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ROSA LUXEMBURG (Buy CDs by this artist)
II (Japan. Midi) 1986
Puri Puri (Japan. School) 1986

Why this excitable Japanese art-rock dance quartet named itself after a historically significant German Marxist is a mystery, but it would seem from the group's first two albums that David Byrne might be their philosopher of choice. The tightly strung but casually offbeat Puri Puri lays scratchy guitars and giddily enthusiastic vocals into jittery rhythms that alternately suggest Talking Heads, the Suburbs and early B-52's. Despite the Japanese lyrics, horn/percussion accents, tropical/Latin influences and the band's non-stop exuberance all help translate this diverse platter of fun into a universal language.

Rosa L. relaxes a little on the wonderful II, focusing all of its energies into ensuring that no two songs sound anything alike. The album leads off with a twisted ska number and then shifts into a raving R&B rocker that features a wall-climbing guitar solo. From there, anything goes: Sly Stone boom-laka-laka-lakas, garage rock, wailing harmonica, California surf-pop, an acoustic guitar tune that revs into a major workout, a choral song accompanied by electronic sound effects, etc. Wheee! If the words on II are half as inventively weird as the music, I'm dying to know what they mean.

[Ira Robbins]