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Buttersprites

Album Review: Buttersprites
Feb 15 2005, Dionysus Records

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Bucking the Boundaries
Buttersprites reveal an unusual knack for tacking together arty-American pop and Asian funkiness, in fancy dress, of course...

Every so often, there is a brief gasp of interest in Asian music. Shonen Knife was popular, and in recent years Cibo Matto and the 5.6.7.8's. However, these bands were seen more as a novelty than a force. Singing in Japanese with some English, the Buttersprites (hailing from Seattle, WA since 2003) use their bilingual prowess with mockery, disdaining and subverting Asian stereotypes. English spoken is a playful slap in the face when you find lead singer Haruko Nishimura demand that you, "[Dog food], eat some everyday! Ruff ruff ruff!" The music itself is incredible; sonic beats synchronized to a rapid heartbeat and Elizabeth Jameson's killer guitars. Haruko and Julie Grant on accordions play with glee; Jen Gay is perfect on drums and Lunarre Omura never misses a step on bass.

On the eponymous album, the songs move from a synth driven frenzy into some more traditionally Asian minor chords. But even in the more mellowed out melodies that showcase the foreign vocals more than the music (as in Cherry Blossom, Kokeshi Doll and Stinky Weed) the backdrop is littered with playful vocal innovations. Cute, paranoid, coy, demanding - manic schizophrenia runs rampant through all the songs; my favourites were especially, Panic Attack, Fever and Kimono Kitty. Kimono Kitty combines the high and low; evil urgency achieved through synth beats, low thrums and lovely adoration of "my hopscotch square." In the Fever dubmix, guttural screams, babbles, and increasingly frantic cymbals set against a vividly consistent bass line plays out like a psychotic dream sequence.

While the "post-punk" songs were great, the sweeter melodies, namely Fresh Mochi, Love Call, Luvluvluv, exhibit the same vocal identity crisis while still sewn beautifully together. Love Call is the prettiest song on the album, with staccato tinkling backdrops, sweetly urgent crooning "ring ring ring ring" and again a beautiful deep bass line.

Emerging from Seattle, the Japanese vocals are an interesting factor. The entire album is a testament that Western musical influences transcend international boundaries. While the Buttersprites' giddily coordinated outfits and music were obviously created for boisterously good time, the songs Dog Food and Yellow Peril provide toss-out clues to their musical influences. Skipping on the backs of recent Asian music trends, the Buttersprites subvert the stereotypes into strangely classic interpretations of a fad. By virtue of their own careless creativity and self-possession, the girls do it effortlessly. In Yellow Peril (sang in accented English) the singer makes punk-rock demands, "Now it's time to try a new flavour; it's time to learnin' all the words that I say � public image, you got what you wanted!"

It's a fantastically good time; with their specially designed nurse, Communist military outfits and tennis uniforms (by Gay and Jameson), I hear that the live show is even better.

Jackie Jou

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