several things to say about the best album ever released, Pizzicato Five's Happy End of the World

in the cool clothes store
I hear a Japanese song
and it blows my mind

I knew about them from the 'Twiggy Twiggy' song, only a hit because of an ironic fetishization, but my interest in them was piqued one day, standing in Jazzman on State Street looking for overpriced pants. I have determined that they must have been playing Made in USA, the first comp issued by Matador, because I was really enjoying the music and then boom that song came on.

That began a hunt through the bargain bins and indie stores of Madison and other Midwestern cities for anything P-5 related; but the first one I got was Happy End of the World, and it remains the best. Here are several reasons why:

1. It is the most exciting music I have ever heard, even after hundreds of listens (in the car, on headphones, on my home stereo, and on my little shitty office speakers that I can't use anymore because I share an office now and we both write all day in silence). By now, I anticipate all the twists and turns that each song undergoes, and the sheer audacity and skill still kick my ass every time. When "Mon Amour Tokyo" begins, I get all excited, because I know the exact moment when the glitching will peek through the facade of Bond-epic pop song, and when the big fat beat-down busts the rest of the walls down. They're simple little songs rooted in the popular music of America and England and Japan and Africa, which are all then deconstructed through drum'n'bass and surf music breaks, through cheerleader chanting and groovy jazz riffs and odd sound effects. A whole ocean of WTF moments on one disc.

2. It is an album ABOUT music, but in the least annoying way possible. The opening song, "World Is Spinning at 45 RPM," is muted and hushed with fake-vinyl sounds, and its theme is Emerging From Depression; soon, the murk lifts and floats away, and that big-beat sound that Yasuharu Konishi does so well bursts in, and the lovely flat-voiced supermodel that is Maki Nomiya intones lines about not having any reason to be sad anymore. Which I need on a far-too-regular basis. Then we await the beat-screwery, then the actual song comes back in, ending with the most beautiful (translated) lyrics that any music lover could ever hear:

Right now in my head
Music starts to play
Right now in my head
The world starts to spin
At a speed of 45 revolutions per minute

(OMG, that still hits hard just READING it.) But all the other stuff here is about music too, songs like "Trailer Music" (a fake-Japanese movie-promo ditty that turns extremely weird halfway through) and "Arigato We Love You" (a collaboration with Arling/Cameron wherein they write the song they're playing in the course of the time they're playing it, and it goes from stupid pop song to club banger and back again all in 5:14") and "My Baby Portable Stereo Sound" (those are the only lyrics, along with "a new stereophonic sound spectacular" -- a phrase that is a recurring motif in P5 -- and "baby baby baby") and "Love's Prelude" (lyrics: "Pizzicato Five") followed by "Love's Theme" (which is how my daughter learned how to spell "P-I-Z-Z-I-C-A-T-O"), all the other stuff too but I want to get onto the next point.

2. You know how some people at the all-you-can-eat salad bar will fill their plates up tastefully, carefully, minimally, because they know they can always go back for more? I hate that. I pile it all up, everything sliding and shifting into everything else, devil-may-care, heaping maximalism, that's the only proper response to a salad bar. That is the way Konishi goes after music. His gods are Burt Bacharach and Phil Spector, but his other gods are Donna Summer and Carla Thomas and Tricky, and Richard and Robert Sherman and Shirley Bassey and Yes and Martin Fry (I'm sure of it, absolutely convinced that The Lexicon of Love is in his 5-disc changer EVEN AS WE SPEAK) and Chic and George Clinton and a million others. For spot-the-influence heads like me, this is a master's thesis-worth of fun, but you can also listen to it even if you're not a big nerd, because it's everything all the time. Konishi's salad-bar approach to music is the only appropriate approach to life.

3. The packaging is probably the most brilliant thing I've seen ever. There is no title except on the sleeve, the back cover is just the front cover photo reversed with some bullshit Matador info and a big yellow "********* records, tokyo," and the booklet inside the little paper sleeve has beautiful cutesy drawings and lyrics both in the original and in translation and hilarious synopses of the songs. I didn't know what to make of "Happy Ending" until I read that it was supposed to be "Accompaniment for a long credit roll of the movie starring Henry Winkler." Then I understood. That's EXACTLY what it sounds like.

4. This has the highest amount of jazz licks on any post-modern dance-pop J-pop album ever issued. It also has the most slamming drum sounds in my record collection, and a harpsichord solo, and a song called "Collision and Improvisation" which is through-composed.

5. "Porno 3003" is a three-part prog epic consisting of a long monologue by Maki over three different musical sets: "Music for Sofa" is slow and mysterious; "Galaxy One" is slowly waking up; "It's All Too Beautiful" finally busts through with housatronic brilliance. The monologue is untranslated here but I nerded out and found it on a P5-worship website a few years ago, and it's kind of like a robotic sex session, really about relaxation and control at first but then kinda HOTT in the middle part. The booklet description is spot-on: "A package tour of 9 minutes and 51 seconds."

6. Oh, more to say but Sammy wants to use the computer and I've been in here for an hour on Saturday morning, bad father. Anyway, if you find this record, snap it up in a heartbeat, it's important dammit, it's 63 minutes of music school and church and madddddness.

in the wilderness
of my soft suburban street:
turn my speakers UP

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