This was one of the items at the top of my “wish list” for RSD 2014. Not because I’m a big fan of Half Japanese. In fact I’d never heard of them until I saw this on the RSD release list and looked them up. But what I read about them online was intriguing so I figured they were a pretty safe bet, and fortunately for me this three record box set was the first thing I saw when I made it upstairs to the vinyl room at Easy Street on RSD morning.
Volume One 1981-1985 consists of three Half Japanese albums – Loud (1981), Our Solar System (1984), and Music To Strip By (1985), as well as a small (CD case size) booklet written by original member David Fair that gives a background on the band, some of which is a bit over the top, such as “Half Japanese is to music as Jackson Pollock is to painting.” I mean, c’mon. I know Half Japanese was one of those bands a lot of people didn’t get but are now considered to be somewhat important, and I also understand that the band saw themselves as an art project. But that’s some pretty rarified company to compare yourself to, especially for a band that still isn’t exactly well known.
All that being said, I really enjoy the music on the three albums included in Volume One 1981-1985. It’s interesting post-punk, and you can certainly here the influences of Velvet Underground and maybe a bit of Johnny Thunders… even a touch of Gun Club (to be clear, however, Half Japanese was putting stuff out prior to Gun Club). There’s definitely a punk ethic in what they do, with most songs coming in at under three minutes (though at least one is more than six) and having unconventional structures. Half Japanese would be a tough nut to crack for some music fans to be sure, but those who like post-punk, avant garde, or just the unusual will most likely enjoy it.
And for what it’s worth, Kurt Cobain was wearing a Half Japanese t-shirt when he died.