Reviews

Otoboke Beaver, Itekoma Hits (Damnably Records, 2019)

Otoboke Beaver (Accorinrin; Yoyoyoshie; Hiro-Chan; Kahokiss) are an impossibly adventurous genre-hopping punk 4-piece from Kyoto, Japan. Coincidentally, their April full-length, Itekoma Hits, released via Damnably Records, is an immediate and blinding record that seesaws wildly through all manner of extremity. Their at times bizarre melange has garnered attention from the cursed “bigger” music outlets. The hardcore world would do well to pay attention, too, as they’re firmly planted in the world of punk rock both sonically and ideologically. Since their 2009 inception, Otoboke Beaver have always hinted at a full length of this quality. In just under a half hour, they’ve managed near perfection.

Trying to review an album like Itekoma Hits is an almost unnecessary exercise. Intentionally confounding, the ideas and musical passages often come and go just as quickly, awash in taut chaos. Each individual track is a fleeting, slippery proposition that goes left the moment you’ve wrongly convinced yourself you’ve figured it out. Shit is fast. Shit is exhilarating. This shit is bananas. You could likely roulette the album and it’d successfully reassemble into its intended package. Jump in. 

From the first moments after hitting “play," there are huge swaths of post punk. Much like early waves retained the mania and energy of straightforward punk, Otoboke Beaver embrace angularity, unpredictability, and noise. Straight ahead guitar riffs or 4/4 beats rarely come unaccompanied by adventurous detours. They’re more likely to devolve into absolute gonzo moments… an unexpected blues run, passages so warped and cacophonous they run parallel to but never with any one genre. Certain bits are quickly abandoned in favor of something else entirely, as if Dr. Demento was at the soundboard’s helm. 

They show a clear awareness of and attachment to hardcore’s full steam ahead pacing and muscular tonality. As much as the LP is a tour through the world’s more disorienting sounds, it’s the sense of spasmodic freedom and mania that keeps them squarely in the punk camp. Imagine Flipper covering Discordance Axis by way of Japan’s 5,6,7,8’s or Oblivians. If that’s not sufficiently confusing or difficult to picture, throw in The Locust, Nomeansno, Gang of Four, and the boundary pushing sensibilities of The Flying Luttenbachers.

Thrown upon all of it is a killer garage and early hardcore punk vibe acting as it’s warped back brace. Though, unlike the above comparisons, they’re seeking not the end or death of recorded sound; Otoboke Beaver are seeing how far they can push you while keeping the head banging and hips shaking. The recording is absolutely amazing, the moments of transcendent vocal beauty counter seamlessly with the machete attack of the sonics.They manage to find fleeting moments of silence to allow our breath to return and the Spector “Wall of Sound” approach never feels imposing. It’s in the glossy but malicious backdrop of “poptimism” that recalls Japan’s harunemuri or ZOMBIE-CHANG (Both of which are well worth your time). 

Speaking of the wild-haired producer’s Wagnerian approach to audio engineering, a large facet of Otoboke Beaver’s brilliance is in the singing. They’ve certainly absorbed the classic harmonizing and aesthetic of timeless “girl group” '60s pop, albeit atop an impossibly intricate template, disguising itself as straightforward punk. Whether just a lead vocal, BGV’s, or call and response, they present as a team; their sport is crafting rubbery and impossibly catchy songs from utter chaos. At times, the words are spat excitedly and, at others, they’re venomously expelled as to escape poisoning. There are moments when the lead singer opts to play siren, unknowingly luring us into their world with sugary “ooooohs” and “aaaaaaahs” only to later lay us flat with their assault. Whispered moments arrive not as promises but warnings. There’s insane banshee wailings, chopped and staccato chanting, and gorgeous harmonies. 

It’s as if they send verses/choruses into a tunnel. Just as we’ve given up the skeleton of melody, it emerges anew, wearing a neon exoskeleton of our flesh. They absolutely flay structural expectations. They sit, at times, comfortably in a bizarro world in which Melt-Banana, Lightning Bolt, Arab on Radar, or Boredoms somehow usurp radio waves. Again, though, Otoboke Beaver are far too concerned with “songs” and recognizable moments of melody you’re destined to hum later. There are nods to the dance punk Renaissance of early ‘oughts Britpop club nights, though it has little to do with the DFA scene, eschewing NYC hipster vibes for Erase Errata or The Gossip’s revolutionary styling.

Newer acts like Show Me the Body, Control Top, Empath, The Coathangers, and even Pile come to mind in their defiantly staunch sense of independence. They even manage to fit the off-kilter rhythms of later Dischord bands, but most notably Japan’s tricot, who manage beautiful indie math-pop with group vocals. 

The entire group is on top form, but the rhythm section is incredible. The bass playing is otherworldly…lockstep grooves and circular runs all over the fretboard that rarely duplicate themselves for longer than a “verse.” The drumming is an unmade bed of clutter and clang always in service to the song. At times, the rhythm requires unrelenting blasts, simple 4/4 stomp, or even an unaccompanied bass or snare with which to decorate the group vocals. of the instruments are stretched, both literally and figuratively, to the outer limits of their intended use and capabilities. 

Itekoma Hits is a glorious whirlpool of deftly executes ideas. Otoboke Beaver are in the musical wilderness right now and I’m excited to go off-map with them, wherever the hell that might be. 

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