Destination Tokyo

(Smalltown Supersound; 2009)

By Conrad Amenta | 12 August 2009

Strictly speaking not much has changed since this Japanese trio’s debut EP Neji/Tori washed up on North American shores, but somehow that previous effort had so much charming belligerence and ferocity and Destination Tokyo sounds bored and meandering. Nisennenmondai may imbue a broader discussion of Kraut electronica begetting proto-disco, but that the record does just that is only a logical extension having already happened when the last fifteen Kraut-rock bands also grew bored with the formula and started adding where they should have subtracted. Destination Tokyo is so much a product of discussions already taken place, a rock-out that sounds exhausted from the get-go, that one wonders if its repetition, its short length, its lack of dynamics are all just so much capitulation to the band’s lack of ideas. Not a good sign considering this is ostensibly their debut.

Ultimately the album’s failings are in its leanness: at just over forty minutes, so much depends on the combined twenty-five minutes of “Ijen Urusuozuos” and “Mirrorball,” and both put such a premium on repetition for repetition’s sake—without deviation, movements, themes, build, deconstruction, or hooks—that they’d be entirely as effective at five minutes as they are at twelve. I’m at a loss to explain why the title track or “Disco” are around nine minutes while “Mirrorball” is twelve minutes of what sounds like a garage jam session that never goes anywhere. But that the album is only five songs long (and “Miraabouru,” a joke track that mirrors its big brother, essentially tacks on yet another minute to the song—-the last thing it needs) makes it pretty plain that the group have released half an album of incomplete ideas. Were the album only as long as it needed to be to explore the ideas that are here, it would probably be half the length.

Also mysterious is the decrease in production values, which are marked. The band’s performances remain inhumanly tight, and the impetus for the songs is fun even if in their extended variation they become grating, but this curious overall diminishing of a promising band’s sound is disappointing. Nisennenmondai know how to revel in noise, going so far as to point at bands like Sonic Youth with their song titles, but they also sounded as if they might know how to pastiche and texture. Where is the luxuriously layered rock the band suggested last year? All I hear is tinny wash, unchanging rhythms, and catatonic volumes.

Neji/Tori came out just last year, perhaps a move intended to drum up interest in this release, but it sounds as if the trio have jumped the gun and released an unfinished product. There are some serviceable ideas here, but they haven’t been nurtured into complete songs. Another year, another half-dozen songs, a more finely tuned ear at the mixing board and they may have been on to something.