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"Sayonara Sanda Bird"  Keihan Girl  Release date: 2003  Label: Abok Records

My first experience of Keihan Girl was watching them blow the tedious Bloodthirsty Butchers offstage at Shonen Knife's 712 day Party last July. They were a glorious, glamorous, punk-pop explosion which set the Knife themselves a pretty tough act to follow although if you were to criticise them then you'd have to say that they bore a little too much resemblance to their munificent patrons.

Initial signs for the album look good. Kyoto schoolgirl "Yukarin" meets Osaka office lady "Maririn" and they get on like a house on fire. From here Japanese culture offers them two possible directions; make a porn movie or form a band. Thankfully they chose the latter.

The album kicks off with "Yukari & Ritsuko", an opening theme in which they clearly set out their individual characteristics and assure us of the strong bond of friendship they share. Tommy Angels please take note, this is how a pop group introduces themselves. The interplay between the two vocalists sets them apart from their venerable Kansai benefactors, either trading wisecracks or launching into unexpected bursts of falsetto harmonising like eX Girl if they were listenable, their voices are a velvet boot in the ears.

Elsewhere a version of Sada Masashi's "Kanpaku Sengen" should be in a textbook on how to do a cover. They play it totally straight, even down to the spoken word husband-and-wife platitudes and let the mere fact of who they are bring the inherent chauvinism of the song into the 21st century. "Hatsukoi" calls to mind (but far exceeds) the overrated Shiina Ringo. "Koibumi (Kyoto Version)" starts out like Utada Hikaru at her blandest but when the guitars kick in reveals itself as the soaring, fashion-vacuum power ballad that it really is, taking them dangerously close to territory currently occupied by The Darkness and managing to be the best song on the album while they're at it.

Also worthy of note is "Jingle Bells" which, Godless pagans though they are, is a credible, chipmunk-voiced stab at that most Christian of traditions; milking the holiday season for every last drop of cash. Next time don't forget bells. They finish with closing theme "Keihan Rock" recorded live at the 712 day Party (if you listen carefully I think you can hear me ordering a drink in the background) which covers much the same lyrical ground as the opening track but which serves to underline the girls' strongest point, namely their sheer, stadium-shagging star quality.

It's unlikely that they'll ever escape from the inevitable Shonen Knife comparisons but, for anyone ready to listen, this album is a perfectly packaged pop record which screams "Party!" in lo-fi stereo. A winner. -Ian Martin, Jan.22.04

Keihan Girl [Sayonara Sanda Bird] 2003 Sayonara Sanda Bird

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