From the beginning, Jad Fair’s nasal-tinged vocals, childish
lyrics, and “The only chord I know is the one that connects the guitar to
the amp” aesthetic have relegated him to being a perennial outsider. This is,
of course, a large part of his charm. To fully appreciate the significance of
Fair as an artist you need only know that his 1982 EP The Zombies of
Mora-Tau bears the distinction of being so abrasive that even Lester Bangs
found it unlistenable. Since forming Half Japanese with his brother David in
1974, Fair’s music has been championed by the likes of Kurt Cobain and Jeff Mangum,
and in addition to his extensive Half Japanese output he’s released a
seamlessly endless stream of one-off collaborations and solo albums. With his
new EP Birdhouse (limited to a 300 hand-numbered vinyl run), Fair
collaborates with French artist Hifiklub and Germany’s kptmichigan,
and the end result is a typically idiosyncratic burst of sonic ebullience.
Like most of Fair’s music, Birdhouse is best listened
to in its entirety. The songs meld together to form a surreal atmosphere – it
was originally recorded to be played during one of Fair’s art exhibitions – and
at just 15 minutes long it ends before becoming exhausting. Unlike his more
minimalist output (best showcased on 1993’s Short Songs), Birdhouse has
a jazzy, experimental slant, and is suffused with airy instrumentation that
could stand alone without Fair’s vocals.
In his usual ADHD fashion, Fair moves from idea to
idea at a vertiginous pace, and while this gives the EP an air of
unpredictability, it can be slightly tiresome at times. The closing track “You
and I” consists of unintelligible, pitch shifted vocals, and drags on to the
point of annoyance. These moments are to be expected from Fair though, and half
the reason to listen to him is to find out what strangeness he’s concocted.
The word accessible is never going to be applicable to Jad
Fair, and Birdhouse isn’t going to appeal to anyone other than hardcore
fans, but given it’s screen-printed artwork, unique design (it’s pressed on
translucent yellow vinyl with red ink), and limited run, that’s exactly who
it’s intended for.
that it’s a vinyl only release and its short length, it’s best appreciated as a
whole. SAM BALTES