JATK – Japanese Butterfly EP

At the tail end of 2019, the self-titled EP from JATK appeared seemingly out of nowhere. It’s four slabs of guitar heavy power pop drew heavily from bands like Cheap Trick and The Wannadies, serving up a familiar and retro sound, yet applying the kind of energy that still made the material sound fresh. Despite its very late appearance, it beat some serious competition to become one of the year’s finest releases. [A full review can be found here.]

Various personal issues meant that bandleader Matt Jatkola didn’t quite keep up the momentum as expected, but he reappeared sporadically with new songs, including a fuzzy cover of The Cure’s ‘If Only Tonight We Could Sleep’ and an EP of further covers and remixes. Eventually, the self-penned ‘When Tomorrow Comes’ (released in April 2021) reacquinted listeners with the classic JATK sound on a track that fused heavy power pop guitars with an even heavier glam rock derived stomp. It was a little more melodic than some of the JATK EP perhaps, but within those three minutes, the juxtaposition of overdriven guitars and hazy pop vocals created a cult classic in waiting.

Presented in three different versions on a (Northern Hemisphere) Summer ’21 EP release, ‘Japanese Butterfly’ reverts to type with a faster tempo and JATK’s patented “Cheap Trick under shoegaze fuzz” sound, but there’s plenty within its tried and tested approach to entertain. Opening with a wall of feedback, the main version of the song announces its arrival with a dark undertone, but barely thirty seconds in, its thinly disguised sunny alt-pop melody calls out with a real confidence, while Matt’s distorted guitar cranks through the riffs as if it’s 1993 and he’s an aspiring Bob Mould. In terms of pulling in the listener with immediate effect, it does a fantastic job. …And then the chorus hook hits, drawing melodies from ‘Bandwagonesque’ era Teenage Fanclub and The Gigolo Aunts with absolute glee. Although never flashy, a short instrumental break – fully indebted to the alternative sounds of ’94 – gives the track a little more weight when throwing Matt’s guitar work to the fore, and two or three listens in, the track’s constant battle between fuzz and melody combined with an optimistic outlook deserves to bring JATK new fans.

A second instrumental take doesn’t really add anything new, but the removal of the vocal puts more focus on the crying lead guitar sound on the verse, while the louder chorus sections feel somewhat indebted to early Ride – all very much a welcome distraction for those who loved the original track before. Finally, a stripped down acoustic take uncovers the core melody, and Matt’s voice, left to stand without any noisy effects or disguises acquires more of a fragility. It’s amazing how different the song sounds will the fuzz removed: less 90s alternative, and far more in keeping with singer songwriter sounds from David Myhr and Astral Drive, its pop-ish heart stays strong. Even with Matt succumbing to a brief burst of electric guitar trickery to replace the original instrumental break, this is almost always about the purity of his song writing, creating a fine alternative to the main take.

The ‘Japanese Butterfly’ EP will certainly be welcomed by anyone that enjoyed the self-tirled JATK EP. There’s even the potential for the original cut of the track to become a firm favourite for a broad spectrum of power pop fans…even if they’re arriving at Jatkola’s work for the very first time. It really is that good. Naturally, a couple of extra, different songs would have made this even better, but in the meantime, it’s a great stop-gap release.

June 2021