The Pizzicato Five Discography: Canon 1994-1997

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W. David Marx listened to every single major release from legendary Shibuya-kei band, Pizzicato Five, so you don’t have to. This is part four of a five-part series, covering the band’s peak years with singer Nomiya Maki.

a television’s work shop e.p. (February 1994)
atelevisionworkshopep By early 1994, Pizzicato Five was a hit band, so the only obvious thing to do was release an EP of Nomiya Maki learning pseudo-French and gathering up off-key children to sing their songs. (Bonus waste of time: Nomiya playing word games with said children for five-plus minutes.) The single asset on this otherwise skippable release is another chance to bathe in the peak Pizzicato Five sound and a decent alternative version of “The Night is Still Young.” The weird self-Orientalism of “Me, Japanese Boy” works better in English.
(C+) — Exclusively for completists with a high tolerance of children

Five By Five (August 1994)
fivebyfive This was America’s official introduction to the hit Japanese band, Pizzicato Five. It is worth remembering that, at the time, the U.S. was solidly in the throws of post-Nirvana Alternative Nation and the only contemporary Japanese musicians known were Shonen Knife, The Boredoms, and perhaps, some noise acts if you hung out at Thurston Moore’s apartment. So from Pavement’s label Matador here comes a fashion runway, house-music obsessed lounge band with pixie vocals and a love of breakbeats. Most of the album is repeated on the full-length Made in USA but the weird self-Orientalism of “Me, Japanese Boy” is better in English.
(B) — An appropriate introduction, certainly strange for its time

Overdose (October 1994)
overdose Hot off the mega-hit “Sweet Soul Revue,” Konishi and co. stick to their successful formula — tight pop songs with a nod to the 1960s. The pakuri melodic and production thievery, however, becomes more pronounced, with explicit Donovan references in the high-energy “Airplane” and the harpsichord pizazz of “Shopping Bag.” And “Hippie Day” could not exist without the direct horn lift from “Soulful Strut.” Club beats show up on “If I were a Groupie” and an overly-long version of “The Night is Still Young,” and they go full hip-hop with some rap verses. While not as consistent as Bossa Nova 2001, the album still has many of the greats, such as “Happy Sad.” And yet, “On the Sunny Side of the Street” ended up being the most boring single of their entire career.
(A-) — Perfect 1960s pastiche but off in parts

Made in USA (October 1994)
madeinusa By all means, the American P5 releases should be non-canonical, but for an overly prolific band in need of editing, Made in the USA works to boil down Pizzicato Five to their essentials. Matador was also smart to leave a lot of the songs in Japanese, even though Nomiya handles the English well. (Their lyrics are equally simplistic in both tongues, if you’re wondering.) They made a mistake, however, in including the Japanese interview on “This Year’s Girl #2” (very misogynistic questions in hindsight.) “Catchy” is still boring, “Peace Music” is still amazing.
(A-) — The best of Pizzicato Five’s peak years

Romantique 96 (September 1995)
romantique96 Bossa Nova 2001, Overdose, and Romantique 96 work as a trilogy: song-oriented club pop with an emphasis on big melodies and 1960s references. The obsession moves over time slightly from New York and London towards Paris, but by this third installment, Konishi (no longer with K-Taro Takanami by his side) had run out of ideas. “Circus” is overly dependent upon a reference to “Sweet Soul Revue,” and there are many boring moments for a band who is rarely boring. On the other hand, there are many crucial tracks: the blend of 1960s strings and hip-hop on “Ice Cream Meltin’ Mellow,” the Platonic ideal of French bossa nova in “Nata DiMarzio,” the Kraftwerkian “Contact,” and the mature melancholy of “Triste.” The most famous song may be the cover of the Plastics’ “Good,” from which they remove the passive-aggressive tone of the original and turn it into a “Twiggy Twiggy”-esque groove track.
(B+) — The killer is killer, the filler is filler.

The Sound of Music
soundofmusic Another good American compilation of the best tracks, with an English “Happy Sad” and the superior original version of “The Night is Still Young.” The LP has a strange inclusion of Saint Etienne’s interminable “Peace Music” noise loop. Rare track: the moody 1960s pop of “Fortune Cookie.”
(A-) — Another mid-career greatest hits

“Baby Portable Rock” (March 1996)
babyportablerock One of the great P5 singles, and yet — a decent version does not appear on any of the albums. Admittedly, the song is a complete rip-off of Gary Lewis & The Playboys’ “Green Grass” but hey it’s ripped off very well.
(A-) — Great single that only loses points only for wholesale plagiarism

combinaison SPACIALE ep (June 1996)
combinationspeciale Insignificant but strong. Yoshinori Sunahara offers two abstract electronica remixes of “Ice Cream Meltin’ Mellow,” which may be more canonical than the original song. “Tokyo Mon Amour (Discotique 96 Mix)” is high-quality organ groove. For collectors, grab the EP, which came on 10” translucent green vinyl.
(B+) — Great cover, pretty good throwaway tracks.

Sister Freedom Tapes (June 1996)
sisterfreedomtapes Of all the band’s many, many non-album releases, this may be the best. Sister Freedom Tapes sees Pizzicato Five loose in the studio as an actual 1960s rock band, without all the technology, covering “Airplane” as punk and The Beach Boys’ “Passing By” with freewheeling kazoo levity. Both “Snowflakes” and “To Our Children’s Children’s Children” are sweet in their simplicity. (The CD version also offers the self-parody “Cornflakes.”)
(A) — Songs shining in minimalist escape from their signature sound.

Great White Wonder (October 1996)
greatwhitewonder After dozens of records, we’ve finally found it: the least consequential Pizzicato Five release. Bands with editing problems and too many songs on albums do not need compilations of rare tracks. The tracks on Great White Wonder are all either repetitive to other things, useless, or terrible.
(D-) — Forgotten songs for only the most heartless completists.

Happy End of the World (June 1997)
happyendoftheworld If Romantique 96 was out of ideas, this is a revitalized Pizzicato Five: Happy End of the World is often considered the best P5 album of all. Konishi’s discovery of drum’n’bass gave him a new foundational principle for the final era of Pizzicato Five — speed. Specifically, jungle breaks, wacky drum solos, extremely exaggerated soul pushed beyond its natural tempo. This gives us a perfect blend of ultra-fast clicks and focused Sixties-inspired songs like “It’s a Beautiful Day.” From here we also get the Readymade label, for which this album is a template of 1960s-inspired 150-bpm+ sample-pop over breakbeats. And “Tokyo Mon Amour” anticipates the whiny Oriental melodies of Good Night Tokyo and Midnight Tokyo collections of actual 1960s club pop. “Porno 3003” is long and probably controversial among the fanbase but at least comes near the end.
(A+) — Futurism for crate diggers with crisp pop songwriting

Part Five: The Final Years 1998-2006

W. David MARX
December 1, 2016

W. David Marx (Marxy) — Tokyo-based writer and musician — is the founder and chief editor of Néojaponisme.

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