FUJIYA & MIYAGI: Dark, Risky & Cerebral

Fujiya & Miyagi somehow at once chill out and tense up on their fourth album, “Ventriloquizzing”, which they are now promoting on tour throughout the US.

Words: Anna Graizbord
Image: Fujiya & Miyagi

I suppose in the midst of this “moment” that electro-goth-dance is having right now, it makes sense that Fujiya & Miyagi would try to fully take advantage by announcing a US tour in 2012. It also makes sense that they would try taking things a little darker on their fourth album, Ventriloquizzing, which came out just a year ago. Their vibe has always been on the tightly-wound side of the electro-spectrum anyhow, so to take a moody dip like this was no doubt a risky endeavor. The results are a little uneven (and unnerving at times), but Ventriloquizzing is not an uninteresting “place” to be.

Full disclosure: I have two main struggles with Fujiya & Miyagi in general. The first is their name, which reminds me of the Onion article, “Crazy Japanese Punk Girl Delights Entire Dorm Floor”. Even though they say they’re mostly Krautrock-inspired, there’s just something really annoying about two English guys naming themselves something Japanese. The best news about this is that they seem to have a total sense of humor about themselves and don’t take it all too seriously—exactly what won me over in their more playful and upbeat album Transparent Things. Which leads me to the second issue I have: the signature rolling “R”s thing they do. I get that it’s something no one else really does, and is a testament to how percussion-oriented they are, but I just find myself alternately hating and being endeared to it.

Somehow because Ventriloquizzing is darker, the rolling “R”s more often got on my nerves than not. Maybe they thought this would offset some of the most menacing songs on the album like “Sixteen Shades of Black and Blue”, which when I closed my eyes, all I could see was Jeffrey Dahmer’s dead-eyed serial killer face. The level of calculation and tenseness in Dave Best’s voice plus the scary lyrics about beating someone up didn’t quite do it for me. The song needed Allison Goldfrapp to step in to take the edge off or something. Maybe this is just what happens when you let the resident über-dumbshit of Freak Folk Devendra Banhart produce you? Sure, why not?

Fujiya & Miyagi’s playfulness and sense of humor was not, thank god, entirely smothered by the brunchplay*-friendly faux-Navajo poncho of a human being that is Banhart. In fact, it even seemed like the band discovered or decided to show us a different facet to their deadpan sensibility. One of the funniest dark songs on the album is “Universe”, with its hook: you love to hear the sound of your own voice/you are not the center of the—you are not the center of the—un-i-verse. Almost sounds like something Morrissey would say, no?

The most pleasing discovery about this album was when all the elements came across more evenly, and consequently, more organic-seeming. Neither melody nor lyrics protruded more than one another on the track “Yoyo”, and the effect was more well-rounded than every other song. Maybe I’m partial to the rootsier ’60s-inspired keyboard-y sounds they tried out, but whatever they were doing there struck just the right balance.

I’d be surprised if Ventriloquizzing garnered them the same or anywhere near similar attention as Transparent Things, but the album certainly marked an important step in for Fujiya & Miyagi. Whether or not they were trying on the electro-goth trend and any possible motives for possibly doing so doesn’t seem to matter, when clearly there’s clearly a lot of thinking going on here—a lot of thinking without being too insufferably serious.

* A word I just made up meant to convey the absurd amount of peacocking that goes on during brunch time in any urban metropolitan area.

Fujiya & Miyagi are now on tour throughout the US. Follow them on Twitter, @FujiyaandMiyagi

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