Recording information: Womb, Austin, TX.
Through most of their career, Half Japanese were a singularly polarizing band, with Jad Fair's stream-of-consciousness lyrics running side by side with music that was purposefully created without deference to conventional technical skill. In recent years, the group has shown an impressive commitment to less confrontational musicality on albums like 2014's Overjoyed and 2016's Perfect, but anyone who misses the chaotic and noisy side of Half Japanese should turn their attention to Shake, Cackle and Squall, created by brothers and Half Japanese co-founders Jad and David Fair. Here, David calls up a big wall of racket, constructed from plenty of guitar skronk and electronic doodling, while Jad wails hard about zombies, vampires, conniving women, the blues, his own music, and Edward D. Wood, Jr. David's use of percussion loops and occasional samples make Shake, Cackle and Squall sound noticeably more modern than Music to Strip By or The Band That Would Be King, but stylistically this is closer to HJ's most primal work than anything they've released in two decades. On these songs, Jad Fair strides back to his frantic pop culture obsessions as opposed to the optimistic pep talks of his work in the 2010s, as his brother roars out with sounds that are a far cry from the genial nostalgia of Six Dozen Cookies or I'll Be Moe. The jolly irony is David is no longer an official member of the Half Japanese lineup, but with Shake, Cackle and Squall, he and his brother have made a record that perfectly embodies the band's spirit, and they seem to be having a splendid time shouting out their lunatic energy for all the world to hear. Raw, inspiring, and suitable for annoying your neighbors, Shake, Cackle and Squall is an over the top testament to the Fair brothers' lifelong commitment to their free-spirited muse, and it's a gloriously wild and unpredictable ride. ~ Mark Deming