January saw the release of Cheater, the second full-length LP by Oslo’s finest art punk outfit Pom Poko. The album was released via Bella Union, an independent record label operated by Simon Raymonde of the Cocteau Twins – so, inherently, anything put out on Bella Union must be worth a listen. In a similar vein to Cocteau Twins, Pom Poko have managed to create their own weird, wonderful, and distinctive sound which really comes into its own within their latest offering.
Their 2019 single ‘Leg Day’ gained airplay on radio stations such as BBC 6Music and the band were fairly high up on the bill for Live at Leeds 2020 (which obviously did not go ahead). Pom Poko seem to be on the cusp of breaking into the mainstream of alternative music and if this record does not tip them over the edge then there is no justice in the world. Every track is so perfectly crafted and yet simultaneously chaotic you cannot help but stop in amazement at what your ears are hearing. The melodic siren song vocals of lead singer Ragnhild Fangel are backed up by a vicious menagerie of noise and distortion reminiscent of an acid trip at a Mudhoney show – it shouldn’t work, but it does.
The name Pom Poko comes from a 90’s Studio Ghibli film in which mythical creatures with shape-changing abilities use their supernatural powers in order to combat the urban development threatening their forest home. To an extent, I think that is a good representation of the band in terms of them using all their outlandish and unusual musical devices to combat the banal, grey, commercialised nature of so much of the music being released as of late. Pom Poko are determined to prove there is still a place for originality and experimentation in music.
Cheater fluctuates between moods, from the dreamy almost-dreampop atmosphere created on ‘Andrew’ and ‘Body Level’, to the out-and-out punk chaos of ‘Andy Go to School’ and ‘Look’ yet, weirdly, it never feels jarring when listening in the context of the album. ‘Curly Romance’ is perhaps the best example of how Pom Poko are able to effortlessly switch moods, often abruptly, even within the same song. Listening to this album is like being caught up in a whirlwind except it is simply euphoric and, for want of a better word, fun. ‘Like a Lady’ is the standout track on Cheater as it sums up, for me, everything that the band means, as well as being a perfect development upon their previous work – it blows ‘Leg Day’ out of the water, despite how utterly incredible that song is.
The band put their uniquely explosive sound down to a clash of their ‘jazz school training and experimental leanings’, and if jazz school incorporates even a fraction of the tumultuous debauchery present on Cheater, then sign me up!
Pom Poko are set to play the Community Room at Brudenell Social Club in September, and I am looking froward to witnessing their rapturous chaos first-hand.
Header image: Pom Poko. Credit: Jenny Berger Mhyre via NME.