At the time of the release of this band's debut CD back in '95, a great deal of verbiage was spewed around various specialist magazines and catalogs about the supposedly staggering post-Magma, post-Crimson concoction these guys were purveying.
Unfortunately, while there were plenty of worthwhile attributes to their sound, and moments of genuine inspiration, the somewhat congested sound quality, derivative songwriting (blatantly cribbing in places from King Crimson and Mahavishnu Orchestra) and predisposition toward occasional heavy metal guitar flourishes kept them filed in my mind as a second tier unit within the hierarchy of amazing new Japanese bands. It was then a decidedly pleasurable occurrence to discover that this sophomore effort delivers on all the promises of the first release in spades. Having dropped original guitarist Shigeru Makino and subsequently any suggestion of heavy metal from their sound, and delivering far more in the way of musical dynamics, they concentrate here on distilling only the most original aspects of their debut CD's sound, while teasing out entirely new trajectories of operation.
Actually, hardly any traces of Magma or zeuhl remain. They still pummel you just as hard, but here their facility at continuously chopping and lurching, combined with a newfound penchant for Zappa-ish jazziness place them remarkably close at times to another staggering Japanese unit, namely Tipographica. At other times elements of Red-era Crimson resurface, as do references to the legendary Italian avant-prog fusion outfit Area, but these influences have now been wholly integrated into a fully formed and highly individual voice. A real find.
(Originally published in Alternative Press #112, p.74; reprinted by
Happy Family appeared on the progressive scene in the second half of the 90s. Tossco is their second studio album from 1997, which opens with the beautiful "The Great man". A short piece where traditional Japanese music, chamber progressive and ominous sounding organ and guitar underneath are combined to great effect. The next track, "Overdrive Locomotive", is more typical for the album. Hectic, monolithic avant-garde music with a grunge/hardcore feel to it. They sound like a cross between two other Japanese bands: Ruins and Tipograhica. With the former they share the hardcore/grunge-like energy. And just like Tipographica, they use complex rhythmic patterns and show a jazz rock sensibility. I like Happy Family best when they use more dynamics within a single track. A good example of this style is the 12 minute "The Sushi Bar", which starts with a rather dark solo piano theme, then slips into a sleepy jazzy tune (almost like Miles Davis' music to the "L'ascenseur Pour L'echefaud" soundtrack) After a few minutes, a metallish guitar sets in under a Univers Zero-like background. A bit later, a sort of pedestrian rhythm pattern sets in with great restrained guitar playing. A few minutes later were back in Crimsonish slash and burn territory. Excellent varied track. However, some of the other tracks lack subtlety and they seem to succumb to their own relentless energy. Generally, this is refreshing, intense music, which could get even better if more subtleties were added to the compositions. Recommended.
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