Tokyo minimalist instrumental trio Nisennenmondai have been quietly building a dedicated cult following since forming in 1999 (their name means “Y2K bug”), largely on the strength of their live show. Their earlier work drew from noise rock, Krautrock, no-wave and post-punk, but in recent years they’ve had more in common with minimal techno than guitar bands.
Many acts who’ve tried to marry electronic music and rock end up sounding like an indie band with a drum machine and a synth. On #N/A, Nisennenmondai prove you don’t need programmed beats and synthesizers to approximate the feeling of techno. Instead, guitarist Masako Takada, bassist Yuri Zaikawa and drummer Sayaka Himeno escape the trappings of rock and pop through the notes they choose to play.
More accurately, their secret lies in the notes they don’t play. Takada never strums anything resembling a melody, Zaikawa rarely plays more than a single note per song, and Himeno often hits only one part of her drum kit for minutes at a time. Takada prefers to scratch at her guitar strings and tweak effect pedals, making discordant metallic clanging noises and swirling static sounds, while the rhythm section establishes a relentless grid behind her.
UK dub pioneer Adrian Sherwood produced the album, and his notorious lack of interest in melody makes him a good match. He’s described himself as tone-deaf, which could be why his productions veer toward the avant-garde. The washes of echo he drenches the drums in help move the songs forward and break up the repetition, although it’s often hard to tell which are his interventions and which are the band’s. It’s an unnerving listen that demands a certain amount of masochism, but you’ve definitely never heard another band like Nissenenmondai.
Top track: #3