Jun 10

[vault review] Seagull Screaming Kiss Her Kiss Her: Dying for Seagulls!

Faced with daunting musical options, we music fans need some guideposts to help us narrow down our listening choices. Intriguing band names help, and few are more eye- and ear-catching than Seagull Screaming Kiss Her Kiss Her. Bandleader Aiha Higurashi had the good taste to adopt the bizarre phrase from an XTC song. She and her bandmates also had the great taste in music to back up the distinctive moniker.

SSKHKH was an indie rock group that existed from 1992 to 2001. For most of its lifetime, the band consisted of Higurashi on guitar and vocals, Nao Koyama on bass, keyboard and backup vocals, and Takaharu Karashima on drums; the obscure first SSKHKH album included Higurashi and Sachiko Ito, and Karashima left in 1999. The group earned cult popularity across the world by playing overseas gigs and releasing a UK compilation.

Ironically, SSKHKH’s music has none of the titular screaming, but it does have nearly everything else imaginable. The trio had a terrific ear for 70’s punk, 90’s hip-hop, classic rock, country, dissonance, harmony and even pop hooks—and they knew how to combine them in a way that’s brainy without compromising viscera and punk ‘tude. You could sit down and marvel at how they incorporate so many genres so smoothly, or you could just rock out.

No single album could capture SSKHKH’s breadth, but 2002 retrospective Dying for Seagulls admirably approximates it. You get the unpredictable, meandering style of their early music in songs such as “It’s Brand New” and “Asking For It,” and the more tuneful later work such as “Sentimental Journey” and “Doko e iku no?” “Evolution” has a complex ambience, while “Angel” harkens back to 70’s punk simplicity.

The tracklist also emphasizes one of SSKHKH’s strengths—contrast—both at the micro and macro levels. “Pink Soda” alternates between sparse verses and bursts of rock catharsis. The eerie, screeching conclusion of “Red Talk” makes the pretty harmonies and wistful lyrics of “Seventeen” more haunting.

Three bonus tracks round out the disc and make it worthwhile even if you go on to collect the entire SSKHKH collection. Dying for Seagulls is a testament to the creativity and energy of one of Japan’s best—and best-named—rock bands.