AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #268 : URUSEI YATSURA

I often take great comfort from the contents of the e-mails which come in with the submission of a guest ICA in that the authors often say that the piece has been some time in the making and it has taken an eternity to finalise.

It’s not just me then……

I first thought about a Urusei Yatsura ICA at least three years ago. About 18 months ago, I started scribbling some things down but then realised I had to pick up more than what I had in the collection to make it credible. I’ve now picked up all three albums and most of the singles, often via Discogs, and there’s no doubt that the first draft would have been lacking.

Oh, and there’s also the fact that my good mate Aldo is a work colleague of Elaine Graham, one of the band-members, and so I feel a wee bit of added pressure as I’m sure he’ll share the contents of this with her.

A very brief bio, adapted from wiki with some additional facts:-

Urusei Yatsura formed in Glasgow in 1993. Founding members Fergus Lawrie and Graham Kemp met whilst attending the University of Glasgow. They recruited Elaine Graham as bassist, and the line-up was completed with the subsequent addition of Elaine’s brother, Ian Graham, on drums.

They took their band name from the manga Urusei Yatsura, written by Rumiko Takahashi, and contributed their first recording, “Guitars Are Boring”, to a compilation album released by the locally based Kazoo Club. This record in turn brought them to the attention of John Peel, who brought them in to do a session in 1994. They would go on to record 4 Peel Sessions in total, as well as appearing on the Evening Session for Steve Lamacq.

Over the years they released three albums: We Are Urusei Yatsura (1996), Slain By Urusei Yatsura (1998) and Everybody Loves Urusei Yatsura (2000). Albums in America and Japan were released under the name of Yatsura for legal reasons. There were also around a dozen commercially available singles, mostly on Che, a London-based indie label. Urusei Yatsura split in June 2001, but three of the members would resurface in 2009 as Project A-Ko with a really good collection of tunes on the album Yoyodyne.

You’ll hear for yourself, but the best (lazy) comparisons for Urusei Yatsura are Pavement, Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth. As someone else has said elsewhere on t’internet, the sonic attacks of their songs were like three-minute bolts of lightning, and likewise, their debut album, snapped and crackled in a time where everything Brit-popped.

Here’s your ICA.  I’ve taken the liberty of expanding it to 12 tracks as most of the songs are around the three-minute mark and the normal 10 songs would have been a bit skimpy.

Side A

1. Siamese (single, 1995)

The debut 45 for Che records, an edited version of which would be the opening track on the debut album released the following year. The lyrics set out something of a band manifesto, with the cry of ‘Fuck the system, fuck the system” being followed by the chorus of “Burning down, burning down your soul, we are Yatsura” over a tune that belts along at excessive speed and with intense energy. Oh and then there’s the kicker of the final verse

Modern jet-set pop underground
No more media corporate kowtow
Water pistols taste like plastic
Teenage nightmare hippy children
Take a stand, make a plan
Form a gang, a lo-fi band

Simply thrilling, honeys.

2. Hello Tiger (single, 1998)

The closest the band ever got to commercial success came with this blistering piece of pop, reaching #40 in the singles chart in February 1998. If only the Top of The Pop producers had seen fit to have them on the show that week, who knows what would have happened if the band had been able to reach out to an audience beyond the Evening Session and John Peel?

3. Strategic Hamlets (single, 1997)

The single was released in February 1997, later also appearing as the third track on the 1998 album Slain by Urusei Yatsura, following directly on from Hello Tiger. It’s always been one of my favourite one-two punches on any of the albums I have sitting on the shelves or in the cupboard, and it just makes perfect sense to have the ICA do likewise.

Surely the catchiest anti-war song ever written? You’ll be singing the na-na-na bits to yourself all day long once you’ve heard it….and surely I’m not alone in thinking this would make a great alternative piece of background music for the famous scene in Apocalypse Now where the helicopters attack the defenseless villagers?

4. Louche 33 (single and from Everybody Loves Urusei Yatsura, 2000)

The final album sees the guitars toned down very slightly and the vocals/harmonies brought more to the fore. I’ll be honest, when I first heard this, I was sure that Pavement were back recording again, as Fergus Lawrie certainly seems to be channeling his inner Stephen Malkmus, not to mention some great backing vocals and guitar work.  Or maybe it’s just me…….

5. Nobody Knows We’re Stars (from the Yon Kyoku Iri EP, 1999)

It’s worth mentioning at this juncture that the band were with Che from 1993-1998, before releasing Yon Kyoku, a one-off EP in 1999 for Beggars Banquet, with the final album and two singles coming out on Oni Records, which might well have been their own label as I can’t find anyone else having anything released via that imprint. The melancholic title of this track has an equally melancholic tune to match. Urusei Yatsura were not one-trick ponies.

6. Kernel (single, 1995)

Having opened this ICA with the debut Che single, I’m closing it off with its wonderfully low-fi follow-up that would be later re-recorded in a slightly beefier form for the debut album the following year. It’s chorus of “I don’t wanna be like everyone, I don’t wanna be like anyone” is one that the Manchester racist surely wishes he had come with back in his heyday.

Side B

1. Glo Starz (form Slain by Urusei Yatsura, 1998)

The opening track on the album, whose initial notes via the drumkit always make me think I’m about to hear Fun Boy Three‘s take on Our Lips Are Sealed; but just as I anticipate the synthetic strings, there’s this violent burst of guitars which put a smile on my face as I realise I’ve been caught out again…and then there’s a riff that Thurston Moore would be incredibly proud of. The use of the phrase ‘so shut the fuck up’ is surely the only reason that this wasn’t released as a single.

2. Phasers on Stun (single, 1996)

Released as a single in August 1996, having first been heard on We Are Urusei Yatsura where it segued straight into another song called Sola Kola. The edited version is another great burst of energy, packing loads into its two-minute duration.

3. Eastern Youth (from Everybody Loves Urusei Yatsura, 2000)

A change of tempo and feel with a song that I only knew from the final album but have since learned, from researching a bit to knit together the words to accompany the ICA, that it was the band’s final single in March 2001 just before they called it a day.

4. Kewpies Like Watermelons (single, 1996)

Offered here is the version issued as a 7″ single in April 1996. The opening couple of seconds, which sound as if they have been sampled from an arcade game, or perhaps more likely from one of the episodes of the popular manga TV series after which the band had taken its name weren’t included on the LP version when it came out the following month. Click here if, like me, you had no idea what a kewpie is……

5. Fake Fur (single, June 1997)

I make no apologies whatsoever for the number of singles which have made the cut for the ICA. The band and Che records must have been shaking their heads in disbelief as one tremendous release after another failed to have the impact it should have. This one stalled at #58.

6. Thank You (from Everybody Loves Urusei Yatsura, 2000)

“This is the last song, This is the last song I will ever sing you”

The only way this ICA could ever possibly close. The title of this song and indeed the album maybe give you an indication of how the band members were ollectively tired of working their backsides off for next to no reward. In a parallel universe, they are superstars who sell out stadia year after year after year.

BONUS EP

I finished this up and realised that, even with it being extended to 12 tracks, there were loads that should’ve but didn’t make the cut. I was also determined to give the near-hit a second airing.

A. Hello Tiger (Peel Session)

The single was released on 7″ vinyl as well as 2xCDs, one of which offered up three tracks from a John Peel session, broadcast on 14 August 1997.

B. Silver Krest (one side of a double single with The Delgados, 1996)

It’s no real surprise to find that the band had their followers in Japan. This was first recorded and released in October 1996 as one side of a double-single 7″ (on red vinyl) with The Delgados as part of the Stolen Ecstasy series on the Tokyo-based 100 Guitar Mania Records. It was later re-recorded and issued as the b-side to Fake Fur the following year.

C. Plastic Ashtray (single, 1996)

Another of the classic early singles. There were four in all – Siamese, Kernel, and Kewpies Like Watermelon made the ICA and it would have been criminal not to share this with you. All of them, or versions of them can be found on the debut album We Are Urusei Yatsura.

D. No.1 Cheesecake (from Slain by Urusei Yatsura)

Where other groups will demand that you put your hands in the air and move to the music, our heroes make the request that you dance to the cheesecake. And why wouldn’t you??

JC

6 thoughts on “AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #268 : URUSEI YATSURA

  1. I adore Urusei Yatsura. There I’ve said it. I was fortunate enough to see the band live dozens of times from the 1st gig onwards I was never disappointed by their alt/pop genius.

    As I have mentioned before in TVV when the screwdriver was taken to the guitar at the outro of Siamese (original 13th Note) it was a game changer for the local musos – they, and I, were mesmerised. Even now, thinking back, wow!

    As John Peel seemed to stalk their Glasgow gigs – I believe, in reality, it was only 2 – 13th Note and Sleazy’s indie stardom seemed to beckon but it was not to be – not even fans arriving from Japan, or Fergus having his own Japanese fanzine, could assist them in their quest.

    I covet what I own by the band and my collection would be significantly poorer for their omissions.

    In the mid stages of the bands gigs it was more than apparent that a sizeable rift had opened between Graham and the other 3 who by this time were all but a family unit. It really could be an uncomfortable experience to watch and for that reason I would go and see them less and less on a live basis.

    What Urusei brought to the ‘scene’ at that time was ingenuity, aloofness (a friend of mine and I still joke about this to this day), stunning noise pop and some of my favourite ever songs. They did work their arses off – I was aware of their European tour van – they, and Shona, deserved a medal for surviving that – as do all the other bands who travelled without style and really should have broken through.

    So … once again it’s thanks to JC for starting my day in the best way possible … “break the system”.

  2. Saw them a few times in Glasgow and was always impressed. Hello Tiger is one of those songs that always makes people unfamiliar with them perk up and say “this is brilliant. Who is it?”
    Picked up a CD of theirs called Pulpo! from a bargain bin in New York. Couldn’t figure out if it was a compilation, a US-only album or what. Any clues?

  3. I am so familiar with the name Urusei Yatsura it was a sobering discovery that I don’t actually have any of their records or songs. Or, if I do, they’re boxed and lost in the attic. Listening to this ICA, it’s a crime either way. A great compilation and accompanying read, JC, well worth the 3 year wait…! Loved it all.

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