“It’s okay to be yourself because you are you.” – PWRFL Power (aka Kazutaka Nomura)
“It’s okay to be yourself, unless who you are really gets on my nerves. In that case, please try to be someone else, at least for the time we are exposed to each other.” – H8FL Cynic (aka Terrance Terich)
Yes, I am a cynic. For me, the glass isn’t half empty, it’s half empty, there’s backwash, and it’s probably poisoned. So, you can see why it might be difficult for me to abandon all negativity and buy into the folk trappings of Kazutaka Nomura so freely. Nomura’s stage name is PWRFL Power, a moniker that so fits his anti-folk, postmodern, tongue-in-cheek musical persona that I wonder how differently people would feel about him if he used his real name. Nomura was born in Japan, moved to Seattle to study music, formed a post-rockish trio called Na and is now on his own, garnering fame not only from his lengthy résumé of opening gigs for big rock stars, but also winning Seattle’s Capitol Hill Block Party “Block Star” contest and now being featured in an E-Surance ad. Yes, you read that correctly, and you’ve probably even seen the commercial by now, unless you’re in Seattle, because everyone I meet in Seattle claims not to watch TV. And, everyone knows, the hip place to find new music isn’t a public radio station, your local record shop or from music sites, it’s from insurance advertisements. Amortization and collision coverage rock!
PWRFL Power’s debut self-titled album has been long awaited by those who have been either in Seattle or have been hearing the buzz about this artist for the last year. And frankly, they are welcome to that excitement and can have my share as well. I can’t help thinking that the buzz behind Power is purely for the sake of gimmick. Nomura’s limited English and whimsical subject matter, meant to be taken both seriously and as subtle humor, is sure to find listeners charmed and possibly even enlightened should they have the lyrical appreciation of a six-year-old. The quotation that kicks off this review is from “It’s Okay,” the leadoff track from the album and the song used in the aforementioned animated insurance ad. The first thing I noticed upon hearing the track was Nomura’s gifted guitar playing. His John Fahey styled guitar picking made me think I was listening to Iron & Wine were he to be blessed with an extra digit on each hand. And while Nomura is a talented guitar player, his lyrics, whether meant to be funny, honest, silly or direct leave something to be desired. That opening track made me think of an anti-folk version of “Free to Be You and Me” or “Schoolhouse Rock.” And, people got sick of those twice; once the first time around and twice for nostalgia’s sake when it all got rehashed with shirts, cover albums and DVD boxed sets.
Throughout the album, Nomura sings cloying lyrics about his bird dying, throwing tomatoes in the face of someone he doesn’t like (and apples when he really doesn’t like them), teaching a date how to hold chopsticks, a retarded dog and falling in love with a boy who steals all of his stuff. The same Marlo Thomas themes seem to come up again and again with Nomura telling the subjects of his songs that he likes them. Does this guy like everyone? Sure, he throws tomatoes and apples at people’s faces, but at the close of the song, says he wouldn’t do that because `he likes you.’ He even goes on to express sustained feelings for the boy who stole his stuff, though he doesn’t want to like him. It’s these kinds of sentiments that bring out the inner cynic in me. I know these are supposed to be almost childlike stories that are intended to beguile the listeners and possibly even bring them back to a time when they would listen to stories on mats and eat cookies with milk for snacks, but this is being passed off as adult-alternative anti-folk outsider art, and I’m not buying it.
And I just figured out what PWRFL Power is. He’s essentially the musical version of “I Can Has Cheezburger.” Face it; it’s true. The broken English, silly topics and turns of phrase, a not so subtle dark side and eventual shelf life will bear this out, eventually relegating this music to little more than an annoying Facebook app. The little tempest in a teapot phenomenon of PWRFL Power will quickly fade unless, of course, a few years from now, someone makes a film about a sassy teenager facing a crisis and uses the music of PWRFL Power to illustrate the character’s uneasy transition from childhood to adulthood. Then, Nomura will sell more records than ever. Just ask Kimya Dawson. And, frankly, I’d rather listen to Dawson sing “We sure are cute for two ugly people” than “I don’t want to beat you up, because you’re so pretty.” Remember, I’m a cynic. And, being cynical, I’m really tired of forced naiveté, lyrics that sound as if you’re making them up as you go along, and references to abuse that don’t necessarily exist, put in purely for shock effect, making listeners uncomfortable, and uneasy laughter. Nomura has since moved to Brooklyn, the epicenter of the anti-folk movement, which seems somewhat fitting as, at least some people like myself, were starting to tire of the shtick of PWRFL Power. And, I shouldn’t have to remind you, Washington has a lot of apples.
The Moldy Peaches – The Moldy Peaches
Daniel Johnston – Fear Yourself
The Shaggs – Philosophy of the World