ALBUM REVIEW: Anamanaguchi – [USA]


ALBUM REVIEW: Anamanaguchi - [USA]

The much-delayed third album from New Yorkers Anamanaguchi can be viewed as a direct reaction to what’s come before. You don’t take six years to put out a record without some soul-searching along the way, but there’s a sense running through the entire record that the quartet are able to define themselves more clearly now than they were last time out. That’s no mean feat, either: ‘last time out’ was a sprawling, 76-minute, 22-track beast of an album called Endless Fantasy, their second official LP following 2009’s Dawn Metropolis. If it ever felt like too much, the clue was in the name.

The band – guitarists Peter Berkman and Ary Warnaar, bassist James DeVito and drummer Luke Silas – rode a wave of anticipation generated in the wake of their Scott Pilgrim vs. the World game soundtrack and delivered a work of kaleidoscopic sonic maximalism that was as energising for themselves as it was for their fanbase. They decided to power through the creation of its follow-up and originally intended to release it in 2015, but the delay makes sense – the extra time taken putting it together has enabled the band to develop into the best version of themselves.

The hyperactive electronic power-pop that they’ve become known for is present and accounted for on their third album, but there’s an unshakeable sense of reflective realism threaded throughout the record, something that lends introductory singles ‘Lorem Ipsum (Arctic Anthem)’ and ‘Air On Line’ an air of melancholy. The album’s title was chosen way back in 2014, and it’s every bit as wildly ambitious as its predecessor, but for different reasons. Imbued with a willingness to experiment, the band have made an album that wrestles with questions of identity and personal growth in a multitude of voices, both synthetic and human, as their sound is pushed and pulled in many different directions, sometimes simultaneously.

‘The CRT Woods’ powers up into a blissed-out, shoegaze-y squall, its cinematic sweep and constantly shifting dynamics giving it a sense of dramatic urgency as Silas pounds away on his kit like his life depends on it. Caroline Lufkin’s wispy vocals float atop ‘Sunset By Plane’, one of the songs here on which the band lean into pure pop songwriting more heavily than ever before – a high-flying, energetic blast that’s nonetheless rooted in bittersweet emotion, ruminating on the passage of time and the question we all ask ourselves when reminiscing: what if?

Indeed, the album itself seems to be intended as a long-exposure photo; the years spent creating, and all that’s happened in between – that time cannot be reclaimed. Knowing that those moments have passed can be painful, but how one deals with that – knowing one can never go back to how things once were, but trying to carve out one’s place in the world in spite of that – ties into another of the record’s themes; namely, expression. Sometimes, we struggle with it; the HANA-featuring ‘On My Own’ is a break-up song given an existential twist; the isolation hinted at by its title is countered by a desire for self-acceptance. “It’s up to you to feel the way you do”, fellow New Yorker meesh advises on ‘Up to You’, a disarmingly sweet song that puts forth a crucial part of the message behind [USA] and the mixed emotions contained within. “We’ve been trying too hard / We want another life / But there is nothing that we can do.”

Up to a point, their previous works dealt in escapism, but [USA] is the sound of a band reckoning with the present and striving to find their place in it, with results that’ll make you smile, cry and punch the air in glee, sometimes in succession. ‘Overwriting Incorporate’ and ‘We Die’ are two sides of the same coin that, in their distinct ways, show that Anamanaguchi have become masters of delivering that emotional punch, The former is a towering rave-up that quickens the pulse and leads perfectly into the Hatsune Miku-assisted rush of ‘B S X’, a song that could generate enough energy to power a medium-sized town (think ‘Meow’ on steroids). The latter, meanwhile, serves as the album’s misty-eyed valedictory send-off, a song the scope of which they haven’t attempted before and no doubt benefitted from the extra care given to the record.

‘[L O M]’ flips the ghostly, ambient coda of ‘Lorem Ipsum (Arctic Anthem)’ on its head for a cautiously optimistic finale, bringing the curtain down on what is a staggeringly ambitious record, even by Anamanaguchi’s standards. Somehow, despite being a full 25 minutes shorter than its predecessor, it accomplishes just as much – maybe more. This is a move away from the chiptune-inspired sounds of earlier work into something that makes sure not to leave their past behind while framing it in a whole new context; what’s done is done, and no matter how much one would like to change that, the only real option is to face forward into what is to come. That fantasy wasn’t endless after all, but in choosing to ground themselves in the real world with [USA], they’re finally ready to step into the spotlight, fully and completely themselves.



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Gareth O'Malley 32 Articles
Gareth a writer from the west of Ireland. He got his start in music journalism in 2009 and hasn't looked back since. Music is one of Gareth's main passions in life. Gareth's main contribution to XS NOIZE is album reviews, and will also write the odd live review or feature piece here and there. Fav Bands: The National, Anathema, Frightened Rabbit Fav Album: The National - Boxer

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