Japanther are the type of band where albums almost seem incidental after their insane performance-art/installation live shows. Matt Reilly and Ian Vanek would seemingly just as soon work with giant puppets or synchronized swimmers as vinyl, yet their recorded output still at times can capture the raw energy of the duo’s art rock core. Their new LP, Eat Like Lisa Act Like Bart, crams 13 tracks into a fuzzy, compact package, and while there are moments of fun, Japanther aren’t particularly suited to bite-sized experience.
The hyper-active punk rhythm, monotone delivery, and ice cream truck chiming on opening track “Do Not Resuscitate” is the blend of grime and playfulness that marks the best Japanther material. The clinical take on love and heartbreak fits the thrumming brain freeze instrumental, the pair insisting that “even in my wounded state / do not resuscitate.” Immediately following that is the Stephen Merritt-in-the-garage blitz of “Stolen Flowers”, poetic imagery couched in the middle of a burst of garage rock fuzz.
Less grounded tracks like “Light Weight Jealous” have a harder time finding a place in their album. While that track finds some sweet moments, its spacey sound effects and falsetto harmonies drift too far from the canvas. Luckily, these are the exception and not the rule. While an acoustic breather in the midst of a bunch of wide-eyed sugar rushes is often a necessity, here it stands out like a sore, yellow thumb.
From the title and cover of the album and on through the fuzzy art rock stylings, the uniform blend of conceptual art and common reference is the key to Japanther’s strength. The half hour of Eat Like Lisa Act Like Bart has the mass appeal down pat, and paired with the pathos and edge of an early season Simpsons episode at that. But even in those half hour blocks of joy, there were some commercials.
Essential Tracks: “Do Not Resuscitate”, “Stolen Flowers”