It's impossible to be objective about Half Japanese releases, because of the lack of a proper yardstick by which to measure Jad Fair's wobbly but winning pop constructions. Perhaps more to the point, the artists that Fair and Half Japanese often invoke are visionaries who inspire passionate adoration, and Fair's approximations of their work are neither calculated nor contrived. On Hello
, Fair continues to explore his musical obsessions with a variable pantheon that rotates for easy access, like a shrine on a lazy Susan. Hello
includes nods to Jonathan Richman ("Summer Nights," "Patty"), Lou Reed ("All the Angels Said Go to Her," "Starlight," "Red Sun"), and Captain Beefheart ("Temptation," "Jump Into This Mess"), not as exact appropriations but in waves of influence that surface while others remain to support whatever has risen to the top.
Hello is easily one of Half Japanese's most forceful and linear albums in years. The bluesy instrumental "Mississippi" choogles and jives as only Jad Fair can, until the song breaks into a jazzy interlude before motoring right back into its original hook, while "The Legend of Hillbilly John" gives Southern Culture on the Skids a run for its Confederate money. Guitarists Rob Erickson and Dallas Good (the Sadies) bring the energy level way up on Hello, while Fair's quivering vocals are the perfect foil for his quaint lyrical constructions. While it may never get any easier to assess the success or failure of Half Japanese by any standardized means, it's a safe bet that if you're a fan of archly weird pop anarchy, Jad Fair and his revolving cast of crazies will likely spark something in your psyche.