When noise-punk, lo-fi grunge band Half Japanese formed in a Maryland bedroom in 1975, Kurt Cobain was only a kid. But by Nirvana’s In Utero tour in 1993, Cobain had sought Half Japanese as openers. And when Cobain died, he was also reportedly wearing a T-shirt with Half Japanese’ name emblazoned on it.
Since its early days, Half Japanese’s influence has spread far, to 90s groups like Sonic Youth and Teenage Fanclub, Neutral Milk Hotel and Daniel Johnston.
Mark Jickling, some guy from Nirvana, John Sluggett, Gilles Rieder
photo by Mike Galinski
Brothers Jad and David Fair have always kept the band’s DIY roots over the years. Jad Fair continues to prefer untuned guitars, famously saying, “The only chord I know is the one that connects the guitar to the amp.”
Half Japanese’ irreverence, paired with Jad Fair’s half-singing, half-talking off-beats, leads to freeform lo-fi punk songs that revolve around creature-feature monsters and sci-fi freaks, as well as more standard song fodder such as young love.
With its latest six-song EP, “Bingo Ringo,” Half Japanese continue to upend any conventionalities they happen to run into.
In the fruit-infatuated “Stuck On You,” Fair sings of blueberries, lemon-limes and strawberries — the garden that feeds his puppy-love crush.
“Me and you, and you and me are like peaches in an apple tree…… The pot of gold is ours/bless our f*ing lucky stars,” sings Fair. Slashes of noise-punk guitar bitterness slice through the lyric sweetness.
“I feel his fangs in my neck, there ain’t no way out,” he drones and sputters in “Dracula’s Casket.”
And during the country swagger of the uplifting “New Awakening,” Fair forcefully spits out, “Put more pep into your step,” parodying that overused anthem.
Initially, the EP’s title track might seem bred from cookie-cutter pop blandness, but Jad Fair’s comical spoken-word, grit-your-teeth vocals carry it safely away from Top 40 conformity.
With “Bingo Ringo,” Half Japanese sticks to what it does best — playing benign melodies that quickly degenerate into rabid vocals and electric guitar recklessness, the conduit through which funky hooks and infectious melodies are found.
Released July 31 on Joyful Noise Recordings, only 173 lathe-cut records have been made of “Bingo Ringo.”