I wouldn’t have heard it if it weren’t pointed out to me.
Reportedly, the Back Horn attempted to go for an ’80s New Wave sound on its third major label album, Ikiru Sainou. The band’s eclectic music has always gone for seemingly incongruous elements.
But between Yamada Masahi’s throat-damaging singing and Suginami Eijun’s metallic guitar work, it’s a challenge to find that influence at all.
One thing is for certain — Ikiru Sainou ain’t electroclash.
Which is to say Ikiru Sainou has as many synthesizers as previous Back Horn albums: none. (Self-editor: Actually, there’s a very quiet one on “Koofuku na Nakinagara”.)
The 80s influence is certainly nowhere to be found on the opening “Wakusei Melancholy”, a song that isn’t melancholy in the least.
No — the 80s starts to creep in on the following track, “Hikari no Kessho”, perhaps one of the least successful channelings of the Smiths and the Cure. And that’s not a knock.
The Back Horn is too much its own band to really take a stab at being anything else. “Hikari no Kessho” isn’t the Back Horn pulling an Interpol and calling up the ghost of Ian Curtis — it’s a band that makes the Smiths and the Cure not sound like the Smiths and the Cure.
“Hanabira”, with its harmonica opening and jangling guitar, is also a very unsuccessful attempt to sound like IRS-era R.E.M. “Seimeisen”, with its disco beat, is unclear whether it takes its roots from New Order or Duran Duran.
The Back Horn deserves high marks for attempting to incorporate influences totally at odds with its num-heavymetallic sound.¹ Whether its a successful match is really up in the air.
On its previous album Shinzoo Orchestra, the Back Horn reigned in its eclecticism to produce a coherent album. It also helped the songs on the album were some of its strongest writing.
Ikiru Sainou is a terrific experiment, but there’s a sense the writing can’t quite live up to that challenge.
“Kodoku no Senjoo” may be passionate, but it’s mired in melodic clichés. “Platonic Fuzz” sounds like it wants to be playful but can’t help but being a bit menacing. And the monotone melody of “Joker” is simply flat.
Unlike past Back Horn albums that seep into a listener’s conscious, Ikiru Sainou doesn’t sink in. The band’s distinctiveness makes its latest creative turn feel more like a scattered message.
The album may not be successful in juggling its influence, but it’s still fascinating to witness the Back Horn give it a try.
¹No, “num-heavymetallic” isn’t a realy word, but browse the archives for a review of Number Girl’s album of the same name for reference.