Shonen Knife have been on the scene since their formation by sisters Naoko & Atsuko Yamano and Mitchie Nakatani in 1981, and they’ve come a long, long way since their fledgling days covering The Ramones at sock hops and dive bars in Osaka. The three ladies have managed to craft nineteen(!?) studio albums while taking heads & hearts with a glitter-spattered, cavity-cracking electric cuteness that is only matched by the trio’s organically cultivated DIY punky surf-pop chops, and they certainly remains true to form on their latest release Sweet Candy Power (2019).
Shonen Knife is Naoko (Vocals and Guitar), Atsuko (Bass and Vocals), and Risa (Drums and Vocals). Sweet Candy Power will be released June 7, 2019 via Good Charamel Records
Many are familiar with Shonen Knife through their connection with Nirvana; Kurt Cobain himself once admitted to being “turned into a nine-year-old girl at a Beatles concert” when witnessing them live for the first time in Los Angeles. The two trios eventually toured Europe together immediately after Nirvana’s genre-defining Nevermind (1991) was released, but the run took place in November and December of that year, just before the boys from Aberdeen, WA ascended to international super-stardom. According to Naoko, who recalled the tour in a Rolling Stone magazine interview, ‘I went to a record store, and I bought their CD. And when I saw their photograph, I thought they might be scary persons, because their hairstyles and their clothes were very grunge. But once the tour had started, I noticed that all the members were nice, good persons. And because this was our first experience of a long tour, the drummer, Dave (Grohl) helped us with setting up the drum kit.”
Nirvana, like many of Shonen Knife’s progeny and contemporaries, have since left the party before their time in the unfortunate trope of extravagant and tragic rock and roll self immolation while the “Osaka Ramones” (as they are known when performing full cover sets of tunes by the NYC punk rock godfathers) continue to exhibit a miraculous resiliency in the face of shifting music trends and the brutal ravages of the road while still producing not-so-delicate surf n’ sand candy punk well into the 21st century.
Atsuko Yamano and Risa Kawano (Nakatani left the band in 1999) do a damn fine job on drums and bass respectively, and with the addition Naoko’s singsongy youthful vocals and crispy, sparky electric guitars the band certainly does NOT sound like a trio of middle-aged women. In fact, one would be hard pressed to find a band of twenty or thirty-somethings these days who play punk music as tight and with as much distinctively authentic energy as Shonen Knife. Right out of the gate, “Party” kicks it off with the kind of confectionery punk onslaught that takes decades to perfect, a fun loving call to arms blaring forth into the blue and indicating that the fun starts NOW!
Shonen Knife lyrics have a habit of skirting around tired punk concepts, instead tackling everyday hardships like battling pesky bugs at the beach with homemade mosquito repellent (“Peppermint Attack”) and losing your favorite sunglasses at an amusement park (“Never Never Land”), or simply celebrating things the band members happen to truly enjoy like Ice Cream and Cookies (“Ice Cream Cookie Sandwiches”) Smartphone Gaming (“Match 3”) and a nice glass of lemonade that can apparently make the drinker more powerful and grant them the ability to travel to space (“California Lemon Trees”).
“My Independent Country” thunders into battle like a great late-career Ramones tune with a catchy, anthemically chugging Iron Maiden-style chorus about gleeful isolationism and emancipation from a bleak society, and is one of the only tracks on the record that treads anywhere near a “traditional” punk rock lyrical sentiment on this record. Title track “Sweet Candy Power” is an autobiographical tune about overcoming anxiety by harnessing the comforting energy of peppermint candies, and perfectly captures the playful softness with a biting edge sound that Shonen Knife is revered for.
Pipeline-cruiser “Wave Rock” and their candy-bop lead off single “Dizzy” both would fall soundly into more standard beach rock fare, although they are not out of place or without their characteristic injection of adorableness. Classic surf pop and bubblegum music, much like The Ramones before them, are staples of Shonen Knife’s sound and have always served as a melodic foundation on which the trio bases their electric and energetic punk compositions.
Undeniably fun and relentlessly cute, Sweet Candy Power can occasionally become a touch saccharine while also catchy as all get out, relentlessly funny and always bringing things back for another gleeful pop-punk tackle hug. The all too short (just over 30 minutes) experience is fittingly gone like the flavor of a gum ball and certainly leaves the listener pawing their pockets for loose change, hungry for another taste.
~ Review by M. Stonefish
Contributing Reviewer for f28 Media
Sweet Candy Power will be released June 7, 2019 via Good Charamel Records
3. Sweet Candy Power
4. My Independent Country
5. Wave Rock
6. Ice Cream Cookie Sandwiches
7. Never-Never Land
8. Peppermint Attack
9. California Lemon Trees
10. Match 3