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Direct Link To This Post Topic: Wha-Ha-Ha (Avant-rock from Japan)
    Posted: March 16 2008 at 20:30
WHA-HA-HA
 
PA bio:
Wha-Ha-Ha were an experimental/avant-garde Japanese group who recorded three very obscure records in the early 1980’s. Very little information exists regarding the history of the group, at least online, so this biography may contain a few inaccuracies and the like.

The original line-up (which remained relatively constant throughout their lifespan) was Shigetoku Kamiya, Shuichi Chino, Mishio Ogawa, Akira Sakata, Shuichi 'Ponta' Murakami, Takafumi Fuse and Kiyohiko Semba. Semba, an eccentric percussionist and composer, seems to be credited as the band’s guiding force. Western ears were first given a chance to sample the band’s delights in 1982 on a vinyl compilation put out by Chris Cutler’s ReR label, taking tracks from all three of the band’s original albums: Shinutokiwa Betsu, 1981, Geta Wo Haite Konacuha, also 1981 and Live Dub, 1982.

As for the actual sounds they produced, I’m sure it won’t surprise you to learn that they are rather hard to describe. Jazzy rhythms and squonking saxophone are meticulously blended with laid-back dub synths, manic, often wordless female vocals, free jazz piano breaks, and of course a good deal of percussive jiggery-pokery. The result is something delightfully different, refreshing and entertaining. Over twenty years after they were first recorded, the band’s work seems revolutionary and strikingly unique, even within the context of avant-prog and RIO.

In recent times, all three individual albums have been reissued by Absorb Japan and are available as imports which, though pricey, are highly recommended to all RIO/avant-prog fans looking for something a bit more creative than another Zappa or Univers Zero clone.

: : : David Beris Edwards (aka Trouserpress), United Kingdom : : :
 
 
 
 
 

Latest WHA-HA-HA Music Reviews


WHA-HA-HA%20Live%20Dub%20progressive%20rock%20album%20and%20reviews RIO/Avant-Prog
(Studio Album, 1982)
Avg: 4.00/5
from 1 ratings
WHA-HA-HA — Live Dub
Review by Bj-1 (Björnar Lunde)
Special Collaborator Zeuhl/RIO/Avant Team

— First review of this album —

4%20stars The third release from these unorthodox Japanese’s is actually a 23-minute live EP that captures their unpredictability and quirkiness of their first two albums perfectly and demonstrates their humoristic experimentation at its peak. Although being short in length the two tracks included here offers a great range of diversity in their typical peculiar style providing a result that is fascinating but never boring. This time, Wha-Ha-Ha focuses more on improvisation throughout that marks the music with a somewhat darker sound than before, but if you listen carefully you will also hear performances of a few tracks from their debut album, Shinutokiwa Betsu, added among the other melodies, but they still manage to mix them almost unnoticed together with the other musical ideas presented here. The tracks often build themselves up to a climax before starting on a new part but the music still remains unpredictable and absurd. This is probably Wha-Ha-Ha’s most avant-garde release, mostly because of the strong improvisational elements that includes weird saxophone honks, silly vocal experimentations and odd free jazz piano breaks, like near the outro on “Inakaki” from their debut.

For those who are wondering, the sound quality, while not quite up to pair with their two first albums, is very good so you can still hear all details going on here. I will not go further in detail how every section sounds musically in fear of spoiling this unique experience for new listeners other than saying that this will surprise you in a way you rarely will stumble over, and this album especially confirms that Wha-Ha-Ha is one of the looniest and unique bands to ever face the avant-garde progressive rock scene. Unfortunately, due to its really low distribution this one is only available as a high price import. An acquired taste, even among people that are interested in this band, but if you loved it’s two predecessors, “Live Dub” is definitely worth it. 4/5

Posted Tuesday, October 02, 2007, 13:48 EST
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WHA-HA-HA%20Shinutokiwa%20Betsu%20progressive%20rock%20album%20and%20reviews RIO/Avant-Prog
(Studio Album, 1981)
Avg: 4.52/5
from 5 ratings
WHA-HA-HA — Shinutokiwa Betsu
Review by Bj-1 (Björnar Lunde)
Special Collaborator Zeuhl/RIO/Avant Team

4%20stars Wha-Ha-Ha’s debut album is really a standout, even within the avant-garde genre.

Wha-ha-ha was a fairly unknown and highly experimental band heading from Japan in the early 80’s and released a few albums which sadly haven’t got the attention they really deserve at all. Even avant-garde enthusiasts like myself didn’t even heard of this band until they were added here in the archives, and Im really glad I discovered them considering their awesomely strange, wacky and plain weird music that really can make people wonder what really was the point with this? Well, I can answer with that albums like this weren't created to be understood, but to be confused of, but in a structured and well-made way. This is their debut album and I can safely say that this is some of the most absurd and less serious stuff I’ve heard in a while. It displays the dadaism of The Residents together with the wacky humor of Samla Mammas Manna in a surprisingly fresh-sounding and modern style, and the result is wonderfully meanlingless but very original and creative at the same time. It’s not music that is easy to appreaciate during the first spins and is most easily digestable if you already like some of the more weird avant-prog stuff out there, but it will definitely grow on you.

The music itself is incredibly diverse with several different influence sources and elements of Jazz, cartoon music and even New-Age are present but the music mostly remains as avant-garde though not really in the traditional way. As said, this is very unserious and cartoonish music (with a few surprising exceptions in “Kohmori” and “Tactics”) and it rather deals with putting different ideas together in the silliest possible way instead of leaning more into classical and jazz soundscapes, and it works extremely well too. The musicianship fairly good with Shuichi Chino’s keyboards being the biggest contribution to the album’s silly sounds such as burbling synth parts and electronic influenced dada sounds, together with the saxophone which adds a delightful RIO flavor to the music in spots. The vocalist, Mishio Ogawa, also contributes well with some really silly vocals, but she can also be serious and sing really beautifully when needed, “Kohmori” being the best example on this. The production is excellent and you can hear all instruments clearly and they’re accurately balanced as well, an extra plus for people who are a bit touchy in that area.

A crazed 40-minute journey overall and some of the most creative but bizarre stuff I’ve heard in ages together with bands like Fantômas, The Residents and Myrbein. I think this an excellent album and it's very interesting and exciting throughout, yet I can't recommend this one to anyone but the most open minded people around, or for those who are just plain nuts themselves. So not a perfect 5, but it really deserves a 4.5!

Highlights; "On The Floor", "My Happiness (is not yours)" and "Kohmori"!

Posted Thursday, August 23, 2007, 15:04 EST
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WHA-HA-HA%20Shinutokiwa%20Betsu%20progressive%20rock%20album%20and%20reviews RIO/Avant-Prog
(Studio Album, 1981)
Avg: 4.52/5
from 5 ratings
WHA-HA-HA — Shinutokiwa Betsu
Review by Trouserpress (David Beris Edwards)
Special Collaborator RIO/Avant/Zeuhl Specialist

5%20stars Tedious though track-by-track reviews often are, this is an album which thoroughly deserves one. What little information I have gleaned regarding this band is all included in their main page on the archives so I shan't cover that again. Let's talk about the music, shall we?

1. Inanaki

A gentle fade-in of repetative, new-wave style synths is the first thing we hear on this album. Normally, that sort of thing would have me worried, but such fears are allayed just six seconds in when they are interrupted by a deeply showy drum fill. A little more manic, sporadic drumming follows. Then, at fifteen seconds we hear some spoken Japanese vocals (the majority of vocals on this album are female, incidentally). Then, all hell breaks loose. A jerky, sax-laden, discordant monster of an RIO-riff takes over, still with the synth dubs burbling away in the background (they now make a lot more sense). Extra, discordant keyboard flourishes pepper the riff. A minute in, and the "proper" vocals start. Wordless, part-spoken, part-sung, part-giggled and shrieked, and all the while sounding terribly terribly Japanese. Barely a minute has gone by and already Wha-Ha-Ha have demonstrated themselves to be utterly unique in the big wide world of music. They're not done yet, though. Not by any means. The next part of the song is a jazzy melody that acts as a logical progression of the previous refrain, but at the same time sounds highly distinct and seperate from what has preceeded it. A plasticy plonking synth noise provides the bass for this section and it's just about the most delightful noise I've heard all year. Again, this soon gives way to a brief burst of pure free jazz - piano tumbling in all directions, sax squealing and squonking, wayward drums and the vocalist yelping away in a world of her own. Fantastic. This crumbles away into the original synth motif that the track started out with, with some additional, brief piano phrases and the vocalist sighing as if physically exhausted by all that's happened in the last three minutes. A last, impish giggle and some more rambling synths and the track fades back into the nothingness from which it came...

This group has just successfully managed to fit more musical ideas into one three minute song than Razorlight have in a four year career. Incredible.

2. Whaha Whaha

This almost-namesake track begins with some odd, cantering, bubbly synth noises that are suddenly interrupted by one of the jerkiest, most lumbering, off-putting rhythms I have ever heard. This is layered up with a chorus of voices (presumably the band) repeatedly shouting the title (which make up the majority of the song's lyrics) and some bizarre, high-pitched computer wooshes, blips and croaks. The track slowly develops by the introduction and rotation of various sounds, instruments and motifs, whilst mainting the afore-mentioned mind-bending rhythm at its core. Highly amusing, challenging and unique.

3. On The Floor

The longest track on the album. Having said that, it can be divided into two very distinct sections. Indeed, it does so itself by having a ruddy great gap between them. The first part begins with some cartoon-like keyboard sounds in an oom-pa rhythm spiced up with a bit of dub reggae in the drums and vocals. In comes a keyboard-driven melody that's both repetetive and hard to pin down (especially on first listen). Ambient chords begin to invade, and more free jazz piano. The piano momentarily takes over, only to be replaced by the rest of the track for a few seconds - a battle ensues. That's the only way I can describe it. A battle between the deeply repetetive and the entirely free. Nobody wins, the drums rattle and fade and there is a moment's silence.

A completely new keyboard riff starts up, accompanied by more childish, playful phonetic singing from the groups' vocalist. The melody she sings, though moronic, is infectious and is the crutch of the remainder of the song. Piano and keyboatd-driven melodies, sax solos, sound effects are interwoven with it, but whenever you think the song's finally shaken it off, back it comes for another round. And despite yourself, you're glad it's back. As for the ending of the song, what can I say other than BEST ENDING FOR A TRACK EVER? Nothing. It sounds as if the band have gotten bored finally and simply hit self-destruct. The track breaks up, reverses, re-mixes itself, is interrupted twice by momentary sine waves and eventually just stops altogether. If only for the ending, this is my favourite track on the album.

4. Tactics

And alas, it's followed by the weakest offering here (in my opinion). This track starts with a ticking clock and some fuzzy mouth organ, playing a lazy European cabaret-style jazz melody. The vocalist then takes up this tune and demonstrates that she CAN sing properly when she wants to. The tune is constantly subverted by odd little synth interruptions, and eventually some more discordant piano, but it still somehow feels less ambitious than what's come before it. Still, it's nice to see a slightly more restrained side to the group, if only to dispell any notions that they're merely crazy for the hell of it (not that there's anything at all wrong with that).

5. My Happiness (Is Not Yours)

This track is probably the silliest and most cartoony song on the album so far, full of cheesy keyboard sounds and ridiculous faux-operatic chorus parts. It's also one of the most fun, having an almost party-like feel to it at times. One starts to notice all the musical ingredients that makes up Wha-Ha-Ha's sound at this stage - the copious synths and keyboatds, unhibited piano (often at odds with the rest of the track), zany voice-as-instrument vocals and jazzy sax come together to form an absolutely unique blend of avant-prog.

6. Kohmori

This is another firm favourite of mine. Mostly more restrained than much of the album, but unlike Tactics, more natural and befitting of the band's sound. I think this is largely down to the strong traditional elements that are positively bursting out of the harmonies and melodies on this track. Triumphant, pompous classical themes are spun into contemporary contexts by means of electronic instruments and some of the most gorgeous sax playing I've ever heard. When the sax comes in, incidentally, I immediately conjure up images that wouldn't look out of place in one of the gentler Studio Ghibli films. Perhaps this is the anime fan in me making unnecessary connections because of the band's origins, but it really does evoke that kind of uniquely peaceful, mystical Japanese world. Even a healthy dose of that crazy piano can't take away from the sheer majesty and beauty of this track. By no means the kind of musical slapstick we had earlier on in this album, this song is pure, honest joy (with a zesty avant twist, nonetheless).

7. Rice and Soy

And back to Earth with a bump. Thudding synth rhythms coupled with repetetive Japanese lyrics which the band recite as if they'd been taught it at school, with all kinds of rehearsed, unnatural intonation. And really, that's about it. Another delightfully quirky, silly track, but don't let the whimsical overtones distract you from the fact that this is actually some very daring music. 'Cause it is.

8. Zoo

And if you thought that last one was silly, this one is positively ridiculous! A bloopy cartoon refrain slowly builds to a cacophony of silly vocals, twiddling sax, weird keyboard noises galore, and best of all - animal noises. Lots and lots of animal noises. Any emotional respectability the band may have earnt you in tracks like Tactics and Kohmori are completely unravelled again by this slice of glorious, absurd musical nonsense.

So, there it is. One of the most brilliantly inventive, unpredictable and criminally underlooked albums to emerge from Japan, or indeed any country in the last century. In my opinion,

Wha-Ha-Ha certainly won't be everyone's cup of tea, but they sure are mine. Now... if only I had the cash to buy the rest of their albums...

Posted Saturday, October 21, 2006, 20:12 EST
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 19 2008 at 18:17
Wha-Ha-Bump
 
 
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 19 2008 at 18:26
I've been mulling over how to reply to this thread. In other parts of the forum I disclosed that I'm not the biggest fan of the band, but I'm a minority in these thoughts. I've had  Shinutokiwa Betsu for some time now, played it intensely for the first week but have not found myself coming back for repeat listens. I'm going to go back and give it another spin today to get a refreshed opinion.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 21 2008 at 21:49
I was recently reading through age-old experimental and industrial lists culled from various music mags like The Wire and one of them mentioned "Wha-ha-ha's debut eponymous album" which gave me pause - can we just attribute this to journalistic error, or are we missing an entry in the band's discography?

Either way, I *love* this band and I've found that I can play "Shinutokiwa Betsu" to j-pop and/or indie fans as a modest mind-expansion service...


Edited by laplace - March 21 2008 at 21:50
FREEDOM OF SPEECH GO TO HELL
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 22 2008 at 21:34
Definitely one of my most favored bands heading from Japan, mostly because of their debut. Their other output is fine as well, although their debut is their most essential and cohesive album. Wha-Ha-Ha had a lot of side projects going on during their existence, most notably Kiyohiko Semba's Haniwa All Stars, that where in the same style, although im not familiar with any of them yet. WHH is an excellent and joyful band overall, in my opinion. Recommended to all fans of stuff like SMM and Residents!
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 21 2008 at 09:14
Oh, what the hell, let's bump this one as well - this deserves it


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Direct Link To This Post Posted: November 02 2008 at 18:35
Indeed. BUMP!
 
 
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