The Friendly Ghost of Alias Pail

It is hardly a coincidence that so many successful indie-group groups feature a few guys and a Japanese gal, with the latter usually providing some sort of vocal role. From old favorites like Blonde Redhead and Deerhoof to recently acclaimed acts like Asobi Seksu, I believe the appeal mainly lies in both the feminine tone and cohesive structure of the language when sung aloud. Foreign audiences tend to enjoy both the exoticness and unpredictability of the tone, considering any backing instrumental styles to be an additional factor of enjoyment. Without stereotyping, the Japanese voice that typical western audiences have been most exposed to is one of a gentle, slightly high-pitched nature. When supplemented by an aggressive rush of guitars or energetic bass line, the stark contrast makes for a uniquely enjoyable experience, most evidenced by the excellent work from Blonde Redhead and Deerhoof. And even when the vocals are backed by a similarly serene setting (think of Asobi Seksu’s lush shoegaze structures), the fusion works just as well. That being said though, finding a female vocalist who can speak Japanese does not guarantee success. After all, the implemented ingenuity and enjoyment can often be traced back to one thing: the actual songwriting.

Following in the footsteps of successful bands that incorporated such a proven technique, the internationally bounded Alias Pail consists of Hektor Fontanez, Bryan Doring, and Hisako Konami. If one were attempting to define a “group effort”, this trio would provide for a pretty fantastic example. All three are proficient multi-instrumentalists within their craft of guitars, keyboards, drums, and samplers. In addition, they are all vocal participants, lending their voices to the experimental vein of pop music that should delight fans of groups like Animal Collective. Konami is a constant presence with her soft cooing, often in backing form, and both Doring and Fontanez deliver an enjoyably comparable delivery. In one of the most unique aspects of Alias Pail, all three members appear quite proficient in Japanese and several of their tracks released thus far has been exclusively sung in the language. For those without a hint of bilingualism in their system, there is no reason to fear though. While the descriptive imagery provided (in English) within the lyrical content of the excellent “Sun and Rain” supplements the summery feel of the track’s instrumental backing very appropriately, all one needs to enjoy the craft of Alias Pail is an ability to retain a simple melody. In Alias Pail’s case, their songs are likely to remain stuck in your head, even if an initial impression may give off a sentiment that their songwriting and methods of production are too ambitious to do so. But like the aforementioned Animal Collective, their eventual infectiousness arrives primarily from the source of such ambitions, not tampered because of it.

As far as background information goes, there is little known about the originations of Alias Pail. What is understood though is that all three members have a reverence for the Japanese language in general, perhaps best displayed by their collaborations with My Pal Foot Foot, a band based out of Japan that operates within similar circumstances of experimental pop despite a larger emphasis on guitar-oriented ambiance. Initially nothing more than collective pen pals, the two bands evolved into being occasional musical partners. They ended up releasing a split album in late February, My Pail Split Split, that featured 10 tracks in which the overlapping styles providing for a very enjoyable listen. Though My Pal Foot Foot have been around for over 6 years and released a handful of albums prior to the recent release, the split was one of the first official releases from Alias Pail. The serenely exhilarating “Friendly Ghost” is the concluding track on the split. Sung entirely in Japanese, the first minute or so relies on an overlapping dual vocal approach in which Konami and Doring chant melodically over a simplistic guitar progression and a variety of samples that serve to supplement the faint rhythm section. Doring eventually sings solo in Japanese after about a minute, only to be shortly reacquainted with Konami’s beautiful backing vocals when the guitar progression makes a melodic transition. The final minute is Konami’s time to shine as she provides solo vocals over a melody that – by the 6-minute mark – was stuck in my head for quite some time. The surprisingly addictive “Friendly Ghost” is a great example of Alias Pail’s intended style, with their take on experimental pop being uniquely refreshing.

I mentioned “Sun and Rain” earlier as being an extremely impressive track, but I expect so many people to enjoy it that it deserves further analysis. The instrumentally aided melodic prowess reminds me specifically of Panda Bear and Noah Lennox’s fusion of nostalgic ’60s pop with contemporary indie-pop, an aspect that should win over an ample amount of fans almost immediately. It is more structurally conventional when compared to “Friendly Ghost” and the lush near-instrumental “3 Little Stones” and – in turn – more accessible, but it does not stop Alias Pail’s trademark style from consuming the entire track in appealing form. The dual vocal technique is implemented once again, this time guided by a series of halted guitar chords that are complemented by an additional guitar that takes upon a twangy bass-like effect. The hook is established when Konami’s vocals collide with the aforementioned twang, an effect that contrasts very effectively with the slight instrumental pause preceding it. “Off into dark clouds, we go and wander,” they mutually sing during the break. “So what you wonder, who knows the weather?” The lyrics are simple and repetitive, much like the melody it accompanies, but the simplicity and repetition is all part of the song’s charm. Several subtleties like the scatterings of additional guitar progressions and the faint murmur of an organ become increasingly prevalent with each new listen, a factor that bodes well for experimental pop artists in the vein of Alias Pail. However, even if one pays the importance of attentiveness no mind, “Sun and Rain” is one of the tracks from Alias Pail that can be immensely enjoyed regardless. And even if their other tracks yearn for the time and attention, they certainly have earned the right with such precise quality.


Alias Pail – Sun and Rain



Alias Pail – Friendly Ghost



Alias Pail – 3 Little Stones



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Mike Mineo

I'm the founder/editor of Obscure Sound, which was formed in 2006. Previously, I wrote for PopMatters and Stylus Magazine.

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