Jad Fair and Jason Willett
Superfine is cult pop legend (and Half Japanese guiding light) Jad Fair and erstwhile half-Japanese bandmate/multi-instumentalist Jason Willett giving you the bargain of a lifetime. Twenty tracks, plus 135 bonus MP3 songs, all crammed onto a disc housed in the distinctive Fair paper cut-out with marker-drawing art. It’s also some of the weirdest shit I’ve heard out of Fair in years; to my ears, Superfine is a experimental high-watermark that sits proudly alongside the first Half Japanese platter, Half Gentlemen, Not Beasts, and Fair’s classic collaboration album with Daniel Johnson, It’s Spooky.
Historical context aside, it sounds like Jad is stretching himself and his aesthetic here, challenging himself in oddball roles, and by virtue of that, having a fucking ball. Take for instance “Movies,” where Jad enthuses about movies (in an hyperactive bubbly manner worthy of Entertainment Tonight) and warns about chewing gum and eating popcorn at the same time through a strange vocoder, while a carnival music/free jazz hybrid blares away unconcernedly. Given my own fondness for the squared circle, “Lisa The Wrestler” is a favorite just by dint of using the ring bell as percussion for the song, among grunts, groan and downright white noise. “Apple Apple Peach” reminds me of a more ramshackle, spontaneous and less posey Primal Scream, circa Swastika Eyes, which is funny since Jad already covered a Scream song years ago. A fuzzed out groove dominates the song, with Jad’s vocals all disembodied and almost strident for once (I swear to god). “You And I” is disorienting, floating in a dark red cloud, with only Fair moaning and screeching in your ear, neither male nor female, to keep you company. Boy’s got some swagger and sex appeal in him this time around. “Superfine” is almost free jazz in its worship of the almighty random inspiration. Is that little child’s voice at the end, Fair?
“Big Star” is fucking awesome pseudo garage, and it sounds a lot like the Cramps, Beat Happening and even The Smiths’ “How Soon Is Now?” — and Fair laments not having a chance at romance, just like Chilton and Bell at their best, all while commanding “pickitup pickitup” like an old style ska boy. “Give It A Go” surprises too, with at one point Fair sneering “flower power” over a dirty beat that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Death In Vegas record. “Summer Sun” features a thrilling Fair vocal performance, truly touched by madness twisting nursery rhymes and free associating with a voice just spitting contempt and brattiness, he even busts out an evil Joker laugh at the very beginning — maybe he’s been driven mad by the unrelenting heat of the sun; the windchimes and bleeps/blips don’t make things any more lucid.
“Hooray For Life” is a collaged nightmare of cutup music and Fair’s strangulated gasps and nervous tics; there’s even the slightest hint of Aphex Twin. This is some seriously dark shit here. Quite a bit more sonically sophisticated than his usual choice of backing theme, it’s only comparable in terms of confidence to his gig with Teenage Fanclub a couple of years back where he jumped up and down and pumped his fists in the air like a rock star; but then, this is nothing like that. “Diamonds and Rubies” is more typical Fair sideways pop, a bit garage-y and like Naked City at the same time towards the end — secret agent man skronk, it’s fucking ace. “Diamonds and Gold,” the sister song, has the beautiful elegiac backing tracks, like Opal or Spacemen 3 or early Mazzy Star, it’s bleary and totally beautiful. Fair coos and gurgles contentedly along like a little baby, which is the only sane response to music like this. “Punk Rock 1996 Pt. 6” sees Fair and Willet showing the snotty wallet-chained kidz how it’s done, channeling Napalm Death and Boredoms, to truly evoke the wide-eyed musical joy and freedom that punk was really supposed to be about. “Punk Rock 1996 Pt. 7” continues the lesson with a more shambling Pil, Banshees influenced roarfest — “Punk rock freakin’ 19 freakin’ 9 freakin’ 6,” indeed. “I Dream Of You” has a tiki lounge feel, albeit on Mars, but then Fair channels Andy Kaufman and Diamanda Galas when it comes time to lay down his part. “Superfine pt. 2” is almost too close to Syd Barret for comfort, over a shuffling beat and beautiful but erratic piano work. It features the most accomplished backing on a Fair song in years, and this is when he chooses to mumble along like a zonked-out Vegetable Man, except for the tag line, of course. Shine on you crazy diamond.