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Free Time

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Album Review

Shonen Knife clearly love the Ramones, and it shows: they obviously admire their knack for simple but hooky and hard-rocking tunes, and much like the Brothers from Forest Hills, Shonen Knife are a band with a formula, and more than two decades after releasing their first album, they're still committed to it. Even though Naoko Yamano's simple but enthusiastic technique as a guitarist has improved quite a bit over the years, her songwriting style remains very much the same, devoted to straightforward and upbeat tunes with playful, child-like lyrics, and her current bandmates (bassist Ritsuko Taneda and drummer Etsuko Nakanishi) may be more expert than Shonen Knife Mk. One, but their four-square stomp reveals them to be stubborn, dedicated traditionalists. 2011's Free Time is an improvement over its immediate predecessor, 2009's Super Group, though the ideas behind it are pretty much the same: simple, punk-leaning melodies played with reasonable muscle and speed as Yamano sings about jellyfish, cake, love, fruit, and other topics more befitting a teenage girl than a middle-aged woman. The difference between this and Super Group is that Free Time rocks harder, with Yamano and her rhythm section drawing more sweat and throwing themselves into the material with noticeably greater enthusiasm, while the production gives the guitar a more robust tone and punches up the bass and drums, and "Love Song" is a better pop song than Yamano has written in quite a while. If you're going to follow the Ramones/Shonen Knife analogy, Free Time is not unlike Mondo Bizarro or Animal Boy; not exactly a late-career triumph, but evidence that the band can go through the paces with skill and commitment, and if this isn't likely to make anyone a convert, longtime fans won't walk away disappointed.


Formed: 1981 in Osaka, Japan

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

During the early-'90s alternative wave, veteran Japanese indie rock trio Shonen Knife made major fans out of alt-rock's elite (Sonic Youth, Nirvana, and Redd Kross, among others) and built a solid worldwide cult following with their Ramones meets the Beatles brand of sticky-sweet punk-pop. Formed by Michie Nakatani (vocals, bass), Naoko Yamano (vocals, guitar), and Atsuko Yamano (drums), Shonen Knife started in December 1981 in their hometown of Osaka, Japan, where all three members were working...
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