t’s a misnomer to call the Japancakes songs hazy or dreamy. All of the elements of each song are clearly delineated in the mix: the slide guitar gives room to the drums, the strings give room to the steadily moving bass and vocals are nowhere to be found. Despite this, the feeling that these instruments in concert evokes is exactly that: hazy, dreamy, spooky, etc. etc. etc.
It’s probably the slide guitar. It’s the instrument that makes all the difference in the Japancakes sound, lifting them straight from the post-rock milieu into something altogether stranger. Without it, the group might just be another Mogwai rip-off, but with it they maintain a strong claim to Americana.
And on their fourth album, Waking Hours the group doesn’t shy away from employing the instrument to its full effect on tracks of varying emotional tenors like “Keep Drawing Suns”, “Far From Here” and “Stay Dizzy”. But it’s when the group goes against their strength that their true talent comes to the fore.
The album contains two piano led interludes that are labeled “Untitled One” and “Untitled Two”, which both show the group at its most desolate and affecting. Additionally, “Alice and Twins” also features piano, furthering the group’s sound past the lazy comparisons that have dogged them since their inception.
Unfortunately, another thing that has plagued the band since the beginning is its inability to write a convincing upbeat song. Known primarily for their slow moving and building pieces, tracks like “Far From Here” and “Stay Dizzy” do little to upset this trend. Admittedly, they offer a nice contrast what would undoubtedly unbearable slowness of the rest of the album, but they do little to stand on their own either.
All is forgiven by the end, however, as the group closes the album strongly with three stunning tracks in a row. The aforementioned piano based “Untitled Two” and “Alice and Twins” lead into the epic “Where Things Leave Off”, which is quite possibly the best song the group has yet put to tape.
It’s hard to criticize the Japancakes for what they do, because they do it so well. Waking Hour, in fact, might be their best album yet. Despite this, there remains the nagging feeling while listening to the group that there’s some essential element missing from it all that will keep them from enjoying much acceptance outside of their insular circle of listeners and admirers. I’m proud to be one of them.