One of the best things about rock music is that it's largely about chemistry. Let's face it: it's hard to innovate within the guitar/bass/drums paradigm. No matter what you do, someone's done something similar, and probably 30 years ago. Thing is, it doesn't really matter, though, if you have chemistry happening. Think of it like baking. Everyone has access to salt and sugar and flour, but not everyone's cakes are remarkable. Or even edible. It's the chemistry that matters.

Japan's Otoboke Beaver (named after one particular example of what are known as "love hotels" in that country - which are highly discreet, automated versions of what Americans call "no-tell motels") are a good example of this. Their image is straight-up 1993 Shonen Knife, with their matching pastel dresses and their bob haircuts. Their sound is comprised of shards of peppy Japanese pop music, garage rock, and insane blasts of grindcore and savage punk. It's far from newfangled, yet when it's all thrown together and the personalities of the players zap it all to life, it's nothing short of mind-boggling.

Look at a photo of Otoboke Beaver, and you'd be forgiven for thinking they seem like a nice bunch of fun-loving innocents. Listen to their music, and you'd be forgiven for thinking that they seem like demented lunatics. This is sort of the dichotomy of the group, in that they kinda are both things. One moment, they're chanting and clapping and sound like cheerleaders, and then, two seconds later, they're unleashing an assault that is as intense as bands like Fantomas or Melt-Banana. It's neck-snappingly spasmodic in the best way.

Being from Japan, the band sings mostly in their native language and occasionally in heavily-accented English. Historically, Americans have trouble with this, which is, frankly, annoying, given that the rest of the world can listen to Americans making music with no such problems. If you have trouble with listening to music in foreign languages, or if you refer to non-Western music as "world music," you might have a problem with "Itekoma Hits," Otoboke Beaver's newest release. You'd be advised to get over your hang-ups, lest you miss out on one of the year's best rock records.

"I hate you," lead vocalist Accorinrin repeatedly sings on opener "Datsu. Hikage no onna," which is a nervy new-wave track with these fantastic little stops and starts and repeated chants in Japanese that may mean nothing to most American ears, but are undeniably catchy. It's a good choice to open the collection (which is comprised of new songs mixed with previously-released EP tracks), in that it's fairly reserved, but contains hints of the band's ability to go full-tilt bonkers at the drop of a hat.

"S'il vous plait" is nearly surf music, and demonstrates the group's incredible interplay in an almost subtle fashion. Guitarist Yoyoyoshie plinks taut single notes, while, underneath, bassist Hiro-Chan keeps everything moving with fleet-fingered melodies and drummer Kahokiss propels the whole enterprise. This band is tight.

Eventually, the group just jumps into full-on hardcore punk with the song "What do you mean you have to talk to me at this late date?" which is so demented, it's almost funny. Later, "Don't light my fire" somehow manages to make going berserk at light-speed tempos and screaming bloody murder seem like plain old fun.

Their music just won't appeal to a lot of people, but Otoboke Beaver takes tons of well-used rock elements and makes them sound fresh, exciting, and new. "Itekoma Hits" is a neon sugar rush of a record.


Artist: Otoboke Beaver

Album: "Itekoma Hits"

Recorded at: LM Studio, Osaka


Personnel: Accorinrin (vocals, guitar), Yoyoyoshie (guitar, vocals), Hiro-chan (bass, vocals), Kahokiss (drums, vocals)

Click here to listen to the album.