In North America, Guitar Vader is best known for the soundtrack to the game Jet Set Radio (or Jet Grind Radio, depending on where you live). In the game, you play as a rollerblading gang of vandals whose goal is to tag everywhere you can reach in Tokyo while avoiding an ever-escalating police presence.
Its colourful, cel-shaded graphics fit perfectly with the two Guitar Vader tunes that made it onto the soundtrack, Magical Girl and Super Brother. They come from Guitar Vader’s first album <em>Die Happy!</em>, a fairly lo-fi effort that nonetheless still managed to showcase the writing style of primary songwriters Miki Tanabe and Ujuan Shozo, influenced by western rock bands like The Pixies and The Beatles.
When I first heard Super Brother and Magical Girl, I immediately fell in love with this band. And all the while, I sat there questioning why it was that I liked them so much. After all, my primary listening habits at the time consisted of death metal, grindcore, deathgrind, black metal, blackened death metal, deathened black metal, grindened black death metal, and of course, Weird Al Yankovic. Why was I so drawn to this happy, poppy, upbeat band who didn’t even sing in English?
Nevertheless, I did some more research and discovered that the band in fact had five albums, plus a few rarities collections and remixes. So I plunged into their discography and bit into every album they had.
While all were good, though, none of them grabbed me quite like From Dusk.
The band’s third album, Shozo and Tanabe had a chance to hone their songwriting chops after recording Die Happy and its follow up, Wild At Honey. While they had more of a punk edge, From Dusk’s tunes are more polished. The album varies widely in tempo, mood and even genre, often switching any of the above mid-song. This gives it a nice mix of aggressive and relaxed moments, as well as male and female vocals, from Shozo and Tanabe respectively.
As for the lyrics, I have no idea. Most of them are in Japanese, and the occasional lyric that sounds English doesn’t make much sense. For example, in the track Gvtv, I could swear they’re saying “nothing motherfucker.”
The song titles aren’t much better, ranging from abstract things like “Baby T” to seeming nonsense like “Heavy Metal Collector” or “Cutting! Evil Smile.” None of this distracts from the actual quality of the songwriting though. Guitar Vader’s tunes are catchier than , and will have you singing along even if you have no idea where one word ends and another begins.
The dual-vocal approach is used very tastefully, and the drums always fall in with the song’s beat perfectly, never too flashy or too simplistic. It’s impressive how complex the band can write their material while still keeping it incredibly simple.
Sadly, the only copies of this album available are either lo-fi MP3s with a tinny sound, or a few used copies in a Japanese record store somewhere, but if you can manage to track it down, it’s well worth the effort.