Half Japanese – Volume 3: 1990-1995

Half Japanese - Volume 3: 1990-1995

Half Japanese – Volume 3: 1990-1995

With the still-fresh Volume 2: 1987-1989 set, Fire bottled-up three of the most accessible and distinctive Half Japanese albums (with associated archival off-cuts) for novices to find an easy way into the most sprawling branch of Jad Fair’s vast discography.  The newly-released Volume 3: 1990-1995 is a far gnarlier collection that takes a braver and more patient listener.  Although released during the early-‘90s underground-to-overground US indie boom years, which could have propelled Half Japanese into bigger commercial realms, the three albums anthologised here document the band throwing uncompromising obstacles in the way of any potential crossover moment.

Hence, 1990’s now re-appearing We Are They Who Ache With Amorous Love picks up the baton from the most oblique corners of 1989’s preceding The Band That Would Be King and runs with it until almost the nth degree.  This leads to an engulfing lo-fidelity landslide – peppered with almost unrecognisable cover songs – across the album that almost threatens to crowd-out Fair’s underrated ability for delivering art-pop nuggets.  Thus, the likes of a beyond-mangled take on Them’s “Gloria”, the clangourous skronking “Run”, the near-atonal “Up And Down”, the head-scrambling “Everything Is Right” and the sound-collage interluding of “Spin” will test the eardrums of even the most hard-core of Guided By Voices fans.  Yet, the gathered We Are They Who Ache With Amorous Love period material is not without its charms, especially when more mid-fi framings are wrapped around the songs.  This means that the alluringly atmospheric “Titanic” (a Daniel Johnston collaboration), the jazz-scat shuffling of “All Of Me”, the twangy storytelling “Hand Without A Body”, the bass and drum-led “Three Rings” and the giddy Talking Heads-refracted highlife swing of “Secret” all are keepers.

Half Japanese - Volume 3: 1990-1995 (unpacked)

Half Japanese – Volume 3: 1990-1995 (unpacked)

Contrastingly, 1992’s re-compiled Fire In The Sky is a relatively more approachable and cohesive affair overall; with deeper focus on the band’s self-penned material, more comfortably balanced production values and some choice guest spots from VU’s Moe Tucker and Yo La Tengo’s Ira Kaplan.  So whilst there are still plenty of madcap mutations – like the squalling “Hangar 18”, the blues-grunge indulgences of “Possum Head” and the screaming punk racket of “U.F.O. Expert” – there is a more consistent stream of ‘proper’ songs, with Fair frequently self-casting himself as a nerdish thwarted romancer.  Therefore, highlights are easier to find compared to the We Are They Who Ache With Amorous Love wares; with the waspish “Tears Stupid Tears”, the disarmingly gorgeous twelve-minute folk lament “Always”, the joyous Sun Records rockabilly shimmy of “Gates Of Glory”, the soaring VU-indebted “Eye Of The Hurricane” and the sarcastic subverted soft-rock balladry of “This Could Be The Night” being at the forefront.

For 1995’s now resurrected Hot, things are different once again.  Stripped-down to a terse thirteen tracks, the album is the tightest from the trio of LPs gathered within this compendium.  Whilst there are a few flirtations with early-’90s production conformities and college radio friendliness, the Half Japanese tendency to playfully fuck shit up dominates for the most part.  This gives us a clutch of cuts that suggest Fair and co. could have joined the ‘90s 120 Minutes club if they really had wanted to; with heavily-skewed cross-references to and reclamations from Mudhoney (“Well” and “Vast Continent”), Pavement (“Lucky Ones”), Bleach-era Nirvana (“Drum Straight”) and Luna (“Lucky Town”) sprinkled throughout the record.  Yet for the most part Hot is defiantly distant from the then in-crowd, preferring to switch between bouncy jangling (for the standout “True Believers”), warped voodoo-boogie-blues (“Part Of My Plan”), dismembered Stooges chugging (“Vampire”), noise-punk (“Guess Again” and “Smile”) and more semi-spoken storytelling (“Sleep Talk”).

Totalling 51 Half Japanese tracks, Volume 3: 1990-1995 is not an easy thing to swallow in one in sitting and ultimately its multiple contortions – although featuring some genuinely enchanting and entertaining shapes in amongst all the overriding hyperactive jerking – are best suited for completionists looking to consolidate their Jad Fair collections rather than the casually curious, who might be better starting with the more rounded Volume 2: 1987-1989. 

Fire Records