On its 1995 six-song EP, Bomb the Twist, The 18.104.22.168’s manage to deliver all the basic elements of every rockabilly-surf rock band ever in just over 15 minutes. Well…sorta. The 15 minutes part is right, the every element is a bit of hyperbole. Much like the biochemistry of life, on the surface it looks pretty complex, however, when you look close enough you see that there are really only a handful of chemical reactions that occur. Just over and over again, with various different players involved. Surf rock is the same. In the quarter hour of listening time it takes to initially consume this record you will have the spastic punky rockabilly (but not psychobilly), the surf instrumental, and the slower piece, ballad perhaps, but not necessarily. All delivered by three Japanese women who may or may not know English beyond their song lyrics, but do know a little something about American garage rock.
The 22.214.171.124’s came to the attention of the American audience en masse (at least those who dig Tarentino films) in 2003 via their cameo in Quentin Tarentino’s Kill Bill, Vol. 1. The band is seen performing in the Tokyo izakaya House of Blue Leaves. During this scene, prior to the bloodbath, elements of three songs could be heard – “I Walk Like Jane Mansfield”, a cover of the Ikette’s “I’m Blue”, and the band’s most recognized song (at least in the West) “Woo Hoo”. (The bonus features for the film have live performances of the band performing the first two songs.) The elements featuring the band performing and the audience dancing are a bit comical and play up well with the band’s off beat sense of humor.
Despite their 2003 “arrival”, the 126.96.36.199’s were almost 20-years-old at the filming of Kill Bill. The band was founded in 1986 by sisters Yoshiko “Ronnie” Fujiyama and Fujii Sachiko. Fujiyama provided voice and guitar and Sachiko was behind the drums with a revolving cast of musicians filling the other rolls. Initially the band was a four piece and at one time even had a male member, (he wore a wig during live gigs to fit in with the girls) however, the band officially became a trio in 1992. The rotation continues today as the bassist in the film is not in the band anymore and former member, Akiko Omo, has rejoined.
The band’s name derives from their style and tendency to play music reminiscent of the ’50s, 60s, ’70s and ’80s. They have been known to cover American songs (the aforementioned “Woo Hoo”) but the majority of their lyrics are in Japanese. Their kitschy style and humor is off beat akin to fellow countrymen Shonen Knife, however the 188.8.131.52’s sound is far poppier and more rooted in rockabilly and the early days of rock and roll versus Shonen Knife’s penchant for spastic buzzing punk. That isn’t to say that the 184.108.40.206’s can’t punk it out, they just don’t do it all the time, as evidenced by Bomb the Twist.
The album starts off with a pounding snare as a countdown from 10 is not quite growled but not quite screamed ending with the dance command to “Bomb the Twist!”. The title track and “Guitar Date” are prime examples of the more uptempo rockabilly rooted songs, with “Bomb the Twist” being the more aggressively and outwardly punk and “Guitar Date” representing the more hi energy dance song. Both songs demonstrate the rather puerile lyrics riddled in the band’s music, simply repeating short little phrases over and over again, never developing a story, just expressing an outburst. Yet it’s those very outbursts that you would be shouting over and over again if you were trying to sing along so no harm, no foul.
Instrumental pieces are commonplace in surf rock if for any reason because the genre started out by bands that didn’t or rarely performed songs with lyrics. The 220.127.116.11’s add another set to the collection with their song “Jane in the Jungle”. A groovy little number that is reverb drenched in the style of Dick Dale just without the heaviness of Dale’s playing. I almost want to add “Woo Hoo” as one of the band’s instrumentals because, let’s face it, the only lyrics to the whole song are those two words over and over….and over. So for the sake of argument we will consider it an instrumental and one hell of one too. “Woo Hoo” is a cover originally performed by the 1950s group Rock-A-Teens (not the Rock*A*Teens, a band from the early ’90s). The bubblegum spirit in this song is felt from Sachiko’s initial cry as she sits behind the drums and continues to the end where the chorus is accompanied by howls and yelps of excitement.
The slower numbers, “Three Cool Chicks” and “Dream Boy” are demonstrative of two types of slow tempo pieces. The end track “Dream Boy” and the sweetness that oozes from it are a nice way to end the album. The vocals are by far the best sung and most diverse of the lot and don’t favor on camp or kitsch but rather just straightforward playing. Where “Dream Boy” is more typical of a surf ballad, complete with soft focus vocals and tender delivery, “Three Cool Chicks” is along the lines of instrumental mood music like that of the Centurians’ “Bullwinkle pt II” though without the darkness hanging over it (and of course it has goofy lyrics). Complete with the campy delivery, the song feels like a piece from an off-off-off-off Broadway reprisal of Guys and Dolls with Mack the Knife playing lead instead of Nathan Detroit.
Their playing is not nearly as precise as legends of the genre like Dale, but it is just as fun. The exuberance is contagious and while the album is spinning you won’t be able to help yourself bounce around to the beat. While the joke, if it is a joke, may not last long with the short attention spans and fickle tastes of many of those in the West, the band has a strong cult following in the US, Europe and Down Under while maintaining a huge following in their homeland of Japan. In fact, the 18.104.22.168’s are the longest enduring Japanese garage rock girl band. That being said, put Bomb the Twist into your multiplayer with a few other garage and surf bands from the ’50s and ’60s, hit shuffle and walk away. Just listen to the mix. The girls would fit right in with the bands of the past and no one would ever know the wiser. That has to say something.