Read all the feminist rhetoric you want into Sister/Benten’s role as women’s music champion. For US audiences, the chauvinistic perception remains.
Bands with Japanese chicks are hot.
Throw in the pop culture cuteness that yields the likes of Hello Kitty, and that hot factor rises proportionally.
So while Sister/Benten may be raising the profile of women in Asia, the label, whether it knows, is selling sex in the US.
For Tsu*Shi*Ma*Mi*Re, it can get tricky.
The music on the trio’s debut album, Soozoo Ninshin, can sound cute. Guitarist/vocalist Mari sings with a nasal, coquettish voice, and on a few tracks, the band is downright playful.
But that overlooks the breadth of styles Tsu*Shi*Ma*Mi*Re covers, let alone the zeal with which they perform — and, at times, deconstruct — them.
No, they’re not a very good disco band, nor are they a good jazz band, or ska band, or garage band, or psych band.
They are, however, willing to give it all a shot.
Soozoo Ninshin is all over the place where songwriting is concerned, but the band’s down-to-basics approach pulls it all together, oftentimes with multiple styles in one song.
Each of the genres listed two paragraphs ago are represented — “Umeumai Tanedekai” (disco), “Lingerie Shop” (jazz), “Ocha Ska” (ska), “Ebihara Shinji” (garage), “Manhole” (psych).
“Manhole” is the epic centerpiece of the album. The band gets downright noisy on this track, while Mari’s sprechstimme devolves into a passionate cry of the song’s title.
On “Ocha Ska”, Mari interrupts a buoyant chorus with a manly growl. “Kedama Boogie” shows the band shoeing in on eX-Girl’s operatic gymnastics, while “Kyamaboko” juggles between an agitated hook and some big metal gestures.
The album ends with the chaotic title track, a song that starts off quietly, then builds to a crashing, circular finish.
Any hint of cuteness Soozoo Ninshin may have started out with is pretty much dust by the end.
And that works to Tsu*Shi*Ma*Mi*Re’s advantage — a band of Japanese chicks may be hot, but at least you get a good album out it.