Stereopony – Over the Border - 3.5/5
All-female groups are starting to become less of an oddity and arrive with more regular frequency these days, particularly from Japan, often seeming to fill some sort of gender reversal of the typical boy band from the west but occasionally actually involving them playing their own instruments. Gallhammer, Mind of Asian, Shonen Knife; what do they all have in common? They're all terrible musicians, stuck playing the most basic beats and riffs (this is to say nothing about the music itself other than to remark on the technical proficiency of these three-piece outfits), so when I stumbled upon another all-female three-piece pop/rock outfit, I figured I knew exactly what I was getting, glossing over them and forgetting them in the plethora of other music I was getting around to, and it wasn't until I accidentally re-stumbled upon them watching “Darker than Black” that my ears pricked up, and I discovered that the addictive opening tune was from a band I'd had lying around for months and never given the attention they deserved.
Sometimes I really do need a kick to pay attention as this often feels like the exception that proves the rule. No there aren't face-melting shredding guitar solo's, but the never music never calls for anything of the like. At the end of the day the music is still pop/rock and as such the focus remains on the ability to be catchy, providing melodies that swoon in your mind and remain there for the tracks duration, but the ability to actually compose such tracks and not sound mind-numbingly repetitive is one often reserved for the upper echelons of musicians, demonstrating themselves capable of playing their instruments whilst never forgetting where the simplistic focus should lie. The drums may maintain the beat but they manage to ease transitions into the various passages of each track with a startling ease, content to throw in a drum roll to break up what could otherwise be a bland performance, and quite frankly this is the least impressive of it all.
The bass lines drive much of the tracks rhythm, never merely following the guitars but complementing them with their own distinct lines that often aren't as simple as you might expect, harmonising with the guitar chords used to accentuate key notes – something of a traditional role reversal that works surprisingly well – and often let ring out to flesh out the tone and supply the boisterous atmosphere. And the critical element on top of all the instrumentation as ever for this genre is the vocals, often sticking to a particular range but more than compensating by transitioning between delicate flowing lines and a more upbeat rapped style (and often places in between), adding a cute and boisterous 'bounciness' to the proceedings regardless of her chosen style. It often feels almost 'garage rock' in its execution; never quite as raw but retaining a sense that there are no studio frills sugar coating their abilities, that what you hear is what you get and a live performance would be no different. If it didn't begin to tail off towards the end of this release, it would be all the more impressive, but as it stands it's still pretty good for a quick fix of simple catchiness.
Highlights: Smilife (Track 3), Never Look Back (Track 5), Hanbunko (Track 9)