Key Tracks: “Dreams Come True” “Vicious”
The other day I wrote about how the Menzingers’ followed a perfect album with one that copies the format. I praised it, because it’s a band fleshing out their image. But there is an inverse of that, and it’s what Japanther has become. Japanther found a signature sound long ago, and since then they’ve copied it to the point where it’s become diluted. “Instant Money Magic” is a surefired fun album, but one that brings nothing to the table for a band that used to specialize in that.
“Instant Money Magic,” the band’s 23rd official release in a 13 year span, is an improvement over last year’s LP “Eat Like Lisa Act Like Bart.” But just like that album, the band’s sound has become indescribably repetitive. Japanther formed as a riotous art-punk band, often basing songs around soundclips and doing performances in unique locales, but over the past few years they’ve settled into a groove of playing loud, fuzzy, optimistic surf-punk. And it’s never bad, but “Instant Money Magic” is just adding to the pile; we have way too much of a good thing. The band may have peaked with 2010’s great “Rock & Roll Ice Cream,” a short album that still had artsy elements, but presented a more straightforward energy. By now, it’s all energy, and too much of it.
Only three of the album’s fourteen songs stretch over two minutes, meaning Japanther has in no way lost their punk sensibilities. And the album is almost bursting with optimism, with titles like “Dreams Come True,” and songs with fuzzy, bright harmonies. Optimism-punk is not a genre, so in this sense, Japanther have kept it original. Japanther’s last few albums have provided energetic and fun summer soundtracks. But 12 of the 14 songs here sound too identical, all 12 being fast, guitar garage-punk, and they really don’t separate themselves from each other or their last few albums.
Albums like “Instant Money Magic” are a little tough to digest; if this were to be the first Japanther album you hear, it’d probably be a ton of fun, in it’s relentless energy and storytelling optimism. But longtime fans of the band might question their motives, with five largely identical albums in a row making their riotous art only a fond memory. So “Instant Money Magic” is both a quick listen that bridges heavy and fun, and an album that represents nothing new for the band, and feels a little lackluster. They won’t win any new fans, just check another box for their old ones.
If you like this, try: there’s tons of bands that have risen in Japanther’s wake, but my pick is Pangea’s near-perfect 2011 album, “Living Dummy” (the band now goes as ‘together PANGEA’ but the album is credited to ‘Pangea’)
-By Andrew McNally