Japanther, ‘Eat Like Lisa, Act Like Bart’ – Album Review
Your overall impression of Japanther likely depends on how you first experienced the duo. If you saw them live, opening for Lightning Bolt or No Age or later headlining one of their tours through all-ages DIY spaces and pop-up galleries, it's their energy and fuzzed-out garage-punk charm that probably stuck with you.
However, if you witnessed their phone-booth project, or any of the other art installations they've created over the last decade, your impression might be altogether different, and you're liable to see the band as little more than an excuse to never grow up -- and to use a telephone for a mic.
And despite being more dynamic than either of these impressions describe -- and having a discography that includes ten albums -- the group gets about as much digital ink from The New Yorker as they do from Pitchfork, which seemingly deemed Japanther also-rans sometime after 2003 and never let them back into the inner-circle of indie relevance.
And while Japanther's historical importance may be unfairly marginalized, 'Eat Like Lisa, Act Like Bart' doesn't help to substantiate the band or give listeners reason to look beyond their exuberant performances and quirky stunts. The songs boast catchy, easily digestible melodies, but they rarely show much originality. Still, there are bright spots. 'Stolen Flowers' features harmonies that, despite evoking Wavves, feel very contemporary. 'More Teachers, Less Cops,' which sounds slightly like British punk, is another standout, despite goofy lyrics about how the public believes communists are terrorists, which is pretty hyperbolic.
But these are small joys, as is Japanther's never-ending interest in sampling from non-musical sources. At this point, though, the samples' function is hardly engaging, mostly because the music says very little that is genuinely interesting, and the band prefers to simply crack jokes. Using a song like the gentle piano-driven '5th and Riverside' as a forum for describing a serious situation regarding death is just ill-conceived, as the subject matter and music are worlds apart.
The next song, 'Five Lions,' runs into equally problematic tone issues, as Japanther make an antiwar criticism seem light and trivial by spending the verse simply naming countries that rhyme with one another. The acoustic, psychedelic 'Light Weight Jealous,' meanwhile, finds the group lost in their identity and overestimating their strengths.
Unfortunately, Japanther overplays those strengths -- loud and fast lo-fi -- to such an extent that it's hard find much commendable or enjoyable about 'Eat Like Lisa, Act Like Bart.' Sure, some of theses song will play OK live, but if Japanther continue with this mundane material, getting people in the doors may prove difficult.