than not, Tsu Shi Ma Mi Re's histrionics represent their finest aspects. And when all else fails, they still have that kawaii thing going for them.

1. Umeboshi Plums - Big Seeds
2. Lingerie Shop
3. Ebihara Shinji
4. Manhole
5. Tea Time Ska
6. Kadama Boogie
7. Fish Cakes
8. Pregnant Fantasy

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