Fujiya & Miyagi | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Tuesday, April 23rd, 2024  

Fujiya & Miyagi

Sweet Treats

Sep 01, 2008 Photography by Andy Willsher Fujiya & Miyagi
Bookmark and Share


For all you Yanks, let’s get one thing out of the way: The song “Knickerbocker” and its lyric “knickerbocker glory” have nothing to do with basketball. It’s the U.K. equivalent of an ice cream sundae. It’s also the sonic confection opening Fujiya & Miyagi’s third full-length, Lightbulbs.

“Knickerbocker” features vocalist/guitarist David Best drizzling an impressionistic, lyrical free association exploring fame, childhood memories, and death by anorexia over a motorik beat and sweeping synths. “I tried to make it flick back between Lena Zavaroni’s career, myself as a child, and myself now,” says Best from his home in Brighton, England (Zavaroni was a Scottish child star who died in 1999 at age 35 after a long battle with anorexia). “I’d say ‘Knickerbocker’ has got more of a Northern Soul beat than a motorik one though, but that might be nitpicking. If we produced a reggae album, we’d still be labeled as Krautrock.”

He’s probably right. Despite their Japanese moniker, Best and his bandmates Steve Lewis (beats, programming, synths, backing vocals), Matt Hainsby (bass guitar, backing vocals, synths), and—since earlier this year—Lee Adams (drums) have garnered German descriptors from the beginning. No surprise—the song “Skinny Punk” on their 2003 debut LP Electro Karaoke in the Negative Style quoted Can’s Damo Suzuki directly, and 2006’s Transparent Things stirred more liberal doses of Neu! and Kraftwerk minimalism into the band’s sound.

Transparent Things also found the band dropping a lot of its ’90s Warp Records-flavored IDM fixations for a rawer and warmer approach, a trend continued on Lightbulbs. Along with the Germanic touchstones comes the hip-hop shuffle of “Pickpocket,” the gentle Velvet Underground hum of the title track, or the odd acoustic guitar samples of “Dishwasher,” which apparently still bring Germany to mind for Best: “Matt did [the samples]. He hit a hairbrush on an acoustic guitar and I think there was some lap slapping going on,” says Best. “I like to think he dressed up in lederhosen for the slapping.”

Best sees Lightbulbs as closer to the band’s live sound than Transparent Things, though he’ll admit the two records mine similar musical territory. “It’s basically gone from the bedroom to being a proper group,” says Best. “There was a big leap musically and stylistically between the first and second records. The leap isn’t so great between the second and third, but that’s not always a bad thing. You don’t have to buy a new coat when the old one’s still wearable.”

The closest thing to said new coat is the presence of Adams, whose drumming appears on the stripped-down funk of “Pterodactyls” and the dark, plodding “Goosebumps.” In interviews, Best and Lewis have joked that since they were Fujiya and Miyagi, Hainsby was the ampersand. That leaves only spaces for Adams, which in a way makes sense. “[Adams’ drumming] made it a lot looser on those songs inasmuch as we were not slaves to the drum machine,” says Best. “I think it’s freshened the group up in a lot of ways—because humans can be more subtle than machines. They can slow it down, speed it up, hit it harder, hit it softer, and drop their sticks. They also have opinions and like music.”

For his part, Best hasn’t changed. He’s still one of the few vocalists who can get away with ad-libs like “sock it to me,” “takatakataka” or a slew of rolled Rs (“rrrrrrasberry rrrrrripple,” anyone?) without causing cringes. “I love soul music from the ’60s, and one of my favorite things are the sock it to me’s and listens and uhs,’” he explains. “So maybe those two reasons are why we can get away with it. If we were a rock band it would sound stupid, and if we were a soul band it would sound insincere.”

Thankfully, Fujiya & Miyagi are neither. Or both. Whatever you want to call them, Best has somehow taken his trademark lyrical economy (and audacity) even further on Lightbulbs. “I woke up one day and knew I had to write a song called ‘Uh,’” he says. In the song, Best boils rock and pop down to that single, quintessential syllable.

“Once I had the title, it was a piece of piss,” Best says. He had found the monosyllabic ideal in the one-word chorus. “I don’t know where to take that particular idea now. There’s nowhere to go. ‘Ah’ would equal it. ‘A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-wop-bam-boom’ is the greatest thing anyone has ever sung, but obviously that has a lot more syllables.”

Other song subjects include former world chess champion Bobby Fischer on the Talking Heads-inflected “Rook to Queen’s Pawn Six,” the excess of the young and famous on the aforementioned “Knickerbocker,” and girl trouble on “Pussyfoot-ing”—as the band explains in their track-by-track publicity commentary: “every brokenhearted relationship failure involves splitting the contents of the record, book, and video collection, but what about the cat?”

It’s clear Best is having a lot of fun, but he resents the notion that humor can’t be a serious part of a serious band. “We take [the band] very seriously, probably too seriously,” he says. “I just don’t believe that groups who peddle misery are miserable. It’s a sham. If I’ve got to sing words every night, I want to get away from whatever annoys me, not wallow in it.”

“[We’re] writing songs, not articles in medical journals,” continues Best. “I could explain any lyric on the album, though. I think the trick is to make it sound good and have meaning, and whether the listener or critic understands is not my problem!”

So it’s up to listeners to decipher “Pterodactyls,” which juxtaposes a synchronized swimming theme with the line “the width of pterodactyls’ wings varies inch by inch.” But don’t laugh. “I don’t think its funny,” insists Best. “It’s a fact. Ptero-dactyl wings did vary in length. I’m too busy trying to stay in tune to laugh at my own gags.”

And what of the album’s title, Lightbulbs? “I like to think of it as when a cartoon character has an idea, a light bulb appears above his head,” says Best. “So each song is a different idea. Light bulbs seem to be much maligned at the moment too, but without them we’d be fucked.”

Ditto on humor.



Comments

Submit your comment

Name Required

Email Required, will not be published

URL

Remember my personal information
Notify me of follow-up comments?

Please enter the word you see in the image below:

Los Angeles DUI Lawyer
February 12th 2010
4:20pm

Best sees Lightbulbs as closer to the band’s live sound than Transparent Things, though he’ll admit the two records mine similar musical territory.

Ginault Rolex
December 28th 2010
3:46pm

It’s clear Best is having a lot of fun, but he resents the notion that humor can’t be a serious part of a serious band. “We take Ginault Rolex very seriously, probably too seriously,” he says. “I just don’t believe that groups who peddle misery are miserable. It’s a sham. If I’ve got to sing words every night, I want to get away from whatever annoys me, not wallow in it.”

Ginault Rolex
December 28th 2010
3:47pm

It’s clear Best is having a lot of fun, but he resents the notion that humor can’t be a serious part of a serious band. “We take Ginault Rolex very seriously, probably too seriously,” he says. “I just don’t believe that groups who peddle misery are miserable. It’s a sham. If I’ve got to sing words every night, I want to get away from whatever annoys me, not wallow in it.”

Los Angeles DUI Lawyers
February 28th 2012
11:47pm

Knickerbocker is an awesome song, Lightbulbs is currently on perpetual replay on my iPod! Thanks for the great music guys, keep up the good work! Cant wait to see you live!

Los Angeles DUI Lawyers
February 29th 2012
3:46pm

Am I not allowed to express my adoration for the band now because another lawyer with the same practice specialty already has? Why did my comment get deleted? Please send me an email and let me know what I did wrong, it is provided above.

GrettY
March 9th 2012
9:53am

what an wonderful webpage. Your information helps me personally with my homework. I’m in college and I have a school assignment to produce. I was most likely going to get customized essays via the web, the good news is your site has aided me handle freelance writers block and so i find that I can move forward on my own. Thanks a ton all for this superb materials.