Brain Tattoos and Doublethink: The Japanese Popstars and Jon Ryman

This post is another double feature to showcase two different electronic records that I’m excited about right now. The first is the debut album from Northern Irish trio The Japanese Popstars (We Just Are due to release in North America in January 2009) and the second is the fifth album from Jon Ryman (Nineteen Eighty-Four which just released this year). The former has gritty, dirty beats akin to Justice, Boys Noize and MSTRKRFT while the latter emulates smoother synthpop similar to The Human League, Depeche Mode and New Order.

Consisting of Declan McLaughlin, Gary Curran and Gareth Donoghue, The Japanese Popstars are exactly what I want to hear on the dancefloor. We Just Are begins aptly with We Just Are (Intro) – a confident declaration that pulses with metallic starbursts around the simple vocal sample. From here, you are taken into a world of fantastically brash and hypnotic electro, where you are under their purview and held in compliance with your will. The first track proper, Sample Whore, built around samples of “ohs” and “ahs,” is a perfect blend of the lusty and clinical while Face Melter does just what it says on the tin (I’m still trying to mop up the remainder of my face from the floor). Then Delboys Revenge kicks in with a jackhammer insistence, but a needle-like precision soon backed by lasers that slice through your cranium.

As a refreshing reversal to the assault of Delboys Revenge, B.C.T.T. provides a gentler, poppier side with breathier rhythms and the heart rate comes down for awhile as the delicacy of the track washes over you like cool antiseptic. Dr. Frenchy Bernard continues the gentler arc with springy synths and old-school bleeps, creating a mini electro symphony. Anthepic (We Have Taken Over) begins to bring back harsher, dirtier beats, smudging up the otherwise pristine technicality of the track, and by the point the wispy vocals that declare “Just like you asked us to, we have taken over you” increase into a hynotic maelstrom, you realize that they have indeed taken over. Rising slowly from beneath the previous track, The Smile wends its way insidiously and surreptitiously into the folds of your grey matter.

However, it only serves as an introduction to the epic Rise of Ulysses, a whizzing, buzzsaw return to the grimier earlier tracks of the album. With its demonic chant of “rise!” at various points, it injects a darker pigment into the heart of the record. With rapid metallic beats and clipped cymbals, Total Distorted Mayhem, like Face Melter, is rather self-explanatory. A barely detectable “Come in, just jump in” pulses between rhythms like a shadow of an Id. The next track, F19b (Droppin’ Bombs), definitely sounds like bombs dropping in a constant loop, ultimately merging to sound like a siren against gritty, hollow beats. Like most of the tracks on this record, it puts you into a rather pleasurable trance. To tie the album up in a consistent circuit, it ends with We Just Are (Finalizer), once again deliberately declaring their existence. It builds from a low hum into scales of fuzzy tonalities before bursting rather unexpectedly into sunny, jubilant melodies, like pure endorphin being shot into your veins. The Japanese Popstars have also just released a free download of an unreleased track called Electronic Poet, which is equally as brilliant as the album and which I’ve made available below. If I opened my skull right now, I have a feeling The Japanese Popstars would be tattooed all over the surface of my cerebrum.

Unlike The Japanese Popstars, Jon Ryman’s music is on the softer, synthier side of electronic music. I was actually made aware of the Brighton-based artist several months ago via MySpace, but I didn’t take a proper listen until now. Ryman has been creating music since the ’80s (including under the name Interloper) and has also worked on music for television. This particular album – Ryman’s fifth studio album – is loosely based on George Orwell’s 1984, the book that has spawned many a song and record. However, rather than seem clichéd, this record breathes new life into the seminal story, especially with its classic analogue feel. Somehow it is hugely fitting that an old novel set in the future, which is now the increasingly distant past, is set to new music in a style that was considered futuristic decades ago. Ryman also pushes Orwell’s ideas into the 21st century, demonstrating how visionary Orwell was in predicting that everyone would eventually experience information overload to the point of apathy, a world where everything is propaganda and everything is under surveillance.

The album begins with an introductory message delivered by a voice from a retro computer that promises to play a happy song for you. The first track proper is New Corporate Mass, which ticks away like a hollow machine before pulsing with sparkly waves of synth and a rather robotic Latin hymn sung by a vocoderized human in a world in which the new religion is controlled by the corporations via the government. The album then shifts into Humanized, one of the catchiest tracks on the album. It slinks along to a cabaret feel and features one of my favourite lyrics: “a paper tiger in a cage.” Overexposure places the Big Brother-induced paranoia against a relatively deadpan vocal and a backdrop of some of the best New Wave synthpop I’ve heard lately. Its sentiments display the ever-present (and ever-realistic) problem of minds being inundated with unwinnable wars and loaded terms that mean nothing to keep them from thinking critically. Breaking through this noise, Julia, an ode to the protagonist, Winston’s, love interest in the novel, is full of crystalline synthesizers, reflecting a New Wave dancefloor beneath a discoball made of ice and circuitboard. The narrator of the song, who we can assume is Winston, appears to be experiencing a reawakening, shaking off apathy for a moment and attempting deeper thoughts, including rather profound ones like “maybe I’m just circumstance, nothing more.” The next track, Autocue, flows along to a beat reminiscent of Tears For Fears’ Everybody Wants to Rule the World as what sounds like telephone rings tinkle in the background. It becomes the perfect atmosphere for lyrics telling how the monolithic corporation assumes its own impersonal, singular soul, acting as an individual driven by greed and drained of humanity while running on automatic pilot. Autocue drifts seamlessly into Stars Fall, which returns to vocoder and beautiful, soaring melody.

Breaking this dreamlike mood, Rhythm Machine begins with the same computerized voice from the intro asking you to enter an access code. The song then moves into clinical vocals paired with razor-sharp precise rhythm worthy of Kraftwerk, contrasting with the free-flow of the movement in Julia – this is what dance music is when computers create it on their own. Oneohone, which is named for the dreaded Room 101 of the novel, begins with echoey snatches of voices and random sounds before ominous synths slip in to create an air of nightmare and imprisonment. Beginning with whizzes and static, Omnipresent continues the dark, horrific feel of Oneohone, setting a scene in which fear is palpable. Nowhere Left To Run follows with a rather restrained rhythm framed by further whizzes as a rather resigned vocal sings the song’s title over and over. The record concludes with Acid Music, a bouncy, scrambled track that sounds like both a mental collapse and a system failure, poignantly demonstrating our propensity for treating machines like humans and humans like machines: machines get viruses while humans break down. Nineteen Eighty-Four is retro, but never cheesy, which is quite an achievement, and I hope Ryman gets more of the attention he deserves for this record.

Currently, you can order We Just Are from Amazon UK and you can purchase Nineteen Eighty-Four at CD Baby. Oddly enough, both albums, though very different, reinforce some similar notions of technology and humans and how we are both just made of information, whether DNA or binary code.


1 Response to “Brain Tattoos and Doublethink: The Japanese Popstars and Jon Ryman”

  1. 1 The13th
    December 3, 2008 at 4:08 pm

    The Popstars ARE very cool. Enjoyed your review. Have you seen their latest video for Face Melter?

    Comments welcomed!

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The only certain thing that is left about me

There is no part of my body that has not been used

Pity or pain, to show displeasure's shame

Everyone I've loved or hated always seems to leave


So I turned myself to face me

But I've never caught a glimpse

Of how the others must see the faker

I'm much too fast to take that test

The Smiths Queen is Dead

A dreaded sunny day

So let's go where we're happy

And I meet you at the cemetry gates

Oh, Keats and Yeats are on your side

A dreaded sunny day

So let's go where we're wanted

And I meet you at the cemetry gates

Keats and Yeats are on your side

But you lose 'cause weird lover Wilde is on mine

The Clash London Calling

When they kick at your front door

How you gonna come?

With your hands on your head

Or on the trigger of your gun


Charles Windsor, who's at the door

At such an hour, who's at the door

In the back of an old green Cortina

You're on your way to the guillotine

Here the rabble comes

The kind you hoped were dead

They've come to chop, to chop off your head


Then you came with your breezeblocks

Smashing up my face like a bus-stop

You think you're giving

But you're taking my life away


Won't someone give me more fun?

(and the skin flies all around us)

We kiss in his room to a popular tune

Oh, real drowners


Don't walk away

In silence

See the danger

Always danger

Endless talking

Life rebuilding

Don't walk away

Walk in silence

Don't turn away in silence

Your confusion

My illusion

Worn like a mask of self-hate

Confronts and then dies

Don't walk away


You don't want to hurt me

But see how deep the bullet lies

Unaware I'm tearing you asunder

Oh there is thunder in our hearts

Is there so much hate for the ones we love

Tell me we both matter don't we

The Associates Affectionate

I don't know whether

To over or under estimate you

Whether to over or under estimate you

For when I come over

You then put me under

Personal taste is a matter of gender


I wake at dusk to go alone without a light

To the unknown

I want this night inside of me

I want to feel

I want this speeding

I want that speeding


You'll never live like common people

You'll never do what common people do

You'll never fail like common people

You'll never watch your life slide out of view

And dance and drink and screw

Because there's nothing else to do

Vanilla Swingers

All I have is words, words that don't obtain

And I feel I'm a stain on your horizon

So I stay away - it's easier that way

And there won't be no-one I need to rely on

Is it him, is it me

Or is there something only I can see

How did I get here, why do we blow around like straw dogs on the breeze

I'm a special one, what they used to say

But I've to stay on, finish levels-A

You don't need exams when you've read John Gray

The Indelicates American Demo

And nobody ever comes alive

And the journalists clamour round glamour like flies

And boys who should know better grin and get high

With fat men who once met the MC5

And no one discusses what they don't understand

And no one does anything to harm the brand

And this gift is an illusion, this isn't hard

Absolutely anyone can play the fucking guitar

JAMC Darklands

And we tried so hard

And we looked so good

And we lived our lives in black


Plucked her eyebrows on the way

Shaved her leg and then he was a she

She says, hey babe,

Take a walk on the wild side

Said, hey honey, take a walk on the wild side


Hide on the promenade

Etch a postcard:

How I dearly wish I was not here

In the seaside town...that they forgot to bomb

Come, come, come - nuclear bomb


Back when we were kids

We would always know when to stop

And now all the good kids are messing up

Nobody has gained or accomplished anything

Wire Pink Flag

Prices have risen since the government fell

Casualties increase as the enemy shell

The climate's unhealthy, flies and rats thrive

And sooner or later the end will arrive

This is your correspondent, running out of tape

Gunfire's increasing, looting, burning, rape


Well, maybe there's a god above

But all I've ever learned from love

Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you

It's not a cry that you hear at night

It's not somebody who's seen the light

It's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah


And what costume shall the poor girl wear

To all tomorrow's parties

For Thursday's child is Sunday's clown

For whom none will go mourning


My body is your body

I won't tell anybody

If you want to use my body

Go for it


Oh it's opening time

Down on Fascination Street

So let's cut the conversation

And get out for a bit

Because I feel it all fading and paling

And I'm begging

To drag you down with me

Mansun Six

And you see, I kind of shivered to conformity

Did you see the way I cowered to authority

You see, my life, it's a series of compromises anyway

It's a sham, and I'm conditioned to accept it all, you see

Japan Gentlemen

Take in the country air, you'll never win

Gentlemen take polaroids

They fall in love, they fall in love


We just want to emote til we're dead

I know we suffer for fashion

Or whatever

We don't want these days to ever end

We just want to emasculate them forever

Forever, forever

Pretty sirens don't go flat

It's not supposed to happen like that

Longpigs The Sun

There's no perfume I can buy

Make me smell like myself

So I put on perfume

To make me smell like someone else

In bed

Calvin Harris I Created Disco

I got love for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's

I've got hugs for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's


Does his makeup in his room

Douse himself with cheap perfume

Eyeholes in a paper bag

Greatest lay I ever had

Kind of guy who mates for life

Gotta help him find a wife

We're a couple, when our bodies double

Simple Minds Sons and Fascination

Summer rains are here

Savaged beauty life

Falling here from grace

Sister feeling call

Cruising land to land

No faith no creed no soul

Half a world away

Beauty sleeps in time

Sound and fury play

Bloc Party Silent Alarm

North to south


Running on


As if to say, as if to say

He doesn't like chocolate

He's born a liar, he'll die a liar

Some things will never be different


LCD Soundsystem

Well Daft Punk is playing at my house, my house

I've waited 7 years and 15 days

There's every kid for miles at my house, my house

And the neighbors can't...call the police

There's a fist fight brewin' at my house, my house

Because the jocks can't...get in the door

Johnny Boy

I just can't help believing

Though believing sees me cursed

Stars Set Yourself

I am trying to say

What I want to say

Without having to say "I love you"

Josef K Entomology

It took 10 years to realise why the angels start to cry

When you go home down the main

Your happy smile

Your funny name

Cocteau Twins Bluebell


Doesn't she look a million with her hairagami set

Hair kisses 'n' hair architecture

Yes, she's a beautiful brunette angel from heaven with her hairagami set

Hair kisses 'n' hair architecture

Augment a beautiful brunette

New Order Power Corruption

How does it feel

To treat me like you do

When you've laid your hands upon me

And told me who you are


You must let her go

She's not crying



Feeling like I'm waiting

Modern times



Hating to distraction

Just leave them alone


Girls in the back

Girls in the back

Puressence Don't Forget

They say come back to earth and start getting real, yeah

I say come back to earth and start getting real

I know I can't


So I walk right up to you

And you walk all over me

And I ask you what you want

And you tell me what you need


The problem of leisure

What to do for pleasure

Ideal love a new purchase

A market of the senses

Dream of the perfect life

Economic circumstances

The body is good business

Sell out, maintain the interest


Sitting in my armchair thinking again and again and again

Going round in a circle I can't get out

Then I look around thinking day and night and day

Then you look around - there must be some explanation

And the tension builds

Psychdedelic Furs

India, India

You're my love song

India, you're my love song

In the flowers

You can have me in the flowers

We will dance alone

And live our useless lives

Ladytron Light Magic

They only want you when you're seventeen

When you're twenty-one

You're no fun

They take a polaroid and let you go

Say they'll let you know


No consolation prizes

Spit out your lies and chewing gum

Cut off your hair yeah that's it!

If you look like that I swear I'm gonna love you more


All the neighbors are startin' up a fire

Burning all the old folks, the witches and the liars.

My eyes are covered by the hands of my unborn kids

But my heart keeps watchin' through the skin of my eyelids


Prince charming

Prince charming

Ridicule is nothing to be scared of

Don't you ever, don't you ever

Stop being dandy, showing me you're handsome


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