The all-female Japanese pop-punk band Shonen Knife gained popularity in the West in the early 1990s primarily based on the strength of one fan. Certainly even the most obscure band has at least one superfan out there, but Shonen Knife lucked out. Their biggest American fan wasn’t a 13-year-old girl in Provo, nor a creepy 40-year-old loner virgin in Biloxi. No. Their superfan was Kurt Cobain. And when Kurt Cobain was your superfan, things could start to get interesting for your band. Like really interesting. The ladies in Shonen Knife had never even heard of Nirvana when they were asked to open for Cobain and the boys during their UK tour in 1991, but that relationship with Nirvana exposed them to a much wider audience.
I’ve been hoping to come across a used copy of one of their records for some time, and finally struck gold the other day at Jive Time. Shonen Knife’s style is often referred to as pop-punk, and I suppose that’s as valid as anything else. Had they been an American band they almost certainly would have fit right in with K Records out of Olympia, Washington, the label founded by Beat Happening frontman Calvin Johnson. Their minimalist sound and all-female makeup would have made them feel right at home with the K Records crew and even the Riotgrrrl bands.
The songs on 712 are basic pop, mostly sung in English with heavy Japanese accents. The singing is reminiscent of The 126.96.36.199.’s, though the music is much simpler. My two favorite tracks are the two that close the respective sides – side A’s “My Favorite Town Osaka,” with it’s generic funk bass opening, and “Baggs,” an homage to Louis Vuitton that seems to be laid over a simplified version of the guitar part from “Paranoia” by the Kinks. The feel is pure innocence. There’s nothing fancy here, just three women playing it their way. And it works.