unkie: the Price of Fame

TOKIE is no stranger to the marriage of indie rock and jazz improvisation. She played bass with LOSALIOS, the instrumental outfit led by former Blankey Jet City drummer Nakamura Tetsuya. It’s easy to assume there would be overlap between TOKIE’s own band, unkie, and her other gig with LOSALIOS.


Both bands share the ability to play hard, fast, loud and free, but where LOSALIOS can get expansive — saxophone is a regular component — unkie focuses strictly on its core. The latter’s first album, the Price of Fame, showcases the white hot electricity this trio can produce.

Guitarist Aoki Yutaka keeps surprising with his versatility. As an original member of downy, he crafted thick, hypnotic textures with a tortured sound. downy broke up, and he was drafted into VOLA & THE ORIENTAL MACHINE, where he turned into New Wave guitarist with a lot more distortion and overdrive. With unkie, he turns into a surf twanger channeling the ghosts of Jimi Hendrix and his jazz band bosses.

On "spike", the band dives into a concise punk riff for the first half of the song, but for its second half, a shuffle beat slows everything down for Aoki to flash his classic rock picking. "Chinese red" demonstrates the melodicism of the guitar’s whammy bar, and on "crumble", an eerie solo with heavy reverb gives way to a swing beat and a piano.

TOKIE and drummer Kido Hiroshi contribute as much to the music as Aoki. If they’re not hammering away in rhythmic unison with Aoki, they provide answers to Aoki’s statements. "press (At the end of the day)" takes Aoki out of the equation and lets TOKIE and Kido ground a collage of found sounds. TOKIE and Kido anchor "Tecaba" while Aoki goes wild, and the entire band pounds away at the incessant rhythm of "bug".

the Price of Fame goes by quick, clocking in at 36 minutes, but it’s an intense half hour with enough raw energy to power a town — or at least the band’s amps. unkie pushes itself to the point where the music is about to burst and fall apart, but it never does.

Of course, this is all just a lot of words to say the simple and obvious: unkie fucking rocks. There’s little point trying to find greater truths in the detail of the band’s music. In the end, it gets your blood pumping and your heart rate going. the Price of Fame is the hardest rocking album I’ve heard all year.