Retrowave is “in” right now. There are hundreds of bands out there taking the futurism of the eighties and re-rendering the whole thing with the actual future technology of today. And a few of them are doing it well, no question. But most of those groups are just stagnating in the same neon-laced soup and not producing anything really notable. What if you took the neon and polyester vibe of an eighties group like Soft Cell or Ultravox and let a few years of experience and development seep into it and then produced that instead of the same Miami Vice album? Oh…wouldn’t you just call that modern music? You might, or you might call it Fujiya & Miyagi.
Fujiya & Miyagi are a four-piece indie / krautrock band from Brighton, and they aren’t exactly unknown these days. Their songs have been featured in several popular television shows in the United States and the United Kingdom, as well as (gasp) advertisements for luxury products. Could there be a less underground thing to do than have a song in a Jaguar commercial? But regardless of public exposure, their 2016 pair of EPs, entitled simply EP1 and EP2, are interesting modern dance music with clear influences that avoid descending under the “retro” label.
“Serotonin Rushes” from EP1 has the most potential to be a radio hit, with a driving four-to-the-floor kick and bubbly synthesizers. David Best’s half-whispered vocal delivery brings the strongest association with Soft Cell, but the combination of synth and electric bass is what makes the song an undeniable body mover. You could call it “just a dance song,” but you’d be selling it short. In the musical landscape of today, listeners could use dance tunes like this one.
The next song, “To the Last Beat of My Heart,” reveals that the band isn’t just about making dance hits, as the lyrics are well thought out and not overly cheesy (for a love song). The mix of early eighties synth drums early in the song blending with the purely modern synth bass under the instrumental second half of the song shows that the band has their influences clearly in mind without being limited by them.
“Freudian Slips” is the last real song on EP1, and again calls to mind Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret or Vienna. EP2, on the other hand, flips things around entirely, using electric guitars in places of synths and hitting a much more post-goth feeling on “Outstripping (The Speed of Light).” The song is completely different yet still feels like the same band. These two songs wouldn’t necessarily find themselves out-of-place on the same album.
The second track of EP2, “R.S.I.” is one of the cleverest on either EP, with the chorus of “repetitive strain injury” vocally backing up the looping, uncomfortable feel of the music itself. Again, guitars feature heavily, with synths just filling in space behind. The bass is quite punchy and recalls Joy Division more than Kraftwerk. The final song, however, digs back into that Kraftwerk influence as Best delivers a bit of a diatribe over “Extended Dance Mix.” It’s hard to tell if he’s describing his own life or the state of music in general when he says the last ten years have consisted of pumping electric current through the leg of a dead frog just to see it kick. Either way, the song is cynical and funny, but definitely feels like a “bonus track” that would be stuck on the end of what would otherwise be a carefully crafted album.
Of course, this isn’t a carefully crafted album. It’s two EPs showing two different sides of the post-punk/krautrock coin. Which a given listener will prefer will depend highly on their mood at the time; EP2’s gothy rock frowns, or EP1’s dancy sexy smiles? Either pick is a good one. Or why not get both while we wait for an actual new LP from Fujiya & Miyagi to drop next month?
01) Serotonin Rushes
02) To the Last Beat of My Heart
03) Freudian Slips
04) Magnesium Flares
01) Outstripping (The Speed of Light)
04) Extended Dance Mix