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SLAPP HAPPY HUMPHREY (Buy CDs by this artist)
Slapp Happy Humphrey (Public Bath) 1995

While English and American bands struggle to make a measly millimeter of stylistic progress here and there, Japan's Slapp Happy Humphrey (the name is a meaningless overlap of Peter Blegvad's old group and wrestler Happy Humphrey) comes along with a bizarre concept that doesn't tinker with convention so much as pour gasoline on it and strike a match. What the trio does — carefully explained in the eponymous debut's liner notes by guitarist Jojo Hiroshige (which would truly be perfect if they were a complete fabrication) — is to cover songs by '70s/'80s pop singer Morita Doji, with Mineko Itakura cooing them gently over Fujiwara's implacable acoustic guitar and weepy violin. What makes it so strange is the irregular intrusions of Jojo's highly compressed but otherwise uncontrolled noise demonstrations. It's as if an overly sensitive shortwave tuner were picking up an Yma Sumac broadcast and the top end of a Sonic Youth practice session. The two elements never do better than occupy the same air space; any connection between them is strictly hypothetical. Incidentally, for those desperate enough to care, Jojo (who runs Alchemy Records) mentions his vocal solo project, Nishijin Saburo, and declares that since he "began the style known as 'noise' in 1979, there hasn't been any original music." Get back, Jo.

[Ira Robbins]