Zazen Boys Zazen Boys III

[Matsuri Studio; 2006]

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

Guess what!? Post-punk/rock-rap/pseudo-funk band Zazen Boys have come out with yet another album (refer to my three other geeked-out reviews for some Zazen context). So, what's changed since Zazen Boys II? A few things, at least on the surface. For one, the band has loosened up since the departure of drummer (and general backbone) Ahito Inazawa. The new rhythm section insists on getting freaky as often as possible, allowing some healthy doses of Japanese funk to slip under the band's typical hard rock veil. Frontman Mukai Shutoku's weird half-rapping is still intact, but so is his love of Prince and Led Zeppelin. In fact, lots of bands and genres are referenced here, but Zazen Boys seem incapable of blatantly ripping off anyone, no matter how hard they might be trying. Through their musical filtration process, every incorporated sound and style gets mashed up and spat out in a very disjointed, fairly scathing way. Shutoku's emotional rawness remains biting and untamed. Likewise, his songwriting has become increasingly fragmented and agitated. Verses and choruses? Not really here... and when they do show up, they materialize slowly. Several tracks abandon form altogether and, out of the album's context, might seem downright avant-garde. The guitars? Atonal and chromatic flurries stretch out behind consistently funky bass arrangements. When you get down to it, the shift in fundamental mechanics coupled with an utterly jagged sense of rhythmic interplay produces a pretty bizarre set of songs. Only a few real "singles" stand out. "Riff Man" and "Don't Beat" are the most overtly catchy, clear-cut tracks, containing the final remnants of Number Girls' dying spirit within Zazen Boys. The other songs get by on their own experimentation, forming an unflinching, interdependent whole.

I'm not sure if Mukai Shutoku had a master thesis for III, but it's certainly unusual to see a fairly straightforward band getting weirder and weirder from album to album. And that's exactly what's happening here. Some hip Japanese kids might be disappointed, but it's hard to hate on such unbridled energy. Plus, the backbeat never really lets up; we aren't talking free jazz or anything. Zazen Boys III may have less downright awesome moments than its predecessor, but it still rocks in all the right places, and that's good enough for me. Hell, the fact that Mukai Shutoku is still putting out a worthwhile product eight albums deep is good enough for me. So, barring some horrible accident involving a palm and a whammy bar, I'll probably be seeing you next year.

1. Sugar Man
2. Take Off
3. Friday Night
4. Tombo Game
5. Pink Heart
6. Riff Man
7. This is Noraneko
8. Metal Friction
9. Don't Beat
10. Lemon Heart
11. Water Front
12. Good Taste

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