Salk Vacchin
Rock Egypt
[God Mountain; 2003]
Rating: 7.0

If the number of bands fronted by doll-voiced Japanese girls in the Pitchfork archive seems disproportionately high (Melt Banana, eX-Girl, Pizzicato 5, Deerhoof, Cibo Matto, Shonen Knife), I ask you to look at the alternative: Yoko Ono. This isn't to say that there aren't hundreds of female singers from the Far East who don't possess a somewhat more powerful caterwaul-- some of their bands are even in the archive, check Gaji and Koenjihyakkei for starters-- but I get the distinct impression Japanese record companies believe Barbie-toned girls are what we want. And you know, who's to say they're wrong? Cute is as cute squeaks, no? The only problem comes when you realize that not only do all these bands cause hearing damage after more than three songs, it just I'm perpetuating some old Japanese dude's ingrained sexism by buying into those voices.

And before the Oprah Brigade chimes in, yes, I realize that me looking for sexism in what is, by all accounts, shiny, fun, golden sound is probably a sexist move on my part. Above all, it helps that bands like Deerhoof and Melt Banana sound so completely in their own world that only the most callous East Coast scenesters could reduce them to pop-culture gimmicks. In a perfect world, nobody would ever look for hidden catches (and other excuses to feel guilty about liking their music), but to these bands' credit, what stereotypes they might prompt are rendered almost sterile by their enthusiasm and originality.

So, without further ado, I introduce yet another band to add to the pile: Okinawa's Salk Vacchin. Rubber ducky voices: check. Short, Casio-dominated songs: check. Full of spunk and quirk and a lot of other words ending in k: check. Despite all of that, have you heard this record before? Not really. Even a little? Well, maybe if you heard some of that Picky Picnic record I wrote about in Pitchfork's Found Sound 2002 feature (and if you did, where's that $200 French LP of bathroom sink murders you said you were sending me?).
This trio, produced by cross-dressing Svengali of the avant-garde Hoppy Kamiyama, comes on like the technophile obsessed Yellow Magic Orchestra, if they hadn't the budget for anything but homemade demos detailing a fascination with hill people and sugar substitutes.

"Sable Tour" waltzes out of the gate with the crash and rumble of an ultra-fake snare drum roll. The trio (Saeko Maesato, Megumi Maesato and Kiroko Gima) repeats a chant (in Japanese, except for a whole bunch of "yeah yeah yeahs") while bells fall down stairwells and dime store electro brings the pep like cotton on candy. And it's not that they sound sweet, necessarily, but there is a certain innocence at work, as if these people would be making this stuff regardless of whether an audience was out there or not. "Maltese World" takes the waltz feel into the lullaby realm; the singers perform a mini-canon with flutes and piano-- and I swear my Mom bought me that keyboard when I was 15.

The more energetic stuff tends to fall closer in line with "traditional" Japanese dadaist-rock. "Saccharin" is maniac disco-trance, featuring non-stop chatter from the singers, one of them always making sure to occupy the high-range hiccup parts. The title track crams in three or four beginner level piano etudes, some session funk bass, robotic pogo-vocals and just enough DIY post-punk ineptitude to qualify as some kind of shock therapy for feyer-than-thou Soft Cell fans. As for "Monsieur Hee Hoo", it merely sounds like Boredoms genetically re-engineered as the Powerpuff Girls. People, do the math.

Of course, I'm under no na・e impression that folks won't head into a CD like Rock Egypt with presupposed visions of cute lil' spaz chix dancing in their heads. Don't make me rear the S word again, children. And I don't think I'll need to; if anything, Salk Vacchin prove what funny, strange things are possible when three amateurs are caught "messing around with a cheap lo fi minidisc recorder" (to quote Kamiyama). With a career catalog of just over 26-minutes, my biggest complaint is that so far, they're a tease.

-Dominique Leone, April 3rd, 2003


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