Shelflife Records presents "If It Shines, We Have It," the debut album from Norway's Kawaii. This duo synth their way through 13 smart pop songs. Merging charming male and female vocals over crisp electro-beats, toy keyboards, organs and jazzy guitars, Kawaii creates melodies that will keep you dancing. Their style is sweet and sensible, but below the surface lies an erie multi-layered edge -- haunting at times -- pulling influences from some well-known Crépuscule and Factory artists. You can say their music follows the Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark school of rock. Experimental, but always tied to a tried and true pop song structure. Kawaii's music is honest, liberating and satisfying.
The 'sounds of silverware' perfection of "If It Shines, We Have It" can be directly attributed to the influence of a tiny kitchen, in which this album was wholly recorded. Robert Pietrusko and Andrew Prinz (from Mahogany) were later recruited to add their own creative treatments to six of the thirteen mixes, so you can expect the production to be in top form. Artwork by Bügelfrei (Radio Khartoum) ties the package together.
Praise for Kawaii:
"The male/female duo of Kawaii hails from Norway (not Hawaii) and recorded all 13 songs of this debut album in their small kitchen. The sound feels close, tightly woven, and somehow it manages to feel comforting rather than stifling on this enjoyably danceable release.
As to be expected from Shelflife's always enjoyable offerings, Kawaii offers delightful indie pop. If it Shines, We Have It is light and airy, filled with assorted synths, organs, toy keyboards, mechanized beats, and light, jazzy guitars as well as both male and female vocals. It's a formula that's been done before, but the host of synth/organ sounds is so varied that these songs can be simultaneously poppy and ominous, light and rich, or moody and danceable. And there's enough experimentation on this release to force repeated listens.
The odd synth/lounge feel of the verses on the opening "Happy People, Scary Planet" goes into the upbeat, poppy chorus of "We don't need a light / We are happy people on a scary planet." The accents of these Norwegians are charming on the wonderful Belle & Sebastian-influenced "They Would Probably Talk, Sleep or Fuck." I'm won over every time they sing together, "They knew they were beautiful although not regarded very cool."
The guitars give a bit more rock to moments of "Even Lineup," and "Best Friends" is a nice, low-key pop song with the most sunny vocals ever. The song literally makes you feel like running through a field holding hands with a pretty girl and maybe skipping a little. "Cotton Elbows" is a nicely flowing little song with some nice mix of guitars and synths, and "I Wore a Smile" is so delightfully poppy, with great synth lines, that it makes me smile too. "The Concept of Being a Slightly Wounded Bear" is a great song title, and it's a great song, with a kind of cool intensity to the vocals and some nice organs. By contrast, "Friends Who Make You Lonely" is way spacey and odd, a bit disconcerting, and the beats on "Crowded Room" sound way to Comodore-64.
At times, Kawaii is a bit too experimental, with organ sounds that are kind of darkly loungy, but this is rarely for an entire song. Mostly, these are bouncy and light pop songs with a great and changing use of synths and some fun, upbeat rhythm. The vocals and airy feel of the album make the release so enjoyable. Highly recommended for the indie-pop fan." - Jeff Marsh (Delusions of Adequacy) "Mats Jorgensen and Hedda Fredly jigsawed these sounds together in their kitchen," it says in the liner notes to the Norwegian duo Kawaii's debut album. And it sounds like that's true, if their kitchen includes not just spoons and forks but xylophones, synthesizers and unidentified objects from outer space. Not to mention Tupperware containers filled with wonderful pop melodies. "We're happy people on a scary place," they sing on the first song "Happy People, Scary Planet." Their music reflects both the happiness of that first phrase (it's on the surface very upbeat and pop, reminiscent of both 80s new wave and Belle & Sebastian's most optimistic moments) and the complexity of the second. Their lyrics are both friendly and strange, touching and disarming (take great song titles like these as quick examples: "Friends Who Make You Lonely," "The Concept of Being a Slightly Wounded Bear,"They Would Probably Talk, Sleep or Fuck"). Kawaii's music radiates an anything-goes, kitchen-sink sort of creativity, as the music veers in and out of bossa nova, tropicalia and club-music terrain within the context of small, home-made tunes. Their songs also offer a rewarding sense of emotional depth underneath the pleasantly varied veneer. If It Shines, We Have It is both filled with simple pleasures and more complicated than it first appears: a lovely album." - Dave Heaton (Erasing Clouds) "Peculiarly named Kawaii raise eyebrows with their album If It Shines, We Have It. The band hails from Norway, and their lighthearted outlook is apparent from the start. The duo of Mats Jorgensen and Hedda Fredly provide the bulk of Kawaii's creative madness. Song titles like "Happy People, Scary Planet," "They Would Probably Talk, Sleep, or Fuck," and "The Concept of Being a Slightly Wounded Bear" hint at the band's outside-of-the-box thinking. The title track quickly entrances listeners with the band's mellow indie pop tendencies. The pair's back-and-forth vocals on "Even Lineup" are engaging, and the instrumental tempo reaches a new peak on this track as well. The simplicity of the homemade songs adds up to an increasingly warm, sentimental, and homey feel. The keyboards on "Paper Sun" rile up the pace, while the next track, "Best Friends," quickly subdues it. "Cotton Elbows" and "I Wore a Smile" entrance already entranced listeners with a steady pace of blips and bleeps. The simplicity of the album's songs result into a surprisingly compelling creation of less-is-more twee pop. "Hard to Get Sleep" concludes the 13-track disc with a soft duet. Robert Pietrusko and Andrew Printz added instrumentation to half the tracks on If It Shines, We Have It, which was released by Shelflife Records in 2004" - Stephen Cramer (All Music) "Don't let Kawaii's perky, shiny exterior fool you; this Norwegian duo have all the tools they need to create the most saccharine pop imaginable -- toy keyboards, charmingly restrained male and female vocals, organs and retro drum machines -- but they use these ingredients to create an eerily unsettling album. Recorded in its entirety in Mats Jorgensen and Hedda Fredly's kitchen, If It Shines, We Have It is cold and smooth like a stainless steel countertop with all the flash of fluorescence off a steak knife. Kawaii refers to their work as "the sounds of silverware", which is a disarmingly cute thing to say, especially when a third of all silverware place settings are blades.
Take, for instance, the keyboard work that closes "Friends Who Make You Lonely". On its own, it sounds like something from Pole Position or Frogger -- 8-bit and unthreatening. Tacked onto the end of this nervous and ethereal tune, with all of its bizarre wind chime noise and ghost-like vocals, those peppy video game noises sound like the coming of the apocalypse. Kawaii approach this chaos at several points, but always retract to their synth-pop roots before sending us over the edge. Like in "Friends Who Make You Lonely", they play the ironic juxtaposition to a T -- usually in the same song, and sometimes in the same phrase. "Even Lineup" showcases one of the album's poppiest vocal melodies over what sounds like the preset samba beat from an entry-level synthesizer. It's danceable and catchy, but like the rest of the album, a sadness creeps in through Jorgensen and Fredly's voices, collecting in your bloodstream like lead, and before you know it, you feel heavy and troubled.
If It Shines, We Have It does a fine job of giving equal weight to the group's attractive side and their haunting side. A good chunk of the album's middle section hits an experimental stride: "Cotton Elbows" turns a church organ into a spacy episode of drug-induced trance, while "The Concept of Being A Slightly Wounded Bear" features Kawaii's only true musical breakdown (they usually don't stray this far from the verse/chorus structure). These episodes are kept in check by moments of absolute pop bliss. When "Crowded Muffin" kicks into a Postal Service-inspired psycho dance beat, you'll be hard-pressed not to shake to its rhythm, and "They Would Probably Talk, Sleep or Fuck"'s infectious fun won't be matched by another band, Scandinavian or otherwise, any time soon. Just be careful. Shiny things are attractive, but often have sharp edges." - Philip Stone (Splendid) "Equally at home on shelves containing Ladytron and Belle & Sebastian records, Kawaii make lo-fi electro-pop with a shiny veneer for the IKEA generation. Like Neulander, their base sound is unfussy, hiding the trickery away for later discovery, such as the Norman Collier cut in/out tucked away at the rear of 'I Wore A Smile'. Much good stuff present, like the flicky leap-frog synths of 'Happy People, Scary Planet', the jabbing keys and Stereolab-going-cutesy-poo effort of 'They Would Probably Talk, Sleep Or Fuck' or the excitable but feathery BPM of 'Friends Who Make You Lonely' which races it's own relaxed vocals like tortoise and hair. Wrong speed, right speed, ra ra ra." - Skif (Vanity Project) "Usually, if a small label comes back after a long break, it concentrates only on releasing records it feels obliged to, like forth or fifth albums by its better known artists. However, when Shelflife returned earlier this year, after having been quiet for about twelve months, it started releasing a series of debut-albums by new and promising bands. So after the nice album of Postal Blue and the stunning one by Language Of Flowers and while we're already looking forward to The Consultants' debut album for 2005, there's now If It Shines We Have It, the first release of Kawaii, of Trondheim, Norway.
Kawaii's sound is a nice mixture of homemade electro and fresh pop (I forbade myself to day that they sound bright in an un-Norwegian manner). Apparently the whole record was recorded in the kitchen, well at least it has this negligence of playing a few songs between dinner and dessert or after a Sunday morning brunch. Okay, to be a bit more concrete, it reminds me of quiet electro-pop bands as Pipas (including boy-girl-vocals) or Churchbuilder and I can say I really like the album." - Martijn (Think Small) "Kawaii from Norway is a band to keep an eye on if you're into synth-pop. Mostly they're soft and sweet, melding quiet female and male vocals alongside electro-beats, catchy synths, organs and jazzy guitars that will appeal to the typical synth-pop fans but quite possibly also the those into nerdy indie-pop as well... and pop fans in general. This'll either make you dance or make you sad. Depends on who you are, really." - Hans Jákup Eidisgard (Past And Present) Shelflife är ett skivbolag som ligger mig närra om hjärrtat med fantastiska akter som The Autocollants och The Fairways. En del skandinaviska band, som svenska Free Loan Investments, ryms också under etikettens vingar och nu har turen kommit till norska duon Kawaii att få slärppa sitt debutalbum. Bandnamnet ärr ett japanskt ord som ungefärr betyder gullig eller söt. Termen anvärnds också för en ungdomskultur och fenomen som Hello Kitty. Twee tärnker nog många nu, men det ärr inte riktigt vad det handlar om detta fall, ärven om norska Kawaii ibland snuddar därrvid.
På omslaget har diverse köksredskap radats upp och det har sin anledning. I konvolutet kan man lärsa att Mats Jørgensen och Hedda Fredly ›pusslat ihop dessa ljud tillsammans i deras kök‹. Och det ärr ett fint 1000-bitars pussel de lagt på köksbordet. Det synth- och keyboardbaserade ljudbygget ärr detaljerat och noga arrangerat och melodierna fint komponerade. Jazzpopiga gitarrer och dansanta basgångar anvärnds också flitigt. Mats och Heddas röster kompletterar varandra på ett bra särtt och de delar upp sånginstatserna skickligt med duetter och stärmsång om vartannat.
Likheter kan ibland ses med Pipas, som på samma särtt anvärnder en manlig och kvinnlig röst, mjuka trummaskiner och samma melodikärnsla. Den norska duon har dock ett eget uttryck som bottnar i stor musikalitet och idérikedom. Vissa låtar sticker ut mer ärn andra, till exempel inledande ›Happy People, Scary Planet‹, vars Ladytron-liknande refrärng ärr helt lysande. ›Friends Who Make You Lonely‹ driver upp tempot till max och sångpartierna sveper omkring som höstvindar ur högtalarna. Låtens Nintendospels-avslutningen ärr finurligt ditlagd. ›Cotton Elbows‹ melankoliska orglar, xylofoner och melodiska sensitivitet berör mig omedelbart. ›They Would Probably Talk, Sleep Or Fuck‹ ärr också en favorit, som verkligen visar upp duons genomtärnkta upplärgg för sången. Man kan ärven närmna Postal Service och Figurine som järmförelser och Kawaii verkar dela Jimmy Tamborellos uppfattningar om hur man skapar bra musik med mestadels elektroniska hjärlpmedel.
Några enstaka av skivans 13 spår kan kärnnas lite blekare, men det kompenseras av helheten som lärmnar ett bestående avtryck. Avslutande ›Hard To Get Sleep‹ drar sig fram i lugnt tempo, med en synthton som envist upprepas högst upp i ljudbilden genom skiftande harmonier. Närr den sedan ensam tonas ut i skivans sista sekunder kommer jag på att Kawaii ärr mina nya norska favoriter. ›If It Shines, We Have It‹ kommer i alla fall att göra mig särllskap många stunder denna höst. - Markus Bergström-Björn (Le Manchester)
If It Shines, We Have It
Catalogue number: LIFE054
Artwork by: Bügelfrei
1. Happy People, Scary Planet (mp3)
2. If It Shines, We Have It (mp3)
3. They Would Probalbly Talk, Sleep Or Fuck
4. Even Lineup
5. Friends Who Make You Lonely (mp3)
6. Paper Sun
7. Best Friends
8. The Concept Of Being A Slightly Wounded Bear
9. Sun Substitute
10. Cotton Elbows
11. I Wore A Smile
12. Crowded Room
13. Hard To Get Sleep
ON THE WEB:
www.myspace.com/kawaii PRESS DOWNLOADS:
Cover art hi-res