Album Review: Pom Poko – Birthday

Pom Poko are named after the 1994 Studio Ghibli film and is the onomatopoeic noise Japanese Racoon dogs make when drumming on their stomachs. The sound Pom Poko (the band) makes is even more interesting. If you are someone who skim reads articles and reviews then I want to declare upfront that I LOVE this album. Listen to it and I hope you adore it as much as I do. If you want to know why then read on.

From the opening track ‘Theme’ I was smitten. This feels like Pom Poko’s manifesto in one 2 minute slice of brilliant musical insanity. You get squeaks, angles, counterpoint; an explosion of fragmented ideas pulled expertly into focus to form a whole. The guitar line wouldn’t be out of place in a Prog track but this is pure joy on show not showing off. Next comes ‘My Blood’ with a nursey rhyme opening that gets pushed aside by a killer riff (now my own personal earworm) and there’s light and shade on show. The track switches from the opening energy to a two-part verse, traversing tuneful and menacing, on to a sweet vocal aside before returning to that killer riff.

‘Follow the Lights’ is a great clanging, tuneful, riot of a song. It typifies what I think Pom Poko do well: mix things that should be hard on the ear with a sweetness that delights. While ‘My Work Is Full Of Art’, ‘Blue’ and ‘Honey’ feel like the most conventional tracks on the album they still contain the unusual: ‘My Work Is Full Of Art’ has some fabulous disjointed guitar playing in the verse, a chorus that soars, a middle 8 sitting on a bed of crunchy power chords and a key change at the end, ‘Blue’ has dreamy Bjork-like sections full of cascading harmonics punctured by crunchy chords and ‘Honey’ is the slow-dance song which still manages to include squishy, fizzy background noises.

‘Crazy Energy Night’ is the midpoint of the album and launches itself from deft rhythmic drums and cowbell into power chord stabs. This could be the defibrillating opening song of a gig or the triumphant closer as it features a glorious wig-out middle section. Title track ‘Birthday’ also features a nursey rhyme quality to the chorus, “It’s my Birthday Honey, don’t forget to hug me”, and while I’ve been out and about listening with headphones in I can’t help but mouth along with the lines. ‘Milk Trust’ starts with a catchy riff that wouldn’t be out of place in a 50s TV show like ‘I Dream of Genie’ or ‘Bewitched’ and this gives way to something which feels like someone added maths to the Cardigans.

You have to have a lot of confidence (or is that bravado?) to riff on the Beatles but ‘Daytripper’ does that from the opening riff-tribute. It builds on the iconoclasm to a power house of driving guitar, bass, drums and vocals that put me in mind of the Estrons. ‘If U Want Me 2 Stay’ has the quality of a velvet mallet constantly pounding its way through the song.  Keith Moon drums attack, guitars complain, bass underpins and then at the half-way point the track falls apart. From these ruins a deliciously sweet vocal line moves like a needle and thread to pull the frayed ends back together. It ends like ‘A Day in the Life’ re-imagined for a new generation. The closing track ‘Peachy’ is the gentle full stop to the album. It’s a warm brandy nightcap after you returned home from a night of jumping, moshing, flailing and singing-along to the sheer bloody pleasure of Pom Poko.

Whereas bands I love like the Estrons or Slowcoaches are muscle cars: solid; fuelled by riffs and hooks, Pom Poko are a muscle car built by scientists to race in Mario Cart. There are bursts of power and thrilling acceleration but you also get to see the equations behind the combustion and revel in how clever they are. I never feel Pom Poko are showing off but just demonstrating their elation in crafting a super-fine selection of songs. This album is 11 out of 10, 7 stars out of 5, album of the week, month and year and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Review by Paul F Cook
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