Pizzicato Five Discography: Canon and Posthumous 1998-2006
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 five of a five-part series, covering the band’s final years and post-breakup releases.
|Happy End of You (February 1998)|
|A remix album that never came out in Japan, which perhaps explains the selection of foreign producers. This is mostly a time capsule of late 1990s IDM/electronica, but a few things hold up, namely The Automator and Saint Etienne’s respective remixes of “Love’s Theme” and some of the drum’n’bass. Dimitri from Paris’ “Contact” old school house is fun, but out of place. The rest is, in most cases, literally just noise.|
|(Cswee) — Taking the loungecore out of loungecore|
|Playboy Playgirl (October 1998)|
|Here we begin the final, mature years of Pizzicato Five, a period in which the band finds a unique, yet timeless sound rooted in 1960s analog with the speed of late 1990s electronic music. The album starts with the excellent “La Dépression” — a cheery joke about Japan’s own economic despair. And then we get to Konishi’s great weakness in sequencing his own albums, forcing the least exciting song into the prime #2 spot; in this case, the boring “Rolls Royce” goes on for eight full minutes. The band recovers with “A New Song,” P5’s best use of the moog synthesizer in a bright and shiny Hugo Montenegro pastiche. Other interesting sound experiments include the mega-blown out mixes of “Weekend” and “The Great Invitations,” the Austin Powers trend convergence of “Playboy Playgirl,” and minimal stutter snare of “Such a Beautiful Girl Like You.” If you remove the skits, this is one of the more consistently good efforts and a sound for the ages.|
|(A) — The groovy, moogy Pizzicato Five we should all remember|
|Darlin′ of Discotheque e.p. (April 1999)|
|Is there a more fitting symbol of Konishian excess than an eleven minute version of “Darlin’ of Discotheque”? Except, what if those eleven minutes were incredible? The sampled drum breaks, the foreboding strings, and a strong melody building slowly to justify the time spent? Other songs on this also pay off: “Barbie Dolls” is a classic, and “Tout Tout Ma Cherie” is the Michel Polnareff cover P5 was always poised to tackle.|
|(A-) — The hits keep coming all the way to the finish line|
|Nonstop to Tokyo e.p. (July 1999)|
|A few months later, another EP. “Non-Stop to Tokyo” itself is one of the band’s weaker singles, and “Room Service” sounds too much like an early demo of “20th Century Girl.” The real treasure is “Bossa Nova 3003,” which like “Lesson 3003 (Part 1),” are canon-wide mashups where P5 took the Double Dee and Steinski model and applied it to themselves (a fitting act for a meta-band like Pizzicato Five.) “Mademoiselle” oddly sounds like Sweet Pizzicato Five era house act.|
|(B) — Interesting moments in otherwise excess|
|PIZZICATO FIVE (November 1999)|
|This most certainly should have been the band’s swan song: P5 at its most mature, most adult. Konishi removed almost all explicit synth/dance music references for a relaxed, organic sound based on a treasure box of 1960s jazz and Yé-Yé samples. The result is as if Konishi took revenge upon Couples… and won! (There is even a superior Nomiya “cover” of “Serial Stories.”) “20th Century Girl” is a keeper, and I wish that “Goodbye Baby & Amen” would have been the band’s final musical moments.
The American-release “Fifth Release from Matador” (note all the overflowing enthusiasm in that album title) is basically identical with some original versions of songs replacing Konishi’s odd remixes.
|(A-) — What should have been P5’s final, grand statement|
|REMIXES 2000 (March 2000)|
|As far as remix albums go, this one may be the strongest, with a gaggle of producers from Konishi’s own lineage: Mansfield, Cubismo Grafico, Comoestas, and Sunaga Tatsuo. There is no weird electronic violence, just Shibuya-kei on Shibuya-kei. Even Iwamura Manabu’s meta-jazz works on “Roma” better than his own work.|
|(B) — The sound of the Shibuya-kei dance pop peak|
|Voyage à Tokyo ep (September 2000)|
|And so begins the end. Here we get You the Rock rapping over Pizzicato Five and a weird mashup on “Les Grandes Vacances.” This is not an important EP but at least holds up compared to the dreck that follows.|
|(B-) — The gruel gets thinner, with a hip-hop influence|
|Çà Et Là Du Japon (January 2001)|
|This record is really, really, really, really terrible. Just complete dreck. I could maybe extract some good quotes from the lyrics of “Fashion People” (Nigo!) for a nonfiction book, and I am partial to the mambo-beats of 1960s cover “In America” but the rest is beyond cheesy — like a “JAPAN COOL” poster hanging in a provincial gift shop selling salty green tea. By taking Japan as a theme, Konishi produces a recursive error, like the scene where John Malkovich goes into his own head. Pizzicato Five throw all taste and class out the window and just go “Kimono” and “Sukiyaki Song” until you want to burn every album in their entire catalog. The only non-arguable bright side is the extension of Happy End’s throwaway “AIEUO” hiragana syllabary ditty into a fully fledged Disney symphonic song for the ages. An ignoble ending for the band, and probably not a coincidence that Nomiya Maki barely appears on the songs.|
|(D) — An Orientalist failure for masters of mukokuseki Internationalism|
|Pizzicato Five in the mix (December 2001)|
|A DJ mix… claimed to be a “live” mix by Sunaga Tatsuo, but sounds computer-edited, and also, doesn’t really sound like a “live DJ mix.” The beginning hits on the house-y, club side of the band, but by the middle we’re on to the remarkably non-danceable “Triste” and a acoustic version of “The Night is Still Young.” For a band in constant need of editing, mixes can be a nice way to enjoy the catalog, but this one is overall unfocused and has no compelling narrative.|
|(C+) — Some random P5 songs in a random order.|
|pizzicato five I love you (March 2006)|
|A DJ mix… of Pizzicato Five’s most mellow songs hand-picked by Konishi? Okay, I admit, I didn’t listen to this album. I confused it with the one below. But looking at the track list, this is a very strange selection from the catalog: drowsy songs that a very tired Konishi perhaps looked back fondly upon in his old age.|
|(C+) — Some random mellow P5 songs that Konishi happens to like|
|pizzicato five we love you (March 2006)|
|A DJ mix… of Pizzicato Five’s most poppy songs? On first listen, I thought this was a waste of time. But as a Greatest Pop Hits — removing all of the band’s more experimental and dance oriented works — the songs shine through. The selection cuts out all the filler and reveals the band to have been masters of songcraft over a full decade.|
|(B+) — Nothing new, but a helpful distillation of the P5 pop sense|
|pizzicato five we dig you (May 2006)|
|A DJ mix… of Japan’s DJs and producers mashing up the best of Pizzicato Five into a non-stop mega-mix in the vein of 2 Many DJs? Yes, please, that would be excellent. But that is not what this is. This is an hour of listening to your favorite three-second fragments of P5 songs linked up stochastically with very few moments of clever blending or recontextualization. Handsomeboy Technique schools everyone at the very end by making a song you actually want to listen to more than zero times.|
|(D) — The best Pizzicato songs mashed into formless oblivion|
December 3, 2016 at 10:26 am
Hi there, I read your Quora post a while ago and downloaded all the albums you mentioned there so I could get into P5. Your opinion of the last album sure had changed!
“Sa E Ra Japon [is] good but less iconic”.
I thought it was okay on first listen but I think I need to reappraise.
Thanks for the reviews. I think I am starting to understand P5 now.
December 3, 2016 at 3:44 pm
Ha, I’ve actually thought a lot about that, and yes, I was totally wrong. I hadn’t listened to it in a long time, and I was vaguely fond of “America de wa.” I should edit that Quora post!
December 4, 2016 at 3:16 pm
Any thoughts on the Single vs Album versions of Such a Beautiful Girl like You? The single version is far and away better in my opinion. One of the few P5 songs where I prefer the single.
December 4, 2016 at 5:01 pm
Wow, I hadn’t heard the single version, but I vastly, vastly approve the minimal album version. See this is maybe why the P5 catalog is amazing: so many versions of the same songs so everyone can be satisfied with something.
December 6, 2016 at 4:34 am
Thanks for this, it’s very useful and I’ve added a few things to my shopping list.
My problem with P5 is not so much that they released too much material (I’m a Stereolab fan, so I’m used to ignoring releases that don’t look worthwhile). It’s that Matador’s repackaging for the American audience made it impossible to hear what the point was. I bought Made In USA way back when, liked it OK but didn’t get into them until years later when I picked up a used copy of Happy End of the World, on a whim. Maybe I just got older and less rockist, but I think it also has a lot to do with consistency of each album’s sound, and maybe track sequencing. The albums just work better.
I can’t say what I would have done differently, though, since the whole point is the Japanese approach to appropriation of western culture. Also my Japanese is not great, but it helps to at least know what the songs are about and catch a few phrases. I can’t imagine liking Twiggy Twiggy or Shiritori o suru Koibito-tachi without knowing any Japanese. Just goes to show the paradox of cultural appropriation, that even though they stole everything from bossa nova and ye-ye and lounge music, they make it distinctly Japanese.
December 8, 2016 at 6:10 am
Thanks for posting this David. I’m pretty closely aligned to your ratings. :)
Also, thanks because for the last 2 or 3 years, I had been trying to figure out which Fantastic Plastic Machine song had sampled this song, but finally figured it out it was P5 Jolly Bubbly Lovely https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OUYFOrsQYdM (past 1:30)
December 8, 2016 at 6:41 am
Oh wow, nice find. I just finished a Shibuya-kei mega mix and was desperate to figure out where this came from in order to build a transition! Thank you!
December 17, 2016 at 3:16 pm
Hey Marxy what is your top ten P5 songs?
December 20, 2016 at 9:48 am
Sorry for the slow response, it took me a while to think through this.
In no order, and by no means the only songs I like…
1. “Peace Music”
2. “Happy Sad”
3. “The Night is Still Young”
5. “Baby Portable Rock”
6. “The International Pizzicato Five Mansion” (instrumental version)
7. “Such a Beautiful Girl Like You” (album version)
8. “Nata di Marzo”
10. “Magic Carpet Ride”
There are other songs I love for production but less for melody, like the 11 minute version of “Darlin of Discotheque”