An album that could be hung in a gallery
Half Japanese is still making waves in 2020 with the release of their 19th studio album Crazy Hearts. Despite a 40-year career in the music industry, Half Japanese still manages to jam-pack Crazy Hearts with the life and soul they’re known for. Since their founding, brothers Jad and David Fair have led the band as artists first and foremost, noting the primary inspiration for their work was painter Jackson Pollock. Pollock was always known for the organized chaos of his work, splashing an array of different paints onto his canvases from different angles to create his masterpieces. Half Japanese seems to follow a similar creative process, the only difference being the band’s art is something experienced audibly. As such, it is hard to define the band by a single genre—though Crazy Hearts specifically has a distinctive psychedelic-rock feel. Whether it be the instruments they employ or the words they use, the group, which includes Jad Fair (vocals), John Sluggett (guitar), Giles-Vincent Rieder (drums), Mick Hobbs (guitar) and Jason Willett (bass), dig deep to bring authenticity and originality to the surface in Crazy Hearts.
One of the most striking elements of Crazy Hearts is the spoken-word lyrics consistently present on every track. With the band’s dedication to artistry, it isn’t hard to get wrapped up in their poetic yet enigmatic lyrics. The album quickly shifts from jovial words celebrating love in “Crazy Hearts” where Fair sings “and our love, it grows and grows/ And you are the one I chose/ The one and only,” to darker musings such as in “Phantom Menace,” where Fair exclaims “Phantoms from a phantom planet/ Phantoms from outer space/ You’ll never see them/ but you’ll know they’re here.” Evidently, Half Japanese isn’t tied to one motif in the album, but rather melds together a collection of thoughts and ideas, leaving it up to the listener to decide how it all connects. This presentation is quite refreshing as it isn’t the tired blatant approach many artists seem to take these days. Rather, the band elects to stay dedicated to their artistry, formulating songs as nuanced and complex as a piece of artwork one may find in a gallery.
Paired with the poetic lyrics were an electrifying arrangement of instruments. Of all present, the bass certainly stands out the most, keeping the dynamic guitar riffs and fast-paced percussion in check. From the start of the first song “The Beastmaster,” the listener is instantly hit by a wall of guitar, bass and smashing drums as Fair shouts “raised by monkeys, monkeys and snakes/ Monkeys, snakes, and birds/ The Beastmaster, the Beastmaster/ Master of all, big and small.” As the song continues, the bassline tightens up the entire song as it is slowly brought to the forefront, creating a deeper more resonant feeling in the song. In “Late At Night,” the bass is in control throughout the entire song, taking the mainstage as a few electric guitar riffs serve as background noise in the song. Further, brief bass solos are interspersed throughout “And It Is,” adding an edge to the track that is not as present in other songs. The song also includes an upbeat piano, giving the song a feel reminiscent of the ’60s. An element not used in many other songs, it allowed “And It Is” to truly stand out on the album.
Overall, Half Japanese delivers an album brimming with enthusiasm and heart. From the intriguing lyricism to the dynamic bass and piano present in Crazy Hearts, Half Japanese affirms they’ve maintained the same spirit 40 years after their initial founding. Crazy Hearts is truly a piece of art in its own right, and listeners should be excited to decipher the artistic chaos of the album.