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Friday, Feb. 3, 2006


Zazen Boys "Zazen Boys III"

Exploding out of Fukuoka in the late 1990s, Shutoku Mukai's previous band, Number Girl, never compromised their lo-fi sound, but caught the zeitgeist by tapping into feelings of directionless teen angst. As Bob Dylan would probably tell you, though, being the voice of a generation is a tiring job, especially when you just want to make music.

"Zazen Boys III," from Mukai's new band, isn't completely inaccessible -- "Riff Man" and "This Is Noraneko" show the more traditional rock guitars and Pixies-style screaming that made Mukai an indie pin-up -- but it's difficult listening. A logical progression from the experimentation on Number Girl's last album, "Num Heavy Metallic," the message here to old Number Girl fans seems to be along the lines of, "I'm not your Jesus!"

The album is a disorientating kaleidoscope of minimalist funk, ambient synths and atonal jazz guitar, with vocals in between noise bursts. Easily dismissible as a self-indulgent exercise in fan abuse, it's also a creative rebirth. The mixture of punk, funk and jazz is startlingly reminiscent of fellow Fukuoka refugees PanicSmile, now one of Tokyo's most influential underground bands -- making the album an interesting fusion of Mukai's roots and the contemporary cutting edge.

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