All love, no hate

Kinoshita Riki is a master of the hook.

When “Mizu no Naka no Knife” opens up Love/Hate, those first four chords are a paragon of utter simplicity. Once Kinoshita has reeled listeners in with that riff, there’s no way to shake off the rest of the album.

Love/Hate is an embarrassment of riches, a collection of the best hook writing assembled on one disc. From start to finish, the album hurtles at a brisk pace, tossing one perfect pop song after another.

It’s tough to single out a particular brilliant moment on this album because there’s absolutely no filler — every track is consistently strong, and it pretty much boils down to personal taste.

(My favorites: “Mizu no Naka no Knife”, “Evil”, “Skirt” and “Sonnet”)

Art-School borrows a lot from the Weezer playbook, from the big, doubled-up guitar sound to Kinoshita’s off-key holler. And of course, the loud-soft dynamic so intrinsic in 90s-era alt-rock is in full force.

But the comparrisons end there — if anything, Kinoshita is a better writer than Rivers Cuomo.

The chemistry between the band members, however, is an equally forceful presence. Kinoshita, drummer Sakurai Yuuichi, guitarist Ooyama Jun and bassist Hinata Hideki perform with an uncommon rock-solid timing.

On “Apathy’s Last Night”, the band plays interlocking parts during the verses, only to come together rhythmically in chorus. “Butterfly Kiss” seethes with a passion that builds as the song progresses.

The most dramatic moment on Love/Hate happens during “Skirt”. The song whittles down to just acoustic guitar and bass, but little by little, more instruments enter in till the entire song explodes.

Not since Number Girl have four people produced such a precise, dynamic sound. Oddly enough, Hinata left Art-School to join Number Girl’s Mukai Shuutoku in Zazen Boys. Ooyama quit due to exhaustion.

It’s no exaggeration to call Love/Hate one of the best albums to be released in the last 12 months. (It’s going on my 2004 favorite list, even if it was released in December 2003.)

For one set of songs to be consistently excellent from the first note to the last is a rarity to be hearlded.