Penelopes Inner Light

Japan's Tatsuhiko Watanabe lists his top 20 pop songs of all time and in addition to the expected candidates, there are some more unusual ones like the Nits, Prefab Sprout and XTC. The band Penelopes is a front for Watanabe and over the past decade he has released five albums, more than a dozen cassettes and had tracks appear on countless compilations. And like most other people who write literally dozens of songs (Lou Barlow and GBV's Bob Pollard), the consistency is all over the place - you'd think that over the duration of one album he'd be able to find a dozen of his best songs, but on both of these CDs it feels like there are two or three songs that are simply filler. A Place In The Sun is the earlier of the two albums (initially released in 1997) and it is also the more succinct. But it spends far too much time on pretty instrumentals (including the bizarrely titled "My Dog Became The Clear Blue November Sky") instead of the Beach Boys and Beatles pastiches like "The Real Her." 1999's Inner Light is the more ambitious record and over its sprawling 19 tracks it covers an awful lot of ground. Again it suffers from filler syndrome (especially the horrid "Cakes, Carrots And Apple Trees") but for the most part, this is good stuff. The best songs could pass for something by the High Llamas, but there is always an individuality that gives the Penelopes a unique sound. Both these CDs are a notch above your typical Japanese indie pop, but if you don't want to pick up an entire Penelopes album just yet, there are a couple of tracks on Parasol's recent Step Right This Way compilation. (Vaudeville Park)