Jan. 25 2012 03:00 PM

Minimalist rockers are full of ideas

Vocalist / guitarist David Best (second from left) likes to skew listeners’ expectations.
Photo by Paul Heartfield

You shouldn’t take Fujiya & Miyagi entirely at face value.

Consider, for instance, an interview that vocalist / guitarist David Best gave Dysonsound.com in 2010. The soft-spoken Best spends more time whispering than singing, and the interviewer asked an insightful, right-on-the-money question about it: “Do you ever feel like letting it all out and screaming at points?” “I physically am unable to shout. It’s a medical condition,” Best replied. “If I had to shout to warn somebody crossing the road that a car was approaching, they would be dead.”

After the interview was published, a writer who’d admonished him for his lack of a singing voice began to feel bad for voicing his criticisms. But when CityBeat recently asked him about his medical condition, Best laughed.

“Yeah, that’s just a lie,” he says, speaking by phone from his home in Brighton, England. “I don’t speak very loudly, but it’s not a medical condition. It’s just how I am.”

That’s classic Fujiya & Miyagi. They like to skew expectations, giving listeners glimpses into an off-kilter reality. Think of all their deceptive traits: They have a Japanesesounding name but no Japanese members. They aren’t a duo, as the name suggests, but a four-piece. They specialize in a style of music rooted in Germany but hail from England. This all might seem to be pure coincidence instead of cheeky chicanery, but they’re far too smart and self-aware to let those details pass them by.

As for their music, they’re smitten with the ideals of minimalism attributed to Kraftwerk, the classic German electronic band, as well as Krautrock bands Can and Neu!

Their songs are meticulously arranged, driven by slinky, clear percussion and guitars that sound like they’re rearing up to knock you in the skull (but never do). Their piano lines twist and twirl with economical movements.

“There’s just nothing that doesn’t need to be there, and I do like that,” Best says about Krautrock. “Can had a lot going on, but no one was showing off, which I liked, whereas British and probably American music at the time went with the theory of the big band, and I wasn’t into that really.”

He applies the same modest approach to his lyrics.

“The thing I’ve noticed is that the harder I work on a song, the less words it ends up having,” he says. “Often, there will be one line, and it might have started off with 20.”

But this is music made by subversive men, not machines. They might borrow from the coldest traits of electronic music and post-punk—factory-like rhythms, a demand for careful movement—but their music is alluring, maybe even spicy. Even though they eschew satisfying crescendos, they have a knack for coming up with earworms that keep you listening.

An ever-reluctant vocalist, Best particularly enjoys drawing up nonsensical lyrics that are catchy and weirdly brilliant enough to make them worth deliberating. As a synthesizer buzzes to life in “Knickerbocker,” a track from 2008’s Lightbulbs, he repeatedly recites the phrase “Vanilla, strawberry / Knickerbocker glory,” drilling the words into your brain. This is hypnosis via pop music.

They’re always coming up with wacky ideas to flesh out their peculiar worldview. Taking inspiration from the pristine mannequins that Kraftwerk used in press photos, the band decided to use a set of puppets to take a lead role in the publicity shots for last year’s Ventriloquizzing, their fourth full-length. In the photos, the band members play second fiddle to their wooden counterparts.

“The first song, words-wise, we wrote was ‘Ventriloquizzing,’ which is just all about being a puppet and controlled,” Best explains, “and then we came up with the idea, Wouldn’t it be great if [puppets] did all the photos and videos and we didn’t have to be in them because it’s never been our favorite thing? Then, we thought, Hang on, Kraftwerk did that quite a lot.” (However, Fujiya & Miyagi’s puppets are a bit grimier than Kraftwerk’s.)

It’s unclear what kinds of antics the band has in store for the future. During the half-hour interview with CityBeat, Best threw out several possibilities. They might start electronically manipulating his voice. They could be more melodic. They might end up being more aggressive—but without being aggressive for aggressiveness’ sake, of course.

“It’s like you were saying earlier: ‘Do you ever want to shout?’” he says. “I don’t really want to shout, but maybe I want to do something else—[get] a synth or a guitar that does the same thing. Maybe we need to do that.”

Fujiya & Miyagi play with Pal&Drome at The Casbah on Tuesday, Jan. 31.