Published September 29, 2015
Some years ago there was an Icelandic band named Lada Sport, that was one of many mainstays in our local grassroots music scene. Despite having a few hits, such as “The World Is A Place For Kids Going Far,” they eventually split, going their separate ways. While drummer Haraldur Leví went the way of the beige apocalypse by starting up Record Records, with its ‘This Is Icelandic Indie’ compilation series, singer and guitarist Stefnir Gunnarsson went in completely the opposite direction with his solo project, Japanese Super Shift. Instead of professional twee and high end rock dynamics, Japanese Super Shift employs drum machine loops, cheap-sounding synths, 8-bit album art, and a studiously DIY sensibility. Stefnir’s singing voice has even changed from his days in Lada Sport, from a yelping voice of frustration, to a slightly wan, reedy timbre, almost like that of Jason Lytle.
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You can hear all of this on ‘Double Slit’, Stefnir’s second solo release as Japanese Super Shift. In songs such as the opener, “Hushed,” and “His Word,” bright, glaring synth sounds and noodling lines are paired with rickety drums that have an arrythmic quality to them; the main musical influence seem to have been old computer and console games. However, the lyrics are at complete odds with the thoroughly naïve music. While songs such as “2 A.M” talk of his attempts to just get high, many tracks openly muse on the singer’s inner pain and illness. “His Word” describes a man’s cruel treatment of his female partner, with Stefnir pleading “He knows it hurts/He couldn’t care less/How can a man be so cruel?”, while “Tragedy” goes full slacker melodrama, openly asking you to imagine losing your child before comparing it to a woman “living in a war zone” who gets her child in a bag, Stefnir mewing “this is what’s left of your son.”
While the album’s music and lyrics often grate uncomfortably against each other, and it suffers from lack of a truly killer track, there are moments when it all comes together, such as on “Confined,” and “In And Out Of Sync,” with DIY funk synths and a rather gloomy pop atmosphere. It raises the listening experience of ‘Double Slit’ to that of being pleasant, rather than merely inoffensive.