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Friday, July 11, 2008



Nhhmbase — "Hamon Cross"; Uhnellys — "Mawaru"

Experimental indie rockers Nhhmbase and hip-hop/jazz duo Uhnellys' careers have in many ways run parallel to each other, with both bands emerging into Tokyo's eclectic underground scene and releasing debut recordings at about the same time in 2006. And each band is now releasing a followup record a week apart.

"Hamon Cross" tightens up and refines the production compared with their self-titled debut, but the band's sound is more or less unchanged. Mamoru's vocals coo sweetly before leaping into a dizzying falsetto at a moment's notice, while the melodies meander around guitars and a rhythm section that stop, start and suddenly switch direction as if playing a game of hide-and-seek with each other.

"Hamon Cross" still doesn't capture the ferocious energy of live performances that in the past have seen Mamoru carried away from gigs in an ambulance but, in its more subdued way, it still succeeds in showcasing Nhhmbase's unique and instantly recognizable mix of progressive rock, postpunk and jazz with an intricate, unconventional melodic sense.

Perhaps spurred on by their switch to a more internationally orientated label, Uhnellys' "Mawaru" is a big step on from the more monochromatic-sounding "Jazooka." Opening with the crashing drums, looped vocals and echoing trumpets of "Don't Stop" (sadly not a Fleetwood Mac cover), Uhnellys repaint the lo-fi hip-hop/jazz/psychedelic crossover of their debut in broad Technicolor, introducing a wider array of instruments and sounds.

"Ressha," featuring Canadian rapper Shad, is a track that could finally lay to rest any remaining doubts as to whether the Japanese can do hip-hop, and female drummer Midi's nonsensical English vocals on the whimsical, ukelele-led "Ame" are quirky charm personified.

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