Artist: Half Japanese
Album: Charmed Life
Appears On (Mixes): Thirteen Ugly Children Roll Gutterballs
Song Notes: This week, by request, a few Half Japanese tracks (they're all pretty short). "1,000,000 Kisses" is from Charmed Life, one of the most popular albums (and one of the hardest to find, being put out on Penn Jillette's now-defunct label, 50 Skidillion Watts (Or, as it's listed on the sleeves: 50,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,00X WATTS, taking up pretty much the whole spine of the CDs, with the X being the catalog number of the disc), named after a Half Japanese song. This version of the song is sung by David Fair, who left the band after this record, although a version sung by Jad appears in the excellent documentary film Half Japanese: The Band That Would Be King by Jeff Feuerzeig. Many people find David's voice the more palatable of the two, but I like both Fair brothers' voices equally.
"Too Much Adrenaline", from Our Solar System is also sung and written by David (while "1,000,000 Kisses" was sung by David, Jad wrote it). Where "1,000,000 Kisses" is one of the poppier Half Japanese songs, "Too Much Adrenaline" is closer in style to their earlier records. It's very fast and noisy.
The next two songs come from the album that came out immediately after Our Solar System, Sing No Evil, which is by far my favorite Half Japanese record. Both of these cuts are sung by Jad. "Acupuncture" is written by David and is much poppier than "Too Bad About Elizabeth", also written by David.
Half Japanese got their name from literally drawing words from a hat—those were the first two words they got, so that's what they named the band. Detractors said that Half Japanese didn't know how to play their instruments, but David Fair's well-written essay on How To Play Guitar explains that they knew all they needed to know. While much of the musicianship is rudimentary, the Fair brothers have an innate musicality—there have been times when I've listened to a Half Japanese record and assumed that they got a guest to play a guitar part because it's so good, and I go back and find out Jad played everything on the track. They're still putting out albums today (the last few have been on Jello Biafra's Alternative Tentacles), although I haven't been able to get into the later albums, and stopped picking them up after Hello -- however Bone Head, Hot and Heaven Sent are all very good (Especially "C'mon Baby" and "Movin' On Up" from Bone Head -- the latter track has no relation to Last Week's Posts, BTW). I typically don't like them as much because the later ones seem to mix Jad's guitar and vocals farther and farther down, and adding more and more distortion on his vocals, so everything just sounds like a low-fi soup of distortion (not that these tracks aren't low-fi—they SO are low-fi, but there's a separation to the instruments). There's the occasional stand out track, but the albums aren't classic anymore. The Jad Fair solo albums are often the same as Half Japanese, just with a different name stuck on -- Monarchs:Jad Fair and I Like It When You Smile:Jad Fair are very good, and the collaborations with Yo La Tengo and Phonocomb are pretty good, too (I like the Phonocomb album better, although they're the jackasses who unplugged Jad's guitar when they'd perform live without telling him, so...), but I don't like the ones with Jason Willett very much, since they seem to suffer from the same Low-Fi Soup problem as the later Half Japanese ones. Not every record is a keeper, but there's enough good stuff to make checking them out worth your while. - Rev. Syung Myung Me