Friday, 28 January 2011

Review: Ventriloquizzing - Fujiya and Miyagi (Full time hobby)

I interviewed Dave Best of Fujiya and Miyagi a few months before Ventriloquizzing was released. He talked about the fact that the band's new album was the first where they had worked with a producer and that they had gone to Los Angeles to record it. This left me a bit unsure of what to expect. F&M have to date been a band that have sounded very northern European, bringing to mind late night drives through urban wasteland rather than the sand kissed beaches of California. Having now listened to the record I can report that their previous modus operandi appears to be intact - Ventriloquizzing is a direct progression from previous records Lightbulbs and Transparent Things. This is both a relief and a little of a disappointment.

Many great acts from AC/DC to Fela Kuti have sustained a good career without fundamentally shifting their sound. Fujiya and Miyagi are not one trick ponies but its fair to say that many of their songs follow a similar formula - slightly twisted lyrics half whispered over a driving drum and melodic synths. Its a great sound for sure but over the course of an album it has the danger of sounding a little samey. There is no doubt that this record is musically more fully realised than previous efforts, final track Universe in particular employs a female choir to great effect and immediately calls to mind Meddle era Pink Floyd but greater excursion outside their standard palate would undoubtedly yield more satisfying results.

Most of the lyrics are written in the second person, Best addressing someone (a woman) who clearly doesn't meet his full approval. Yo yo is used as a metaphor about mood swing while he accuses his listener of 'not knowing 'which side your bread is buttered on' on Cat got your tongue. The later is one of the funkiest tracks on Ventriloquizzing and along with Tiawanese Boots (a post-modern take on Dylan's Spanish Boots of Spanish Leather) is likely to be well received live. Sixteen Shades of Black and Blue meanwhile kicks off with a riff that is somehow reminicent of Muse before giving way to brooding vocals and pretty synth melodies.

Minestrone is a real highlight 'I heard the sound of the devil's electric windows asscending' creates a wonderful visual picture and the playing (as throughout the album as a whole) is superb. The Brighton four piece also clearly have great taste in music - Berlin-era Bowie, Can and Floyd are reference points and its no surprise to hear that they listened to Iggy's Idiot throughout making the record. I wonder though if its their taste that holds them back? There is little evidence here of throwing caution to the wind, of taking a risk to provide a more rounded and eclectic sound. The humour on show is all very much within the context with which the band frame themselves and very knowing, there are certainly no cheesy moments on show or real surprises (except maybe for the aforementioned final track).

Fujiya and Miyagi have attracted a small but commited fanbase over the last decade and are undeniably cult heroes with a great sound. On current form this is likely to remain the case and that might suit this wonderfully quirky band. If they really stretch themselves however I think they can create something really special - here's hoping...

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