Now, I like my grunge, so I was always going to dig Japanese Voyeurs. Since they popped up on my radar a few years back, I’ve been following with interest but have yet to be blown away. Other bands who cite strong grunge influences (Nine Black Alps, Dead Confederate, Seether, Trapt, etc.) have stood up and delivered strong, gutsy music, but this London quintet have yet to do so. This, of course, is despite holding one massive not-so-secret weapon, vocalist/guitarist Romily Alice. If you’ve never heard her sing before, think “attitude of a teenager, voice of a toddler”. Her squeaky delivery and stick-thin appearance is a proper Marmite factor. It’s one of the reasons why I actually prefer their recorded material over their live shows, and there aren’t many bands who reduce me to saying that. The reason? I find the piercing quality of her vocal is softened somewhat on the albums but, being brutally honest, it’s also that watching her contort herself into shapes just makes me wince – I want to have one hand on a phone, so I can call the emergency services the moment she snaps.
They certainly seem to be moving in the right direction with Yolk. It’s heavier than their EPs and, consequently, the contrast between the music and the singer is instantly noticeable. Alice’s vocal stands out powerfully and this shows it off in it’s best light. Tracks like ‘Get Hole’, ‘Blush’ and ‘Milk Teeth’ buck and churn their way into life with her voice cracking wonderfully within the musical maelstrom. It’s clear that the Voyeurs’ Nirvana worship knows no bounds as, on top of the pervading air of “couldn’t care less” lethargy that they exude and their fixation (see their website and the album cover’s ultrasound snap) with the unborn (remember In Utero?), they have clearly taken the notes and rhythms of ‘Very Ape’ and ‘Aneurysm’ and rearranged them to form ‘Dumb’ – yes, even the track-title is half-inched from the Seattle grunge monsters.
‘You’re So Cool’ has a big, dirty groove that sits pretty out front and has plenty of mid-range chopped guitar action that washes over and under you in layers. The vocal is set back in the mix and bursts forth in short waves of attack. Oddly, their lead single ‘Cry Baby’ has none of these addictive features, relying on a solitary, flaccid pop hook and an ineffectual spot of string-bending. It’s frustrating as they can quite easily do pop and do it well (‘That Love Sound’, full of blossoming emotion, and the bleak soliloquy ‘Heart Is A Fist’ being fine examples) but they need to stop resorting to type.
Take ‘Smother Me’. It’s a perfectly-positioned reduction; pure, plodding evil. There’s a doomish quality to the track that lifts it up a whole other level. It grabs you and ducks your head under the surface so that Alice becomes distant and ethereal. It’s the key to this whole album. If Japanese Voyeurs can grab onto this thought, leaving behind their other affectations, like the discombobulated messes ‘X-Rayted’ and ‘Dumb’, they can really start to make their own mark on this industry.