Shonen Knife Day. They got a new record out. I don’t have it yet. Next paycheck. But time marches on, and with so many horrible things in the world, there’s this band. It’s maybe kinda dumb that there is a Shonen Knife Day. I didn’t say that. Did you say that? I’m glad there’s an excuse to write about them just now, myself. And listen to the album. I’m gonna listen to the album, then write about it, that’s the order of things that I will be doing. Then maybe I’ll listen to it again but that doesn’t concern you.
This is not strictly a real album released by the band. It compiles their first two albums from the early eighties on Zero Records, Burning Farm and Yama-no Attchan and also includes tracks from the Zero comp Aura Music. Apparently these tracks are on the reissue of Burning Farm as well as the K Records cassette so maybe this is too much information. I’ve never bothered getting these other more official versions, but I’ve heard them and they just don’t seem as good to me. I mean the sound quality’s probably better, but I just love how this thing is sequenced. It really feels like one long album; it’s the definitive early history imo. It’s not like breaking up the two albums restores some kind of distinct conceptual arcs, they are just collections of songs they had at the time. And the level of songwriting and recording had yet to progress so it all matches. (They have a technically have a demo album before all this but that is really raw and not that great to listen to.)
The members of the band themselves may disagree but the recordings as they appear on this release are perfect. (They even re-recorded Dali’s Sunflower, I love that one in particular. Maybe there’s a guest on it they can’t credit?) It’s not exactly an Albini-type puritan affair of strictly live recordings, there’s some studio experimentation and sound effects thrown in here and there, but it accurately records (unless it doesn’t, I wasn’t there) what the band was at the time, which is what any band starting out should strive for. Altho I admit when I first heard it I was shocked at the difference in sound from the very modern Rock Animals and polished surf-punk of Let’s Knife, it grew on me pretty fast. It’s like instant nostalgia for something I never experienced before, there’s just a weird mood to it. Right from the version of Watchin’ Girl that sounds like the tape is changing speeds. It’s just as good as the later version but for different, unexplainable reasons. And I could be remembering this wrong, but I think it’s the first album I heard that’s all in Japanese. I remember falling in love with the sound of the language. It has a certain unique rhythm. Supposedly they prefer singing in English because all of their influences do, but before they learned English, they found it way to make their native language fit naturally in this early punk/pop soundscape. (Unusual song topics may have helped.)
Plenty has been written on Shonen Knife’s song topics, but what about that early soundscape? Ramones and Buzzcocks are the obvious precursors whose influence is carried on more or less to today. But here there’s the trebly, minimalist sound of the late-70s girl post-punk like Delta 5, Kleenex/LiLiPUT, maybe even The Slits. There’s an unmistakable reggae vibe to several of the songs which they really never went back to. In their book Shonen Knife Land they each have a top 20 albums list and the closest thing mentioned is a Beat Happening’s You Turn Me On, which is really not that close! That was from departed bassist Michie’s list and I talked about her contribution to the band before. But Naoko tries a lot of weird stuff too on this record: the cartoon industrial of A Day at the Factory, the tribal jam of Burning Farm, the melancholic Bye Bye—obvious album closer that ends Yamo-no Attchan, but the tacked-on Parrot Polynesia with its upbeat island vibe is an even better way to sign off. Seems totally planned.)
A whole generation of SK fans now is probably not familiar with the old stuff and/or just listens to streams and doesn’t care so much about the feel of an album. You are objectively wrong, first of all, that whole system is on it’s way to crashing and burning and does not care about you. Second—there is no second, this is their best early album and you need to listen to all of it.