Still going strong in their now 33-year-long career, Shonen Knife released “Overdrive” earlier this month. Formed in Osaka, this three-part group has a sound that has consistently been associated with pop-punk and alternative rock. Although current members Naoko Yamano, Ritsuko Taneda and Emi Morimoto are all natives of Japan, “Overdrive” is one of many albums that are produced in English. For those with even the slightest interest in Japanese rock, Shonen Knife is definitely one of the names that should be familiar. With a fan base consisting of Nirvana, Red Kross and Sonic Youth, you might get a better idea about what kind of audience they attract.
Shonen Knife has a very straightforward sound that incorporates the most honest and pure essence of rock. What makes this album so accessible is the raw and unpolished way the music is performed. You can almost imagine the band casually playing in your garage, trying to work out those slight imperfections in vocal timing and layering. All of the tracks are produced with the basic essentials: an electric guitar, drums and a bass guitar.
Lyrically, Shonen Knife is so distinct because of their cute, often humorous subject matter. “The Bad Luck Song” is an especially great anthem during this slow transition into spring. Along with a very rhythmic and distinctly pop-rock sound, it incorporates uplifting lyrics that encourage you to turn your bad luck into good luck, such as “This is the best way of thinking.” “Dance to the Rock” is another really easy listen; its basic chord progression is accompanied by lighter lyrics, minus the electronic sound of synthesizers. These would definitely fit well into a casual mix CD for a friend, with a “for late-night drives” recommendation scribbled on the cover.
Strangely enough, songs like “Shopping” and “Green Tea” might guide you into some greatly unanticipated segues of self-reflective thought. In the former track, Yamano recalls a few incredibly wise words from a man: “There’s nothing that you can’t buy with money.” Shopping her way into happiness clearly seems to be working for Yamano, as she sings about it throughout the entirety of the track. Perhaps the incessant reiteration of her love for shopping hints at our obsessively consumerist culture. Strictly taken from a stylistic perspective, however, it definitely takes a bit of teeth-clenching patience to get through a track where the majority of the verses and chorus are made up of a single word repeated in near monotone.
Even still, “Black Crow” serves as an early reminder that they are absolutely capable of creating a slower, more solemn sound while Yamano beckons a crow not to wake her from her dreams. “Fortune Cookie” also offers a different feel in this album with a smoother melody and more coherent vocals. While it still has a sense of innocence, its simple harmonies give the song more of a typical, nostalgic feel. Although these on-point harmonies are not displayed in every track, it is one of the many reasons why I find myself coming back to this album again and again. Considering that the band has successfully produced 19 albums to date, there is no doubt that the ladies of Shonen Knife understand just what it takes to maintain a steadfast following of devotees.
Rating: 3.5 stars