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Review: Half Japanese, 'Hear The Lions Roar'

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.

Half Japanese began in the late '70s as a band of primitive outsiders, breaking musical rules that founding brothers Jad and David Fair never even learned. But it didn't take them long to become influential indie-rock journeymen. Since the mid-'80s, their albums have been consistently solid and often spectacular. They've never stopped following their own weird muse — primarily the heart-on-sleeve lyrics and voice of Jad Fair, Half Japanese's only constant member — but the majority of their music has been reliably well-made.

Hear The Lions Roar, their 16th full-length, bolsters that Half Japanese tradition, with 13 diverse, attention-grabbing tunes that rival the band's '80s classics such as Charmed Life and The Band That Would Be King. Amid hard-riff jams, swinging ditties, lovelorn ballads and other catchy gems, Jad persistently breathes life into the Half Japanese repertoire, once described by his brother as "monster songs and love songs."

During his best moments, Jad sounds like he's singing about monsters and love simultaneously. In "Super Power," he frames earnest emotions as mythic strengths: "Let your smile be your power / Let your heart be your tower." He treats a lament about "zombie hippies" as a somber waltz during "The Preventers." Even in B-movie-style thrillers like "Attack Of The Giant Leeches" and the wolfman-obsessed "It Never Stops," Jad's delivery hints at melancholy. It's all buttressed by the music of his comrades, many of whom have been in the Half Japanese orbit since the '90s. Their busy guitars give every track instant buzz.

That immediacy makes Hear The Lions Roar stand out in Half Japanese's highlight-laden oeuvre. The band sounds as urgent and vital as it did four decades ago. During the bouncy "Do It Now," Jad sings, "Our time is now, it's the right time, the good time, the real time ... our best is even better yet." He's talking about love, but he could just as easily be describing his band and the vibrant music it's created here.

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