Fujiya & Miyagi have always been a band that thrived on contradictions. They sound Japanese but they’re actually British. Their name indicates a duo when they’re in fact a quartet (after inducting a live drummer this year). Their 2006 breakthrough, Transparent Things, was anything but, reveling in deceptively simple krautrock rhythms and stream-of-consciousness lyrics. The group continues this tradition of playful bait and switch for both better and worse on their follow-up, Lightbulbs. On one hand, the best songs here flash and pop with bright and shiny new ideas. On the other, at least as many numbers merely flicker like a stale attic lamp.
But good news first: the album gets off to a strong start with “Knickerbocker,” a softly surging sequel to Transparent mission statement “Ankle Injuries” with David Best waxing poetic about flavors of ice cream and Lena Zavaroni. The momentum continues with the subsequent “Uh” and “Pickpocket.” The former has been slightly retooled from a British stopgap single into a funky usurper to !!!’s throne of hipster irony. The latter serves up Hot Chip’s winning dance formula with a most welcome chill. If the rest of the album maintained this trajectory, all would be well.
Alas, things take a precipitous sag in the midsection. “Goosebumps” defies its title’s implications in all the wrong ways, failing to elicit much more than a yawn with its snail’s pace, repetitive synth dirge, and Best’s sleepwalking delivery. To be fair, his strength has always been his deadpan, but that quality can’t make a relationship with a “Dishwasher” anymore interesting than it sounds.
The pace picks up a bit with a bookending suite of songs that mirror the strong opening trio, but the indifferent strut of “Pussyfooting” sounds merely like that: slinking around with no direction. The percolating “Pterodactyls” fares slightly better but it takes the rollicking motorik of “Hundreds & Thousands” to recapture their initial “Knickerbocker” glory. Of course by then, the album is over.
To the band’s credit, they’re never lacking for confidence or precision throughout, but it sounds as if they are coasting on the good faith they’ve built up when they should be blasting off from it. The band used to be at their best when pulling the rug out from underneath their listeners. When the listeners know what’s coming, the impact is diminished. Next time out, they should focus less on doing something better with their bag of tricks and try doing something different.