Since 2001, Japanther have gotten away with being called, among other things, a performance art project instead of a fuzzy pop band. They are not, as Flash Art once wrote, “art-rock installation paratroopers”, and as if to prove it they followed up their ridiculous 2011 jam record Beets, Limes and Rice with the very pop-punk-friendly Eat Like Lisa Act Like Bart in 2013. Their latest, Instant Money Magic, is more in the vein of the latter and further proof that the duo doesn’t need to coat their lo-fi garage tone in contemporary analytics or a particularly deep message whatsoever in order to be entertaining.
Mid-’50s television audio recordings, fuzzy guitars, drowned-out drums and Casiotone plinking: NYC’s Japanther don’t exactly break the mold when it comes to art-punk sonic structures. The production of Instant Money Magic is a lot less mystifying and infinitely more accessable than early records like Leather Wings, but that simplicity comes at the price of originality. Borrowing noticeably from the west coast’s No Age and Ohio’s Times New Viking, the no-fi nature of fast, pummeling songs like “Dreams Come True” adds just a little too much random noise and static without offering anything else noticeably interesting or informative to the mix.
That Japanther seem to have embarked down the road more easily wandered isn’t necessarily a bad thing, even though it does negate a lot of the edginess that comes with having played shows with synchronized swimmers out of the back of a moving truck. “Vicious” is a tremendously catchy stoner-surf tune packed into a 58-second package with a great, rolling bass-line that summons up cafe racers and California day-trips. A lot of the record remains predictable, a first for Japanther, and that safety net is refreshing for a band that has at times been antagonizingly difficult to interpret.
Due to the nature of the recordings, it’s difficult to get a sense of the intensity Japanther exhibit in a live setting: vocals are almost always paired with a cute single-speaker keyboard keeping pace and several guitar tracks are unfairly buried under Matt Reilly and Ian Vanek’s rushed lyrics. Cues from contemporary rock bands like METZ or Jay Reatard might have been a little more apparent if Instant Money Magic abandoned its low-fidelity principles every once in a while, but in creating a perfect collection of 2-minute-long garage punk jams they’ve all but guaranteed a strong summer release.
Instant Money Magic is another step in the same direction that Japanther began with Eat Like Lisa Act Like Bart, and while sure to piss off the art community, the duo has crafted a strong, if unexceptional, collection of mixtape-ready car-ride rock songs. Long-time fans might feel like Japanther are taking the easy way out, but who’s to say their progressively more pop-centric offerings aren’t another elaborate performance piece?