After earning critical acclaim from most of the world for their 2008 album Doctor Ray, Japanese rockers Molice return with the release of their second LP Catalystrock (a possible word in the Becktionary). In a world where sophomore albums make or break a band Molice manages to write itself a pretty good second chapter in their career.

I will admit I was a little bit nervous while listening to the first song "Monster." It's not a bad song, per say, but as an opener it's kind of weak. If it were moved more towards the middle of the album it would've been a bit better. Still its "go-go rock with Eagles of Death Metal flare" style is very enjoyable. The track that follows, "Romancer," should've been the one to open Catalystrock. Here Rinko and company tread in the same waters that GO!GO!7188 have recently been swimming, but where that band fails is where Molice succeeds. It's like a hard-rocking Lupin The 3rd theme song injected with enough sex appeal to satisfy an army of nymphos. Guitarist Takeda Yuzuru and drummer Koyama Takashi, while playing simplistically in this song, manages to capture the feel of every great Blaxploitation film soundtrack with the help of bassist Ikuhiro. Issac Hayes would be pleased that his coolness still influences many of today's musicians.

"Android said" blends surf rock with 60s Espionage music, and Rinko's vocals here will make listeners fall to their knees and give in to the demands of any evil robot army. "Monday runs" could be a sort of spiritual cousin to U2's "Sunday Bloody Sunday," thanks in part to Yuzuru's Edge-like guitar strumming; and while Rinko is nowhere near as powerful as Bono in the singing category, she still puts enough emotion into the tracks. "Kiiro ni nure" (Paint It Yellow), sadly, is bland in comparison to Molice's other work, as well as sounding a tad much like a noodles B-Side. "Utsukushii Asa" (Beautiful Morning) comes off a lot like Shonen Knife's earlier works. Rinko and Knife's Naoko both share similar vocal capabilities, but Rinko does a much better job when it comes to hitting the higher notes. (It also shares some styles with some of the Blue Hearts' slower works like "Missile" and "Kitai Hazure no Hito.")

"Hitotsu Ni Narou" (Let's Merge!) has Molice venting what sounds like a bit sexual frustration; "Romancer" did it more in an erotic sense, whereas "Hitotsu Ni Narou" sounds like the band wants to get it rough and dirty. Rinko and company take a page from Brody Dalle's book with the track "into YOU," which comes off like a Spinnerette track with Seiji-inspired guitar breaks. "Fine Wave" doesn't quite capture the essence of Molice, and sounds more like it would've been better left off the album and placed as a B-Side on a future single. "Still Alive" (no relation to the Portal theme song) is a fast track that has Yuzuru playing so loud that it somewhat drowns out Rinko in the chorus. Whether this was something of a classic battle for the spotlight remains to be seen, but it's good to hear that the other band members of Molice are receiving their own center stage in various part of the album. "Inori" (Praying), while working in some places, as a whole doesn't seem to fit with the band's motif. A good song, but Molice can surely do better. "The HAZE" is how to properly close an album. It has all the different styles that Molice showed off in Catalystrock, and then clashes them together in a gory battle. If TsuShiMaMiRe teamed up with Wolfmother they would probably write something like "The HAZE."

While not up to par with Doctor Ray, Molice will not be losing any of their current fans with Catalystrock; they will, in fact, gain quite a few more. The album has a few bumps here and there, but in the end Molice has successfully made another fun album that many people will enjoy. Molice will no doubt break through from the Japanese underground rock scene with the help of this and their previous album, but if they want to stay on top of their game I highly suggest they up the ante on the next album. Nevertheless Catalystrock doesn't disappoint, even with its scattered flaws.

*** ½ (out of five)

Catalystrock is available for pre-order at CDJapan and Amazon Japan, and will be available online at JapanFiles and iTunes on March 24.

Special Thanks to fellow Bostonian Tom Melesky for sending the album for this review.

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