he artists in the once-burgeoning Shibuya-kei scene have fallen on woeful times recently. These days, it seems like the music coming out of the Japanese underground with the highest visibility is of the noise, psych, and freak-out variety (Merzbow, DMBQ, Afrirampo), whereas the groups championing the melodic pastiche-pop that was popularized in the 90s (Cibo Matto, Pizzicato Five, Fantastic Plastic Machine) have either broken up or remained strangely silent over the last five years. Buffalo Daughter always inhabited the sonic periphery of Shibuya-kei’s martinis-and-Martinique shuffle, yet with Euphorica they lay claim to the most consistent voice in a scene that seems to been drowned out by the constant Tokyo din.
Indeed, when you think of Shibuya-kei (and, well, Shibuya itself), you think of the Western influences, Parisian ye-ye girls, and mod revivalism of Pizzicato Five, but Shibuya-kei actually reflects a more open-minded attitude towards Western culture and music. While Buffalo Daughter have negotiated decidedly Western rock territory over the course of their five albums, they have chosen a route through Germany and early 80s New York rather than London and Paris. Guitarist and vocalist SuGar Yoshinaga has in the past counted Neu! and Kraftwerk as influences starting with 1998’s New Rock (which is also SuGar’s name for what most Western listeners know as Krautrock).
Euphorica, Buffalo Daughter’s fifth full-length album and first since 2003’s unjustly-overlooked Pshychic, throttles back the Krautrock dabblings of its predecessor. Pshychic boasted only five tracks, with four over seven minutes and one over twenty, and relied upon a sort of repetitive, maxi-minimalist, kitchen-sink approach to rock. On Euphorica, Buffalo Daughter work on dirtying up their more conventional tracks. The opening “Mutating” takes a simple funk-bass line and constructs a rather dissonant piece with MoOoG Yamamoto’s spoken/shouted verse contrasting with SuGar and Yumiko Ohno’s haunting harmonized chorus. MoOog’s singing (featured on four songs) is actually one of the album’s nicest surprises. He sings much in the same way that the B-52s’ Fred Schneider “sings,” but MoOog’s bemused monotone provides counterpoint to vocalists SuGar and Yumiko, who harmonize in what MoOog describes as a “perfect twitter.”
This is merely one indicator of the strongest connection that the group shares with their German idols: above all, they love non-sequitur like faithful dadaists—either that, or they seriously don’t know what the hell they’re doing. On each of their albums, they have, for better or worse, succeeded at pairing inventive melodies (e.g. New Rock’s “Five Great Lakes”) with Faustian momentum-killers (e.g. the dialogue excerpt that immediately follows “What’s the Trouble with My Silver Turkey?”), consistently juxtaposing musical and music-orthogonal ideas. In Euphorica, this talent is honed further, as their sojourns outside the listenable are much more tasteful, lowering the group’s normal level of entropy while injecting a playful No-Wave spirit into songs like “Deo Volente.”
Still, a sense of strange subversion pervades the record. Euphorica takes all the stances of an overtly political album, as the group is currently promoting its antiviolence song “Peace,” a straightforward rocker that inhabits a space between AC/DC and Chic. Furthermore, the album comes packed with brightly-colored origami paper, presumably to fold into paper peace cranes (“seven Origami colors that the hand and eye can have fun with,” proclaims the side-slip). But the group seems resigned, or even unconcerned, as to the current state of things, as they sing on “Beautiful You”: “Human history / It’s full of anger / In the end / We’re all waiting for the seventh wonder.” They take just a moment to acknowledge the world around them, then come back to the ephemeral pursuits of rock & roll.
Perhaps it’s this wariness of the transitory nature of Western culture that has kept Buffalo Daughter from wilting like their peers. Puffy Amiyumi stayed afloat by turning full-force to Adult Swim idolatry; Cornelius did it by completely withdrawing for four years. Buffalo Daughter continue to make intriguing music by observing the world around them, but ultimately keeping it at arm’s length; it is this delicate push-pull that has slowly nudged them near the center of the kitschy scene they now nearly single-handedly support.