Miki Tanabe, Ujuan Shozo and Suzuki Yoshifumi (pictured above with new live keyboardist Steve Laity) return with a brand new Guitar Vader album, Happy East. Their previous album proper, From Dusk featured a track called Perfect Bird that was remixed by Hexstatic and wound up on their album Master-View. In between, Guitar Vader released a mini album called Dawn and finally managed to leave Japan to play a selection of dates in the UK.
Dawn was an important release for the band for two reasons. It was their first album on their own Plugs House record label, and it indicated that the Guitar Vader sound was gradually changing.
Guitar Vader’s early releases (collected in their album Die Happy) were decidedly quirky, with Miki’s distinctive squeaky voice singing bizarre songs such as Good Morning Mr. 3 Cats in heavily accented English. But the band broke through in the West when some of their tracks, such as the explosive Super Brothers were used on the cult Xbox title Jet Set Rdio Future. Guitar Vader’s strength had always been in their catchy songs and recent albums had started to downplay the band’s weirdness in favour of more mature songwriting.
The seeds were sown with From Dusk, and the first tentative steps taken with Dawn and Happy East see the band well on their new journey. But don’t mistake mature for boring because Happy East contains some of Guitar Vader’s most exciting music to date.
The album opens with She’s So Heavy. Beginning with some alarmingly cheesy synth brass stabs the song quickly becomes vintage Guitar Vader with vocals shared by Ujuan and Miki and some confident guitar work from Miki.
This is followed by Sister Devil, a pleasant mid-tempo album filler. And let’s face it, filler from Guitar Vader is better than most bands can ever hope to achieve! The third track is Happy East, a slow acoustic number sung by Miki and is the real surprise of the album. It has a depth and emotional core you wouldn’t normally expect from Guitar Vader, with overtones of The Doors, especially with Miki’s Robby Krieger inspired guitar solo. It’s a track that grows on you with repeated listens and is sure to become a fan favourite in no time.
Suspense is probably the weakest track: a rambling synth and drum machine experiment the album could probably do without. But immediately following that is the double whammy of Age and Ape Sound.
Age is, to my mind, one of the best things Guitar Vader have ever done, and blasting it through your stereo at full volume makes you want to jump around the room. I can’t wait to see Guitar Vader play that one live. Similarly, Ape Sound is a brilliantly raucous cacophony of drums, distorted guitars and jungle noises.
Morrison House is a jaunty, happy tune which sounds like classic Guitar Vader, with Ujuan and Miki sharing vocal duties once more. The album closes with the equally merry acoustic strummer Day Break.
At only eight songs long and coming in at under half an hour, Happy East is a short album. But when six of the songs are as strong as anything Guitar Vader have ever written, it makes a great introduction for new fans, and an essential purchase for existing ones.
Happy East (2004)
Record Label: Plugs House