By Emily Votaw
Half Japanese is doing just fine. Months after finishing up a number of dates with Neutral Milk Hotel in late 2013 and a little more than a year after the re-release of “Half Gentlemen, Not Beasts,” the album that almost immediately catapulted the band into cult stardom, comes “Overjoyed,” a vibrant and energetic addition to the band’s lengthy discography.
The entire album, which spans barely 40 minutes, is an example of what fans may categorize as “latter Half Japanese,” as it still takes full advantage of frontman (and legend in his own right) Jad Fair’s flawless yelping capabilities and gorgeously honest subject matter while also providing a backing sound that is admittedly less primitive than the band’s earlier releases. The band is still made up of perfectly scraggly instrumentation, purposefully off-kilter guitar licks and an overall caterwauling fuzz, but it would be a lie to say that “Overjoyed” forsakes all pop traditionalism.
“Overjoyed” is an album full of short, delectable love songs, plain and simple. And what’s more “pop” than that? “Pop” being the loosely defined thing that it is.
Throughout the album, Fair sounds like a man newly in love, pulling the listener through with optimistic words, general encouragement and exclamations of overwhelming happiness. Opener “In It’s Pull” sets the tone with the line “happiness is victory – yeah!” and it quickly becomes obvious that Fair is feeling pretty groovy in general these days. Delightfully raggedy percussion pushes through the tune, stops and starts that are artfully placed, something that Half Japanese has always excelled at.
“Brave Enough” introduces a concrete rhythmic base for Fair to spurt stream-of-consciousness lyrics so buoyantly that his sincerity becomes so readily apparent that any apprehension about the album disappears. “Brave enough/That’s us/Blue bird sitting on a twig/So cool/ I dig,” words and sentiment to live by, for sure. A skillfully cobbled-together tune such as this constantly feels like it’s on the edge of unfurling into some kind of beautiful mess, a tension with which the band infuses so much of its work.
Throughout its career, Half Japanese and Jad Fair have been pigeonholed into “outside artist” status, ironic given the obvious amount of dedication that the group has to perfecting and honing a sound that is so honestly individual. Sure, Fair’s lyrics are hilarious. And of course, no one in the band plays any instrument in a manner that could ever be considered “traditional.” All of that is more of a testament to the raw emotional clarity that everything Fair touches automatically retains than any type of potential criticism.
It’s nearly impossible to get through a listening of the record without cracking up – because with lines like “A chicken ain’t afraid to peep/A jerk ain’t afraid to be a creep” artfully blurted in the midst of “The Time Is Now,” who could be anything less than charmed? That tune in particular shines with Fair’s lyrical genius. The song is saturated in dreamy, jangly guitar, all while Fair punctuates his spinning vocals with exclamations of “darlin’!” and expresses a perfectly muddled dislike of the word “why.” He even mentions really digging the dress that whomever the song is directed towards “bought last week.” Talk about words to woo by.
“Overjoyed” is a short, sincere album about the intoxicating, room-spinning experience of new love. And what’s more beautiful than that?