Under Review: Fujiya & Miyagi – Ventriloquizzing

Following a band from its early days can bring about a mix of emotions as the band travels through its career. Though you become attached to the musical characteristics of their early days, you have to accept that they’ll eventually begin to branch out, possibly becoming more popular in the process. Though I didn’t come to them at the very beginning, I was certainly an early and ardent fan of British electro-poppers Fujiya & Miyagi. Their second album (and first wide release), Transparent Things, was my favorite album of 2006, and it remains the single most played album in my iTunes library. Even then, the krautrock-fixated group was going through changes, having added a live bass player to augment the original duo’s minimalist beats. With 2008’s Lightbulbs, F&M added a drummer, but cut back on the nonstop run of winning songs. Sure, that record had plenty of great tunes, but the band seemed eager to shed the image that had been bestowed upon them.

Along comes Ventriloquizzing, their second album as a real-live band. The first thing that stands out about the record is its distinct lack of the classic krautrock ‘motorik’ beat. In fact, the chugging, 4/4 rhythm doesn’t arrive until the penultimate song, “Tinsel And Glitter,” and even then it’s in a slightly fractured mode. Having freed themselves from the constraints of a recognizable beat, Fujiya & Miyagi seem unsure as to where to go next. Ventriloquizzing isn’t a bad album, but it’s not nearly as gratifying as the band’s previous two. Lyrics that were once oblique and abstract have been replaced with ones that are predictable and monotonous. Did you know that yo-yos go up and down, kind of like how people can change their minds? “Yo Yo” explains that over and over again. The jagged “Spilt Milk” is somewhat refreshing in its sparseness, but is too spindly to make a lasting impression. A handful of tracks do stand out, like the lopsided funk of “Taiwanese Boots” and the throbbing “Sixteen Shades Of Black And Blue.” They’re hardly “Collarbone” or “Knickerbocker,” but they come out on top by association.

The problem is that, the more time Fujiya & Miyagi spend in the public eye, the more their inherent mystery dissolves. When David Best and Steve Lewis started the project just over 10 years ago, their personal obscurity perfectly complimented the otherworldliness of their music. Lyrics were whispered to the point of indecipherability, and beats and atmospheres were coaxed out of archaic synthesizers. Now, Fujiya & Miyagi are a band. They’re presented as a band, they sound like a band, and they release records like Ventriloquizzing, just like a band would. Can they recapture the magic of their heyday? Perhaps, but not with so many humans weighing them down.

~ by E. on January 28, 2011.

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