Another year, another Shonen Knife album. The press notes say this is number 19. As such, we probably take them for granted, or only talk about them in the context of Western patronage (“We saw Shonen Knife and they were so cool, I turned into a nine-year old girl at a Beatles concert.” – Kurt Cobain) But think about it: 19 albums (plus a compilation) since 1981 and a singularity of vision that sits them quite comfortably alongside The Fall or Motorhead, say. If nothing else, we should speak of them in the same breath as genre totems Beat Happening or The Pastels, if only we could get past the whole, oh, Japanese women thing. Adventure (Damnably Records) supplies groovy garage rock (‘Rock ‘n’ Roll T-Shirt’), jaunty beat pop (‘Dog Fight’, “Bow wow wow, a yelling dog”) and songs about food (‘Wasabi’, ‘Calabash’), largely as they’ve been doing since the year dot – and it’s no less grin-inducing or fun as it ever was. One day they’ll get their dues, but until then, don’t ever change, Shonen Knife. Don’t ever change.
Seattle’s Tacocat would be obvious heirs to Shonen Knife’s crown: pop culture references (‘Dana Katherine Scully’, ‘The Internet’) abound and they have a knack for bubblegum that will blow away all but the most resilient cobwebs. But Lost Time (Hardly Art) has smarts at play too, with ‘Plan A Plan B’ tackling the thorny issue of access to contraception and the exasperated ‘Men Explain Things To Me’ (“I already know where this is going to go”) offering some protein to go with the sugar. They say they “hate the weekend” but three albums in and Tacocat are still some of the best fun you can have in under two minutes.
You may think you’ve had your fill of guitar and drum duos – and who could blame you? A much abused concept, Skating Polly (step-sisters Kelli Mayo and Peyton Bighorse) manage to squeeze a few more miles from the tank, especially when they put aside the grungier numbers for the nagging, layered melodics of ‘Pretective Boy’ or piano-led ‘Cosmetic Skull’ that could well catch the ear of those exploring their parents’ Breeders or Tori Amos CDs for the first time. The grungy bits – ‘Perfume For Now’, ‘For The View’ – are no slouches mind (touring with Babes In Toyland clearly had an impact) and make The Big Fit (Chap Stereo) a significant achievement given the duo are still in their teens (Mayo is just 15). Sure, a certain scrappiness is some of the charm but SP are no novelty act; Smells like teen spirit? In spades.