Zazen Boys Himitsu Girl’s Top Secret EP

[Matsuri Studio; 2005]

Styles: experimental punk, Japanese rap rock
Others: Number Girl,

How much do Internet sites have in common with global media outlets like MTV? Most people simply don't have the time or patience to scour the web for unique labels and bands, so they rely on us, the music zines, to filter out the crap and present a handful of albums we deem worthy. In a way, the more popular reviewers serve as (underpaid) CEOs, generally guiding our subcultures taste through their filtration process. I don't necessarily qualify that process as some sort of underhand manipulation, but most indie zine devotees listen to the same bundle of bands because, well, that's whets in front of them. And those bands are pretty good, on the whole.

Zazen Boys are pretty fucking good, too. But they have no American distribution, which means no American press, which means they don't exist. Honestly, if I hadn't been a huge anime nerd, hopping between various message boards, I would have never stumbled across the band. I've typically seen them mentioned alongside Visual Kei and Japanese noise acts. Not that Zazen Boys share much in common with Dir en Grey or Merzbow, but let's just say anime forums and J-pop zines have never provided the proper context for them to really shine in. No... Their audience should be here, side by side with the likes of Shellac, Fugazi, Q and Not U, Don Caballero, Sonic Youth, and so on.

Following last year's Zazen Boys II, this new EP pushes jagged math rock elements to the fore. Guitar interplay is rapid and sharp, staying within a somewhat ambiguous harmonic territory; which is to say, you are never faced with the typical moods associated with major and minor keys. Even such subtle breaks from western harmony make Himitsu Girl's Top Secret an interesting listen. Plenty of other mathy devices are employed by the Boy's too, most notably a series of abrupt rhythmic stabs that punctuate the music's flow and, again, add nuance to the EP. It all seems pretty standard in writing, but Zazen Boys' most enduring element is that, unlike so many of their American counterparts, things never sound overly academic. Their increasingly raw energy is never sacrificed for any useless histrionics, and the band's sheer intensity is obvious even in the studio setting.

The songs "Usodrake" and "Hard Liquor" are remakes from Zazen Boys I and II, respectively, but they take on a more biting, pungent quality in the context of the other three tracks. Usodrake particularly highlights the bands growth in just over a year, both in production and performance. Front man Mukai Shutoku spits the lyrics out with such venom that his heavy intonation transcends any formatted verse/chorus message. When the bass cuts out two minutes into "Brain Construction," leaving Shutoku to "SHHH-AAA" alongside a wormy synth line... well, you just have to listen for yourself. They may not be forward thinking virtuosos or purveyors of some grand musical experimentation, but Zazen Boys remain one of the best rock bands I've heard. You deserve to hear them too.

1. Himitsu Girl's Top Secret
2. Brain Construction
3. Hentai Terminated
4. Hard Liquor
5. Usodarake Take2

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