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Thursday, Sep. 13, 2012

LISTENING POST

Zazen Boys 'Stories'


Special to The Japan Times

"Pants!/Pants!/Strip down to your pants/Dance in just your pants!" Zazen Boys' singer Shutoku Mukai hollers these words midway through "Cyborg no Obake" ("Ghost of a Cyborg"), the first track off his group's fifth proper full-length album, "Stories." It's a jarring moment in a song full of surreal imagery — Mukai mumbles about drinking with the titular spirit and later creates an imaginary government featuring Cabinet members Jerry Garcia, John Belushi and Miles Davis. The opening number sets the tone for the rest of "Stories," a solid outing finding Zazen Boys once again mastering controlled chaos, the band balancing highly technical and focused instrumentals with Mukai's erratic vocals, which swing between singing and rapping.

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"Stories" finds Zazen Boys returning to the dizzying sound they inched away from on their last album, 2008's "Zazen Boys 4." That one leaned heavily on electronics, the group relying on copious amounts of keyboard and digital hand claps just as much as frantic guitar playing. "Stories" features all acoustic drumming and only uses the keyboards as a way to enhance the songs, with the band once again pushing their complex blend of guitars, drums and vocals to the forefront.

"Potato Salad" seemingly locks into a groove early on, but the band subtly develops its riff into a surprisingly dramatic climax. Elsewhere, "Ankokuya" ("Dark Peddler") gets by on start-stop instrumentation, while the title track features the best interplay between electronics and guitars on the whole album.

The music, though, ultimately serves as a backdrop for Mukai, whose vocals add character and chaos to "Stories." Zazen Boys have always had fun with their lyrics — the most repeated line on "Potato Salad" is the goofy "I wanna eat a bowlful of potato salad" — but those silly words become compelling via Mukai's frantic delivery, in which he twists and hiccups the syllables and turns the ordinary into something unpredictable. Elsewhere, he snarls about "poisoned sweetmeats" and rocket-propelled grenades. It isn't all bizarre, though, Mukai swaps his rapping/singing style for a crooner's delivery on "Heartbreak," a song that earnestly focuses on lost love. The shift in atmosphere is unexpected, a skill Zazen Boys continue to demonstrate with "Stories."


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