Even before the bit where a gang of rebellious raccoon dogs use their gargantuan
testicles to launch a strike against a band of policemen, 1994’s Pom Poko stands as one of the more vigorously outré films from Japanese animation visionaries Studio Ghibli. In other words, Norwegian quartet Pom Poko have picked a rare belter of a band-name for their own anti-conformist manoeuvres. Between the quartet’s sweetly punky melodies and disco-fried art-rock eruptions, a spirit of free-firing, balls-out indi-viduality courses through Pom Poko’s exhilarating debut album, ‘Birthday’, released through Bella Union on 22nd February 2019.

As the band explain, “The Pom Poko film captures a lot of what we'd like our concerts to be: high energy, fast pace, lots of stimulus for eyes and ears – and most importantly, re-ally crazy and fun. The movie is basically the time of your life for two hours, and after-wards you're in some state of exhausted ecstasy.

“Plus,” they add, “the raccoons in the movie and raccoons in general are really badass.”

The band’s own bad-ass-ery is writ large on opener ‘Theme1’, which locates a sweet spot between Deerhoof and Battles as singer Ragnhild Fangel issues loud, clear rebel yells over Martin Miguel Almagro Tonne’s math-rock guitar. ‘My Blood’ and ‘Follow The Lights’ layer seductively sweet melodies over squalls of sound, while the funk-fired ‘My Work Is Full of Art’ offers a kind of mission statement: “I’ll just let freaky surround me,” sings Fangel.

Elsewhere, Pom Poko’s instinctive dynamism teases uplifting thrills from boundary-melting experiment. Glacial shards of guitar bounce off steel-drum flurries on the rapid-fire serotonin fix of ‘Blue’, before the sweetly infatuated ‘Honey' comes dynamically sequenced next to the thrashing tonal lurches of ‘Crazy Energy Night’. The sing-song title-track spikes the ranks of sweetly sad birthday songs with a rebellious sting (“I’m not your bitch!”), while ‘Daytripper’ is a commanding come-on from a band who are no more likely to mince their words than limit their range. ‘If U Want Me 2 Stay’ resembles “The Tra La La Song” retooled as a sci-fi cyber-pop anthem of carefree defiance, while ‘Peachy’ closes the album with an exultant melody and one last declaration of trans-formative independence: “Watch me as I shape shift.”

Pom Poko have been extending that warmly contrary invitation since they were born as a band. Fangel, Tonne, Jonas Krøvel (bass) and Ola Djupvik (drums) had been friends for some time, studying jazz and living in Trondheim together. When Jonas was offered a chance to gather some people to play a jazz gig at a literature festival in Trondheim, the four friends responded in style: “Jonas came to the rest of us and asked if we wanted to start a punk band, to which we said yes, and played punk at the jazz gig. Most of the audience left, but we decided we had to do it more.”

The decision has reaped rewards, with NME, Interview Magazine, The Line Of Best Fit, The Independent and more singing Pom Poko’s praises. Visiting fellow Nordic adven-turers Broen in Oslo, Bella Union’s Simon Raymonde saw Pom Poko in a “tiny club” and was “immediately stunned by how good they were, even though my friends were telling me they had only been playing together a short while. I loved that they didn’t sound like anyone else, which is a very rare trait in a new band. What also drew me in so fast was that EVERY member was brilliant to watch. Lots of bands have one or two star performers but this band has FOUR! Exciting to watch, their songs are physical and cer-ebral, with that spirit of 1979 that I so love. Kind of like The Slits crossed with the Pixies.”

Pom Poko themselves cite a range of questing influences, including “(West)-African music like Oumou Sangaré and Ali Farka Touré; indie bands like Vulfpeck, Palm and KNOWER; noisy high-energy bands such as Hella and Death Grips; and music with in-teresting lyrics such as Jenny Hval and Nick Drake.” But you’d struggle to pin them down to one or two forebears, given their resistance to anything resembling a prescrip-tive approach. “We've all done lots of improvised music in the past, and I think that shapes the way we play, even though the tunes are not improvised. We like when new and strange things happen in an old song, and that music can change over time by being played live, because that removes predictability and the ‘recipe’ that some genres of mu-sic have.”

As admirers have heard, Pom Poko’s music sounds properly played and performed: no mere recitation, it’s the sound of four distinct personalities driving in divergent direc-tions towards one destination. In the band’s words, “We want to give people high-energy live music, that is fun for the performers and listeners, doesn't take itself too seriously and unites people to dance and have a good time. These days there's a tendency in music that everything has to be perfect, and that sometimes kills the pure excitement of live music. That's why we'd like to make music that’s less polished, more fun and intense live, with the excitement of taking chances and letting go of control.” For those willing to be spirited away thus, ‘Birthday’ will be the sweetest of gifts.