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April 04, 2011  | by: Kerri O'Malley

oh sunshine's Album Cover

Japanese rock duo (or should I say Japanese+American rock duo) oh sunshine take a page from The Kills but let a little sun shine in on their debut self-titled mini-album, now available for track-by-track purchase on iTunes or full download via Amazon.  And I’m getting a little burned by all that heavenly glory.

I first heard of this band at SXSW’s daytime all-Japanese showcase the afternoon before the festival’s infamous Japan Nite (ironically occurring on St. Patrick’s Day this year). Sipping what should have been an Irish Car Bomb, but what without the proper glassware (forbidden during the festival at all Austin bars) instead resembled that weird foam you see at the edge of a dirty river, I overheard a few strings of what sounded like familiar ol’ rock and roll.

That was oh sunshine’s “I Belong to You,” the stand-out track off of their debut album.

“I Belong to You” resonates with the kind of grit and chugging power that begs the aforementioned Kills comparison.  Lead singer Emily Connor, born and bred in these United States but living in Tokyo for four years now, sings with a bubbling yet reaching voice reminiscent of The Cranberries’ Dolores O’Riordan, while her Japanese-to-the-bone guitarist Mikio Hirama rips through the single with a guitar sound that recalls surf-rocker Link Wray.

While I’m a fanatic for that single, the exciting possibilities that sounds comparable to The Cranberries, Kills, and Link Wray could have realized are quickly washed away by the majority of the mini-album’s tracks.  Maybe I’m just a through-and-through ballad hater, but the abundance of slow-and-steady tracks disappointed me.

The band’s second single, “Beautiful,” released in both Japanese and English versions, is so slow, I nearly fall asleep every time I hear it.  “Miss Olive by the Window” reeks of 90s pop, but this time instead of The Cranberries, The Cardigans’ “Lovefool” comes to mind.  And while “Lovefool” is perfect in its simplicity, oh sunshine’s sweet numbers fall short of simple ease, ending instead in a shallow puddle of could-have-beens.

Hirama and Connor of oh sunshine

Yet, hope shines through like a single ray on a cloudy day with the album’s final number: the acoustic guitar, live-sounding, straight-from-the-Delta “I’ll Take You Down to the Riverside.”  The layered steel guitar sounds matched to Connor’s toned-down voice, taking all the cute and cuddly out of her verses, is two minutes of pure blues.  By way of Tokyo, that is.

All in all, I hope oh sunshine focuses more on the vintage rock and blues that drove these two numbers and leave behind a bit of the 90s pop as they work on their next (hopefully full-length) album.  For a listen to oh sunshine, check out all of the mini-album tracks on their myspace page.

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