If there was ever a “Where Are They Now?” file for bands that aspired to be your noise-rock guitar heroes, Glasgow’s Urusei Yatsura would most definitely be in it. Arriving on the scene in 1994 with comparisons to Pavement and Sonic Youth, Urusei Yatsura were a frenetic, action-packed quartet that released a succession of spring-loaded power pop singles and EPs throughout the ’90s.
It feels like such a long time ago now. The sonic attack of tracks like “Siamese” and “Kewpies Like Watermelon” were like three minute bolts of lightning, and likewise their 1996 debut album, We Are Urusei Yatsura, snapped and crackled in a time where everything Brit-popped. Releasing two more albums, they called it a day in 2001, but the story doesn’t end there. In fact it’s still going, or rather three quarters of Urusei Yatsura still are. Now reduced to a three-piece, old fans will feel satisfied knowing that nothing has changed. Even down to their anime/manga influences with Project A-KO taking their name from a celebrated Japanese manga movie.
That same strong harmony and keening buzzsaw guitar sound that typified Urusei Yatsura has passed on through to Project A-KO and Yoyodyne. It’s like somebody pressed pause on the band at their peak, and then almost a decade later decided to press play again, and the reconvened/retitled group have not lost the same reckless abandon that embodied their younger incarnation, sounding just as manic and ferocious as ever. You don’t even have to look further than opening track “Hey Palooka!” to be transported back to the sound of caterwauling guitars riding on a bed of feedback, with vocalist/guitarist Fergus Lawrie and bassist Elaine Graham trading harmonies.
Previous singles “Nothing Works Twice” and Here Comes New Challenger!” simmer and surge in piercing bursts of superfuzz. “Molten Hearts” has Projekt A-KO pulling out a Dinosaur Jr chorus with a My Bloody Valentine mid-section meltdown, and it’s probably the two strongest points on the Projekt A-KO compass that they race back and forth from. The dreamy slow waltz of “Scintilla” allows Yoyodyne to take a much-needed breath, the track sounding like a cross between Pavement and Yo La Tengo at their quietest. Like Yo La Tengo, Projekt A-Ko pay tribute to the Thomas Pynchon novel Crying of Lot 49, in which the title track “Yoyodyne” is surely the diamond in the rough here, the electric guitars replaced by a softly picked acoustic and backed by a string section. Simply beautiful.
How this self-released effort (on their own Milk Pie Records) ended up in my mailbox I’ll never know, but I’m truly glad it did. Such unexpected surprises always prove to be the most rewarding, and this is definitely worthy of a listen for those who seek comfort in the combination of skewed pop harmonies and melting guitars. In the United Kingdom especially it’s something there’s nearly not enough of.