Originally released last year in the UK, this third album from Brighton trio Fujiya & Miyagi is a time and continent-tripping release of electro-pop goodness. The group takes musical cues from all directions (including kraut, funk, pop, and IDM), then stir them all together and spit them out the other side in a semi-austere form that's a blast at times and sometimes a bit too clean for its own good. Instead of the Vapors turning Japanese, the group instead admits (lyrically, of course) to, "pretending to be Japanese," and that genre dash n' grab is plenty clear in their concise album.
Album opener "Ankle Injuries" is a perfect distillation of their form, as electric piano and buzzy synths swoop around crisp drumming and a bass line that moves nicely without being extravagant. Lead singer Dave Best whispers rhythmic lines that veer between a callout of their own band name to stream-of-consciousness lines that seem to reflect a feeling of being numbed by modern technology. "Collarbone" changes things up with a swerving, funky handclap-laced rhythm and more analogue synth washes while Best adds multiple vocal layers, spitting out wordless syllables as rhythmic emphasis while style-obsessed lines lead into other free-association style phrasing.
"Photocopier" seems like sort of a combination of everything that came before it, and then some. With another rhythm section that moves with an off-kilter funk, the track layers some crushing deep kicks over the top of their typical precision percussion as dextrous bass and hooky guitars coil around one another tightly. About halfway through, the track drops into a more sparse head space, with subtle synth layering and warm guitars showing a completely different side of their sound.
In a couple spots, the group wears the retro influences on their sleeves a bit too prominently, and while the album never hits a seriously rough spot, there are a few weaker moments. Both "Conductor 71" and "Cassettesingle" find the group locking into more straightforward rhythms, while mingling layers of guitar and buzzy analogue synths together, and while their nods to groups like Can and Neu! are apparent, the songs themselves both play it far too safely to really stick out, instead coming across like the synth-laced jams that Stereolab has become so proficient (and oftentimes predictable) at creating in the past few years.
Transparent Things is after all, sort of a collection of singles from the group, and it's easy to hear them getting more comfortable with their own unique direction in places (the tracks aren't in sequential order of release). When they're hitting on all cylinders, they're impossible to deny, as on the bass-heavy funked-out "In One Ear And Out The Other," where they let loose with some nice bursts of oddball synth and some great vocal syncopation. Downright awesome in places, it's nice to see this one get a North American release (with slightly more ugly artwork, but with a bonus track included). Fujiya & Miyagi sound like they're on the verge of something truly amazing.