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New Merpeoples: “Ikenai Rouge Magic”

None of this computes whatsoever. Young Tokyo Band who released a good albeit far from overwhelming mini-album in 2010 returns the following year by covering a wretch-worthy J-Rock song from the 80s. They handle said slab of cheese pretty carefully, delivering a version of this two-decades-old tune that simultaneously hovers closely to the source material AND ends up something entirely different (I swear this makes sense). Along the way, the Young Tokyo Band manages to turn some other old group’s single into a summary of their sonic calling card by flipping said style on its head a bit. Doesn’t make sense, right, even after I urged you it did two sentences ago? Nothing about Merpeoples covering “Ikenai Rouge Magic” should, yet it sounds so so good.

Imawano Kyosiro and Ryuuichi Sakamoto’s “Ikenai Rouge Magic” came out in 1982, and stands as a weird intersection between synth-heavy New Wave and banal J-Rock. This version, presumably the proper single version given the video, gives us two dudes pushing the boundaries of “creative singing” showing us what David Bowie would be like if he hated the world with a passion. Call me a cynical child of the 90s who laughed when his dad bought A Flock Of Seagulls best-of CD, but this song blows. Yet lets focus attention on this live video of “Rouge Magic.”


Kyosiro and Sakamoto mangle their already lame song. The singing runs Mott The Hoople through a meat grinder, the guitar solo seems even more pointless and they add an air of lounge-ness to the whole affair with bongos. It’s extra bad, and it also seems to be the version of “Rouge Magic” Merpeoples set out to recreate on their take. Let me get the most glaring difference between the two versions out of the way – the vocals on Merpeoples’ “Rouge Magic” slay the original, and would have elevated it past the ’82 take alone. Yet what makes this great is also kinda what makes the concert clip above weak – a relatively relaxed vibe anchored by bongos one wouldn’t expect from a usually noisier outfit like Merpeoples.


Thing is, this doesn’t sound like a huge departure for them. Merpeoples aren’t really about noise as much as they are all about repetition. On last year’s self-titled debut, the quartet’s best moments (“Picasso” and “Shaman,” which I have incorrectly written as “Sherman” for like a year now I’M SORRY) locked into guitar-driven grooves and rode them out for the remaining time. This also proved to be that mini-album’s biggest weakness, the group sticking too closely to familiar noises. “Rouge Magic” boasts familiar Pong-like back and forth, yet now the guitar gets toned down and its bubbly synth and bongos. Like Nu Clear Classmate earlier this year, Merpeoples invert their sound to something more minimalistic, a nice change that makes their lockstep playing fresh while also reminding the listener why this group grabbed attention in the first place.

Heck, lets cut through all the wordy dribble above and just say – this is the absolute giddiest thing Merpeoples have recorded yet, and paired with a celebratory video also sorta ushers in a really exciting scene coming of age in Tokyo right now. The clip culminates in a toast between Merpeoples, twee-crunkers Love And Hates and some guy with a bongo (who…might be remix-dude THE PEGASUSS?), and the credits also throw love out to folks including Twee Grrrls Club, Miila and the Geeks, and the Violet And Claire store they call a homebase (plus, Miila and HNC appear on Merpeoples’ forthcoming album). It’s a party, and a really satisfying one at that.

(Thanks to SparkPlugged for posting this first)