Forget that the title of Spoozys' freshman release is a hideous illiterate redundancy, like saying, "I'm wearing jeans pants and a tee shirt top." Ignore the fact that the voices are buried so far down in the mix that trying to decipher the garbled lyrics is like tweezing loose eyelashes out of hot oatmeal. Flense those criticisms from your mind; you'd have to be utterly devoid of humor to not be charmed by a Japanese band playing surf-punk-electronica, or whatever in God's name it is Spoozys plays.
You will never catch this reviewer (who once, at a Cibo Matto show, howled so happily at an encore of Henry Mancini's "Moon River" that the entire band, Sean Lennon included, was momentarily thrown off balance) sneering at Japanese pop musicians, particularly those who earnestly hurl themselves into Western idioms with absolutely no regard for separating the wheat from the chaff. Shonen Knife's lovingly performed "Top of the World," Cibo Matto's "Moon River" -- these were cultural-boundary-breaking moments for anyone who cared to listen closely. The flotsam of Western musical history never sounds so clear, so resonant, as when it's dusted off and given back to us by non-Western interpreters who happen to find it lying around the cultural warehouse.
And so it is with Tokyo-born, New York-based Spoozys, which would be playing surf music, except there are too many distorted guitars and beat samples; which might be playing electronica, except it sounds too punkish and the rhythms switch unpredictably every couple of minutes; and whom it would be foolish to call astro-punk-club-surfers, or something equally as overreaching and desperately inclusive. A little Devo, a little Pizzicato Five (who happen to be fans of and collaborators with Spoozys), a dose of DJ Spooky and the odd Duane Eddy guitar riff go into Spoozys' music, true, and you're forgiven if you think this sounds too weird to work. But Astral Astronauts' nine tracks, spread evenly over 35 minutes, are tight and creative, and -- this makes the triple-double -- funny as hell.
Nita's Hideaway in Tempe
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If there's one general criticism that can be leveled against electronica, it's that it often takes itself so damned seriously: one obstinate and unwavering beat throughout, upon which is layered a series of eyeball-fibrillating samples, and "gimme three more hours just like that, mistah DJ, cuz I gotta dance, dance, dance." Fine on the club floor, but rare is the artist who can assemble a cut you'd also want to play around the house for your own enjoyment. Likewise, Astral Astronauts is that very unique disc that bridges the gap, with a quick kick-drum loop swerving into a bendy E-string intro, sliding into a California-wave rapid-fire arpeggio and somehow tying the whole thing up so that it makes undeniable melodic sense.
There is no individual personnel listing on Spoozys' Astral Astronauts, which somehow seems right, upon reflection. Like the influences it tweaks and twists, this album might have arisen intact, straight from the floor of pop's own collective unconsciousness.
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