Fujiya & Miyagi are a funny band. The Brighton-based quartet, who have operated as a duo for most of their 11-year lifespan, toiled in near-total obscurity for the first half of those years, only to enjoy well-deserved recognition from taste-making music websites. Ventriloquizzing marks their first album since 2008's Lightbulbs.
But their music and background has always been of greater interest. Their name and aesthetics reference Japanese popular culture, Fujiya being a brand of record player, and Mr. Miyagi, of course, the venerable old master of the original Karate Kid film. However, their musical touchstones are found primarily in the German school of early 1970s 'Kosmische Musik', a term frequently and erroneously conflated with krautrock. F&M's low-slung Euro-funk bears superficial (David Best's hushed vocalising) and structural similarities to the experimental music made perpetually trendy by Faust and Can. Can is the most appropriate comparison for F&M, with Best's vocal tics and stylings owing a lot to Irmin Schmidt.
An appropriate comparison is also to the sleek dance-pop of artists like LCD Soundsystem and Hot Chip. F&M are less like their kooky English counterparts, and more like the stately James Murphy. Each composes according to encyclopaedic knowledge of popular and historic music, but the largest difference is in form. Murphy is a masterful composer, a one-trick thoroughbred at the build and release formula of dance music. Fujiya & Miyagi, curiously, and often frustratingly, are often content to allow their music to splash around, ending much as it began. It's an approach that works well with Best's peculiar vocal habits (he likes to repeat the same lyric, as though he's repeating a self-help mantra).
Sadly, F&M are a band that are in the process of diminishing returns. Ventriloquizzing is by no means a bad album – it is thematically and musically interesting – but it is one with a substantial gap between its weakest material and strongest. The beguiling hooks of songs like "Cat Got Your Tongue", "Taiwanese Boots", or album centrepiece "Minestrone" (which references a parable of the Caucasian devil) seem especially beefy next to thin paper cutouts such as "Spilt Milk" and "YoYo". It frustrates that such a capable and interesting band are so frequently satisfied with putting filler on an already-brief album. At its best, Ventriloquzzing is fascinating and enjoyable (as well as the ideal length for my commute). However, too many of its songs stop the album from gaining any sizable momentum (and the cover art is surely the worst we will see all year).
Review Score: 7/10