Mishima USA – Hold My Breath

Mishima USA
Hold My Breath

For just a duo, Mishima USA makes some pretty big pop music. Although it would be fair to say that this band doesn’t play pop in it’s traditional sense. Power-pop, perhaps, or catchy rock, or maybe just some unique, catchy music that’s based around rock. Regardless of how difficult to identify, this, the duo’s first full-length and follow-up to an EP released just a month prior to the full-length’s release is an impressive release.
Mishima USA is Arto Payaslian on guitar and vocals and Sean O’Brien on drums (and backing vocals). Although some guest musicians add keyboards, violin, cello, and backing vocals, no bass is used. The two found it didn’t add anything to their sound, and it’s impressive to think that these two musicians make such full music. Perhaps it’s the band’s straight-ahead guitar sound, which doesn’t make use of much in the way of distortion or effects, or perhaps it’s Payaslian’s slightly nasal vocal approach, that make this band so good. But I expect it’s just a high-powered, no-holds-barred approach to pop songs that just make it catchy and fun.
“Twist My Arm” showcases the band’s unique approach. Very crisp guitar lines merge with Payaslian’s unique vocals for a mid-tempo track that has a very full, very moving feel. “Draped” is entirely focused around O’Brien’s stellar rhythm, both complex yet not overpowering, and it allows Payaslian to perhaps showcase his vocals better than on any other track. The band shows how you don’t have to play too fast or loud to be considered power-pop, as a song like “Frame Relay” isn’t totally rocking but does show off the band’s penchant for head-bobbing hooks and unique, complex yet accessible songwriting. And “Stupid Kid” does pick up the pace, especially during the chorus, for a stellar pop song. The odd thing is, I could have sworn I heard this song before, as it reminds me wholeheartedly of a band called Mil Mulliganos, who we reviewed a while back.
A good example of why Mishima USA is more than your typical pop band is “If I Wake Up,” a brilliant, shimmering song that slows down the pace and packs a more emotional punch. “Apt 1-E” is the quietest and softest song on the album, and while it doesn’t work quite as well (Payaslian doesn’t vary his singing style much), it does show off a different side to the band. Things spruce up on “Huge List,” a song that doesn’t overpower you but does have a nice, playful feel, made more so by Beach Boys-esque “woo-hoo-hoo!” backing vocals. “Familiar Marks” rocks a little harder, with more driving guitar chords and still a light, chiming affect, while the closer, “Up the Branch,” is the softest and most lovely song here. Showing Payaslian doesn’t have to overwhelm with his vocals, the song is a swirling, layered affair with quiet vocals that mix with sparse guitar lines.
To be honest, I wasn’t that impressed with Mishima USA after the first few listens, but this album grew on me with each subsequent play to the point where I could put it on repeat and play it all day at work without complaint. The songs are catchy, but they’re not merely ear-candy. They’re complex enough and unique enough to prompt repeated listens as much for substance as form. Quite an impressive debut from a band that’s surprisingly just a duo.