Happily dark, or darkly happy

Heart Bazaar’s name should probably be “Heart Bizzare.”

Certainly the band’s music isn’t as strange as, say, eX-Girl or John Zorn, but Heart Bazaar’s take on alt-rock conventions isn’t exactly mainstream.

On the surface, Heart Bazaar is all about grungey guitars, melodic bass lines and straight-forward rock beats, all fronted by the bittersweet, husky voice of Ishii Satsuki.

But penetrate the layers of guitar distortion, and there’s some sugary, bouncy, jazzy pop lying underneath.

Heart Bazaar’s debut album, Saihate, collects 52 minutes’ worth of this odd combination.

On the one hand, listeners might have the urge to pogo to such tracks as “Collector” or “Saihate no Uta.” But on other tracks, in particular “Sodium Hi” and “Kitkaze to Taiyou,” dramatic strings coexist somewhat uncomfortably with wailing guitars.

If the louder elements of these songs were stripped away, what remains would be dramatic climaxes and gloriously pompous choruses.

Ishii sings with a child-like inflection, but the rough timbre of her voice feels more well-worn, as if she learned how to scream before she started to sing.

And while guitarist Suzuki Akihito loves to pile on the layers of effects, the cellos and organs underneath belie the band’s more rock leanings.

Heart Bazaar is almost maniacal in its conflicting sound. They’re loud but optimistic, upbeat but chaotic, saccharine but bitter.

Does the combination work?

It’s actually pretty hit and miss. Some tracks strike the right balance, but others sound like it should be dark when they’re light and vice versa. In other words, it can get a bit confusing.

But it’s that disorientation that makes Saihate a challenging listen.