The reviews are probably jarring stuck together like that, but I don’t care because I didn’t read them. -Ian!
Shonen Knife’s first album, 1983’s Burning Farm, has all the things the band became (slightly) famous for, well, the things that endeared them to indie rockers, anyway, like cuteness and catchy tunes. While they can barely play their instruments and the vocals are amateurish at best, they play and sing with an unbridled joy that gives the record all kinds of charm. They sound like schoolgirls playing early Beatles songs filtered through the Ramones, Blondieand the Rezillos. Only with no pesky technical proficiency to get in the way. The lyrical concerns are truly their own, too, with songs about parrots, elephants, Barbie and cleaning products sung mostly in Japanese. It would be easy to go too far and call them the Japanese Shags and wink at their cuteness, but if you forget the image and just listen to the music, they are so much more interesting than that. Very influential also to bands like Redd Kross and Nirvana, as well as the whole American indie pop scene of the late ’80s and early ’90s. Many of these songs (“Twist Barbie,” “Tortoise Brand Pot Cleaner’s Theme,” “Burning Farm,” and “Watchin’ Girl”) were re-done for 1993’s Let’s Knife in inferior, cleaned up versions. If you have that album you need to check this one out to hear the Knife in their early, more exciting stage. If you have no Shonen Knife and are looking for a place to start, picking up this record and the slightly superior second album, Yama-no Attchan, would be a good idea.
The year between the recording of their first record, 1983’s Burning Farm, and their second, 1984’s Yama-no Attchan, allowed Shonen Knife to improve their musicianship a touch. Not enough to mess up their innocent charm, but enough to make this record an improvement over their already quite good debut. The songs are just a bit stronger too. “Cycling Is Fun” bounces along on a near-Motown beat the likes of which they couldn’t have done a year earlier, “Chinese Song” betrays the influence of dub punk like the Slits and the Raincoats, “Flying Jelly Attack” sports a killer bubblegum chorus and some tight riffing, and “Dali’s Sunflower” betrays some heavy metal influence thanks to heavy power chords and guest guitarist Yasushi Utsunomiya’s guitar mangling. The lyrical topics are just as wacky, though, covering insect collecting, leaves, cycling and cannibal plants. All in all, a stronger record than Burning Farm; more joyous, more memorable and more fun. Together they play like the blueprint for much of the American indie pop of the ’80s and ’90s.
Anyone doubting the authenticity of Shonen Knife as legit alternative rockers should direct their attentions to this title, which couples their Pretty Little Baka Guy (1986) LP with another eight tracks documented “Live In Osaka Japan” from a pair of respective sets in 1990 and 1982, the latter recorded when Michie Nakatani (vocals/bass), Naoko Yamano (vocals/guitar), and Atsuko Yamano (drums) were still in their teens. The ten studio sides perfectly demonstrate the band’s quirky, if not terminally catchy approach to crafting pop melodies. Their grunge-inspired instrumentation and D.I.Y. execution give the material a rough and edgy quality. Lyrically, the Knife are all over the place, ranging from the ecological concerns of “Bear Up Bison” (aka “Making Plans for Bison”), to the confessions of a sweet-tooth on “I Wanna Eat Choco Bars,” and the fun little romp on “Ice Cream City.” The angular and trippy “Public Bath” extols the virtues of the decidedly Eastern tradition of public bathing facilities in a manner that only they can pull off. “Antonio Baka Guy,” “Kappa Ex,” and the previously mentioned “Ice Cream City” are repeated in the five-song performance dated January 21st, 1990. By contrast, the three tunes from April 1982 are rougher and arguably more stinging than their counterparts — especially the lead guitar crunch of “I’m a Realist.” Audible tape noise indicated that these probably originated on cassette, however what they lack in fidelity is more than compensated for in sheer inspiration. Again, this is a recommended find for any and all perspective parties and has been reissued on CD several times since initially surfacing in 1991 on the indie Rockville Records label.
-Tim Sendra, Lindsay Planer, allmusic.com