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Shorthand Phonetics comes ever closer to garage-rock mastery

I originally discovered Shorthand Phonetics via demo…shoosanddo fonechikkusu!, which was a collection of Neutral Milk Hotel-ish fuzzed-out indie-pop jams. Since then, Ababil Ashari’s sound has headed all directions, from minimalist instrumentals to shrieking garage-rock. Some of it is brilliant; other experiments are not so successful.

Thirty-four Minutes with Hide and Tsubasa continues pushing his boundaries outward. “Don’t Mind Us. We’re Perfectly Normal, See? Perfectly. Normal.” ends with a mellow section that segues straight into the morose “Have I Told You About the Ngbaka?” That is, until that song explodes into one of the heaviest sections of music I’ve yet heard from Ashari. “Neuroses” has a rhythmic, patterned guitar riff that wouldn’t be out of place in a math-rock tune. Other tunes experiment with surf-rock sounds and Sigur Ros-esque epic rock, both to good effect.

Ashari is becoming a very strong songwriter, as he is clearly studying many different types of music (or reinventing the wheel brilliantly). He still has to work on reining in his vocals. When he keeps them under control, as on the closer (“‘You can regret the past and you can be depressed about the present; But you don’t know anything about the future and fuck! […] That’s exciting.'”), they are completely tolerable and even enjoyable. When he dissolves into a shrieky mess (“C’mon!!! Be Insane With Me!!!”), it’s just supremely unpleasant.

Thirty-four Minutes With Hide and Tsubasa is a good garage rock album. It aspires to be more than that, and Shorthand Phonetics is working toward making that so. It’s not quite there yet, but there are some really good tunes here.