I'd like to start today by going for the jugular.
Les Sewing Sisters sound like neighbors of Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider, who finally got fed up with those cats' Teutonic take on futurism, and decided to make their own album. But only after taking the red pill.
Just wanted to get that out of the way, because if you're not comfortable swinging at pitches outside the strike zone, you may want to leave. This could get messy.
Even by my standards.
See, back in my younger days, I was fortunate enough to live in Japan for a while. It wasn't always easy, but it was rarely boring. I saw some crazy things, and subsequently walked away with a certain fascination with Japanese culture, not to mention a collection of Hello Kitty merchandise that raised red flags for more than a few of my friends.
But I've always wondered why Japanese music hasn't been able to find mainstream acceptance here in the United States.
Warning: This is not intended to serve as an exhaustive survey of Japanese popular music, but rather a sort of neural reclamation project. Like dredging up the Titanic without the albatross that is Celine Dion around your neck.
I mean, sure, I know a handful of guys (and they are all guys) who worship Merzbow and The Boredoms and Melt Banana and Boris, but acts like that, well, let's just say they're not everyone's cup of tea.
Back when I was sprog who didn't know his Sadaharu Oh from his asshole, Loudness appeared, and for a brief minute, shared the airwaves with Mötley Crüe, Twisted Sister and other like-minded metal bands.
My metalhead friends and I found them equal parts intriguing and amusing. I'm fairly certain if I called any of those guys today and simply said, "Loudness," they would respond:
The beat kicks you in the head, all right
Yeah, it's gonna get crazy tonight
Let me hear you all go wild
Don't laugh, that was pretty much de rigueur for metal lyrics of the time.
Loudness faded from musical consciousness in America pretty quickly, and the next Japanese band to make a dent on these shores was probably Shonen Knife, a punkish all-female trio who had the distinction of being handpick by Kurt Cobain to open for Nirvana on a UK tour just before the release of Nevermind.
In retrospect, they might be the Japanese band that has had the most success in the States. The 22.214.171.124's were another all-female trio, but one whose sound owed decidedly more to classic girl groups and surf music than The Ramones. And not unlike Shonen Knife, The 126.96.36.199's benefited greatly from a famous, if slightly-unhinged fan. In this case, Quentin Tarantino, who featured the band in Kill Bill.
Now, it's probably cheating to include Cibo Matto in with these other acts, as Yuka Honda and Miho Hatori were technically Japanese expats living in NYC when they decided to make the most of their obsessions with food and American popular music. I personally was pretty obsessed with their Mitchell Froom-produced Viva! La Woman when it hit the bins in 1996. Expanded lineups (some which included Sean Lennon) eventually released two additional full-lengths, but they finally threw in the towel in 2017, which is a shame because their music was pure pop manna, and their videos never dull.
I would be remiss to not mention one of the biggest Japanese bands of all time, but one who never found purchase on these shores, X Japan. They're huge in Japan, and have been for a long time. Metallica might be the comparable American band, yet most Americans have never heard of X Japan despite the fact that they've taken a few runs at American audiences. In a past life, I was fortunate enough to interview the band's founding member, Yoshiki Hayashi, and get his take on the challenges of breaking through to American audiences. Sadly, it just never happened for them.
Finally, I just have to toss in BABYMETAL, and the fact that I'm fairly certain there's a parallel universe in which they are the biggest band in the world.
But at some point I was talking about Les Sewing Sisters, the new project from Lun*na Menoh and Saori Mitome. Their self-titled debut was recorded in Los Angeles and Detroit, and before you write it off as just another zany techno record hatched in the Far East, you need to take a moment to understand the deep-rooted obsession behind it. See, this album contains no true instruments. Not a guitar. Not a drum. Not a single kazoo or a tambourine. Only human voices and the digitally-manipulated sounds of an army of sewing machines.
Read that again.
Dance music of the industrial age?
The fortuitous outcome of too much Adderall and partaking in Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music via the wrong end of the telescope?
Call it whatever you want, it's very cool. And perhaps not surprisingly, the band caught the eye of some other too-oft-ignored weirdos, Sparks, who used them as openers on tours in 2017 and 2018. The following year, Les Sewing Sisters broke out on their own and headlined a tour in which they performed in people’s closet spaces.
To quote the Italian poet, Antonio Porchia:
I know what I have given you... I do not know what you have received.
Les Sewing Sisters drops on July 23rd, and the following week, the duo will be doing a livestream from Los Angeles, which I'm guessing you won't want to miss. Lawd knows I'm going to check it. Get your tickets here.