Brooklyn’s Japanther was created as an “art project” in 2001 by bassist/vocalist Matt Reily and drummer/vocalist Ian Vanek while still attending Pratt. Since then, the duo has pounded out 11 full-lengths; and as impressive as that is, their real claim to fame has always been their live performances. By breaking down all barriers between them and the audience, and carrying out stunts like performing with a synchronized swim team and atop the Williamsburg Bridge, they’ve maintained an inventive, DIY ethos in ways that would sometimes appear tacky if taken on by less inspired acts. Instant Money Magic finds Japanther staying true to their hyper-active ethic while adding some twinkle atop the fuzz of 2013′s Eat Like Lisa Act Like Bart.
Racing through 14 spazzy surf-pop tracks in just about 25 minutes, these guys demonstrate how proficient they’ve become at crafting hooks that creep in and out with such speed and ease that you’re reeled in before you even realize you just heard a complete song. Take the 58-second skate park anthem, Vicious, for example. Typically when a band creates a song that’s only two choruses and three chords, you have to keep an eye out for elbow blows from a shirtless pit-lord in cut-off jeans. While most of this album would surely successfully inspire such an atmosphere live, tracks like Vicious are simultaneously air-wave ready enough to feel at home on the most mild-mannered college DJ’s setlist. Dreams Come True is another example of the album’s versatility. Here, the synth-backed melody plinks along while atonal buzzing and a hectic punk beat wreak havoc behind it all.
Fortunately, there are a couple much-appreciated tempo shifts to further diversify the tracklist. Wigman and Breb lend themselves more to a casual head-bob and sing-along by allowing the fuzz to take over and create a bit of breathing room between snare cracks. Green Jug Intro is a nice little sunset surprise that really has no business being there, but shows that these guys had some fun constructing the comparatively looser flow of this album.
Japanther’s quick turnaround rate for songs can mean you might miss its strongest moments, but it also helps to make sure that the weaker points don’t overstay their welcome either. Song Of The Sun—the album’s longest track, coming in at two minutes and nine seconds—has an infectious pulse, but doesn’t really reach the excitement level of the album’s best burners, nor does it establish the groove of some of the more down-tempo cuts. Guns Guns Guns features some falsetto work from the duo that becomes a bit too repetitive a bit too early. With the amount of tricks these guys land though, a sprained ankle or two is no big deal.
Though they don’t quite fancy themselves a “band,” Japanther have shown a commitment to music in both its recorded and live forms that surmounts the vague “project” label. This duo continues to develop without forfeiting the high-energy antics that have earned them such a reputable DIY name.