Japanese Voyeurs - 'Yolk' (Fiction Records) Print E-mail
CD Reviews
Written by Gaz E   
Monday, 11 July 2011 05:00

japanese-voyeurs-yolkThe allure of Japanese Voyeurs is hardly the most difficult to pin down. The young London-based band have fashioned their sound on the melancholic side of the Nineties grunge scene, a scene that, given the unwritten rule of the twenty year cycle, is back with us with a dirty vengeance and, in Romily Alice, they have a striking figure of a frontwoman who will ensure that many will idolise or fantasise...possibly both.


Yet, the enigma that is the fragile frontperson is the one thing that leaves a question mark hanging heavily over the band for many who have witnessed them live. Alice's mixing up of precious and punk vocals sometimes suffers in the smaller clubs where the band have, obviously, been plying their trade and building a fan base. With the gentler side of her voice getting totally lost on occasion in tiny venues with average sound systems I, and I am not the only one, have wished that a decent mix could give us the opportunity to judge the band fairly rather than a little disappointingly. Will the release of 'Yolk', the band's debut album, offer them the chance to upgrade venues and, with it, sound quality? I'll chance my arm and say that it will as, with this first long player, Japanese Voyeurs have proven that they are not going to disappear without a noisy fight.


Let's get the workmanlike, lazy journalism of other 'experts' in the field out of the way immediately - this band do not sound like Hole, Romily Alice sounds nothing like Courtney Love. They are a grunge band with a female vocalist - the similarity ends there. Let's also gut the NME-shaped elephant in the room; yes, one esteemed scribe for that publication mentions 'Far Beyond Driven' era Pantera in comparison to Japanese Voyeurs. That was not a joke. Let's cut to the chase - this album, this band, is unashamedly Nineties obsessed, grunge obsessed. The sounds, tones, lyrical themes, all belong to two decades ago and the scene that made it acceptable to dress down before going out.


Recorded by GGGarth Richardson (Rage Against The Machine, Jesus Lizard, The Melvins) and mixed by Alex Newport (Fudge Tunnel, At The Drive-In) - that gives you a clue to the thinking behind this record, right?! - 'Yolk' gives me my second chance to really hear how Alice sounds. The first, the double A-side 'That Love Sound/Blush' release (both appear here), impressed me and, since then, I have witnessed teenage girls mouth every single word to the band's entire live set (many with curious looking parent in tow) proving that the idol worship of the Japanese Voyeurs' focal point is gathering pace....but where will this snowball come to rest? The answer is, on the strength of the dozen tunes on this debut, it could take some stopping.


Eschewing the angles by which fellow modern day grunge throwbacks work, the confident swagger of Violent Soho, the glorious hooks of Dinosaur Pile-Up, Japanese Voyeurs sit (un)happily on the melancholy side of the fence. Opener 'You're So Cool' is a bass-heavy mover that stops and starts in time honoured grunge fashion and, coupled with second track, 'Dumb', wastes no time in confirming what I had long suspected - the subtler, sweeter side of Romily Alice's voice is born of a dark fairytale; childlike and sensitive, yet prickled with talk of sex and dripping in attitude.


There are moments where sheer melody pierces the angst, on 'Cry Baby', 'Get Hole' and 'X-Ray Ted', where her voice reminds me so much of Nina Gordon, formerly of Veruca Salt - any similarity between her and the character from whom that band took their name is purely coincidental - and times where you can understand perfectly why that fragility of vocal is lost live, the welcome heaviness of 'Smother Me' for example. The noise that the four guys in the band (shit, there are four other members?!) makes borders on essential at times, take the beastly riff that hangs around the aforementioned 'Blush', yet it is their female bandmate who will get almost every drop of attention. Even when J Mascis (yes, he of Dinosaur Jr.) turns up on the chorus of 'Feed' you get the feeling that the decision was made purely of a promotional or personal obligation than actually being warranted, good song though it is.


'Milk Teeth' is a more straightforward stab of a song, confident and noisy, while 'Double Cheese' is as Nineties as a CD single - they were cool, yeah? There is one real standout track here though, one that raises interest levels to their highest while listening to 'Yolk' (the hidden track that follows the album's last track where Alice finally lets rip excepted, of course) and it goes by the name 'Heart Is A Fist'. This song showcases a previously hidden depth to Japanese Voyeurs; it simmers, grows naturally, not feeling the need to hammer home its point with a dirty riff or cute vocal. Reminiscent of Gerard McMann's 'Cry Little Sister' in both tone and sound, this song is the album's high point.


There will, in fact, be many high points here for many listeners. This is certainly an impressive debut, yet much will depend on capturing the real Romily Alice on stage. On this album she forces the issue of her being the next big female role model - seriously, it is that close to a given - yet without the help of the gods of sound on the live circuit there will be many queuing up to pour scorn on the promise of this hotly-tipped young band.


'Yolk' is dark, dirty and worth checking out.