The Pillows are legend. As the band behind the grunge pop soundtrack of smash-hit anime, FLCL, they’re the only Japanese rock band that a shocking amount of Americans know (and love). The Pillows are Japan’s answer to The Ramones. Starting as a cheesy pop band in the late 80’s, they broke into a grunge infused garage rock with hints of surfer rock by the mid-90’s.
Over the course of almost three decades, The Pillows have had a similar evolution to that of Green Day; after releasing nearly an album a year, their signature sound has taken tiny steps. Each record can sound similar to the uninitiated, but those who listen can see the shifts, waiting year after year to see how the band pushes themselves this time. For me, My Foot is the most important record to the band’s sound in the last 15 years.
By the early 2000s, The Pillows had shifted from the fuzzed grunge in favor of poppier elements on albums with differing degrees of success. My Foot found the best utilization and drastically altered the band’s course into the present day. Even now, their (almost) yearly album releases continue to refine and experiment off of the style choices made on My Foot.
The elegance of The Pillows is in how their music can sound as though it is bare-bones, but still be so rich and full. The way that vocalist Sawao Yamanaka and lead guitarist Yoshiaki Manabe seem to call and answer each other on guitar. The way that the bass thumps along (perhaps because the band lacks an official bassist) in simple harmony. The way that Shinichiro Sato’s drumming seems to hover on single, steady beats, offset by raging hammering at a moment’s notice.
The album’s second song, “Rock’n’Roll Sinners” is the very thesis for what The Pillows had spent 15 years trying to accomplish, and what they’ve done ever since – pure rock and roll the way it was meant to be written. The guitar riffs rage with the energy of the best Saves the Day song and their signature, simplistic garage pop. In English, Yamanaka sings the anthem of all rock bands, with the spirit that has made The Pillows such a draw for almost three decades: “All the people of the earth want to rock and roll / I quit forgot, yes, I’ll try to do better in the future / All the people of the earth want to rock and roll / I will do it yet, I felt my heart beating wildly / What do you want?”
My Foot also contains one of the best singles in a discography covering nearly 30 years, “The Third Eye”. Based over an elegantly simple drum beat and a quick, sexy plucky guitar riff, the song is just cohesive enough to work. At the same time, the energy pushing the song forward is unrelenting, meshing a pop beat with an aggressive punk riff, “The Third Eye” is the embodiment of what The Pillows are and what makes them so endearing. It also showcases a willingness to play with music, in that during a dual guitar bridge, one of the guitars changes keys and attempts to directly conflict with the main melody. It’s an incredibly short moment, but it’s the type of thing that you still remember years after the fact.
“Non Fiction”, resting midway through the album, is the type of song only The Pillows could write. The guitar riff is quick, fun and circus-like, as though written to be the soundtrack to an animal plodding along. It’s the type of music that seems like it should be a quirky B-side for most bands, but The Pillows manage to give it a sense of passion to strong, you can hear how much fun they had writing it.
My Foot is the type of album that is incredibly hard to find. It is the definitive sound of a band who already had almost two decades of music under their belt, and the accomplishment of refining themselves to a razor edge. It’s sleek and sexy, written with melodies broken down to essential sounds. If anything was added or touched up, the songs possibly wouldn’t work – take anything away and they’d be disastrous. But more than anything, it’s what rock and roll should be. It’s fun, memorable and passionately energetic.
by Kyle Schultz
Kyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and actually bought My Foot in a Borders Books on a whim based on the album art. Good choice, classic Kyle. Good choice.