Total Feedback 2018

This past April, Japan’s best-known and by far its longest-running shoegaze event, Total Feedback, celebrated its 10thanniversary.  Since 2008, the event has been synonymous with the Japanese shoegaze scene, showcasing a combination of veteran and up-and-coming bands from all over Japan.  In the spirit of promoting the current players in the scene, the show’s organizer and frontman of quintessential Japanese shoegazers Cruyff in the Bedroom, Yusuke Hata released the Total Feedback compilation on his Only Feedback label on October of the same year.  This week, almost exactly 10 years later, a follow-up comp appropriately titled Total Feedback 2018 will go on sale.

Listening to the original 2008 comp, you can get a feel for where the shoegaze scene and specifically Total Feedback as an event were at the time.  Bands like Luminous Orange, Plastic Girl In Closet, mash, and My Dead Girlfriend were all regular participants at the monthly shoegaze gathering – Luminous Orange and mash also frequently appeared at Yusuke’s Only Feedback event held at CLUB Que years earlier.  Total Feedback 2018 is similarly a well-curated introduction to Japanese shoegaze in 2018, not only providing a good, albeit Tokyo-centric, introduction to Japanese shoegaze, but also showing how it’s branched out internationally over the past ten years.

Total Feedback 2018 is billed as “an Asian shoegaze compilation”, featuring a handful of bands from Taiwan (Doodle, U.TA, and DoZzz) and China (RUBUR).  Based around Total Feedback and fellow Japan-based shoegaze event Kyoto Shoegazer, the domestic scene has crossed over with promoters such as Luuv Label (best-known for organizing the East Asia Shoegaze Festival in Shanghai) and Taiwanese shoegaze promoter extraordinaire Shoegazemania, creating a strong community on the eastern part of the continent (it’s worth noting that Hong Kong, while not represented on the compilation, has also been involved in this cultural shoegaze exchange).

The Japanese lineup on the compilation boasts a good mix of old and new bands.  Cruyff in the Bedroom, broken little sister, and Lucy’s Drive are the veterans of the bunch, while groups like cattle, plant cell, and SPOOL, and Al Van She’s Coming represent the new wave of Total Feedback performers. Polarizing shoegaze idol group dots also have a song on the comp, and while their contribution to the overall scene may be questionable to some, they are without a doubt an important part of its story.

With regard to the music itself, Total Feedback 2018 is unsurprisingly strong start to finish.  The Cruyff track is a banger, and the songs from plant cell, DoZzz, RUBUR, and Doodle are particular standouts.  Cattle’s “Kaleidoscope” is a welcome return to shoegaze from a band who drifted to more of a power pop sound after an excellent debut EP.  Even the dots track is perhaps their “gaziest” yet.  Though you tend to hear quite different styles of shoegaze coming out of different countries – Japan tends to produce a more melody-heavy sound while you often get thicker or more textural shoegaze from Taiwan and China – the flow of the album is very smooth while still showcasing each band’s unique qualities.

Just as the Total Feedback event has been as important a part of the Japanese shoegaze scene as anything else over the past 10 years, Total Feedback 2018 and the original 2008 compilation act as significant snapshots of the genre’s development in Japan.  The two compilations bookend a decade of change and development in the Japanese scene, while also representing the one event that has consistently remained as its core.

To celebrate the release there will be a three-leg Total Feedback event featuring bands appearing on the compilation, with the first show taking place in Taipei at PIPE on October 14th and the final two shows at Koenji HIGH on October 27th and 28th.  See the flyer below for all of the details.

Total Feedback 2018 comes out on October 10th via Only Feedback Records, and is currently available for pre-order at Amazon(JP)Disk Union, and Testcard Records (Bandcamp).

Here is the official trailer:

YURAGI LANDS – “Soleil”

YURAGI LANDS has emerged as one of the more promising additions to the Japanese shoegaze scene since forming late last year, though it’s not at all surprising if you haven’t heard of them. The band hails from the small town of Fujioka in Gunma prefecture, and, until recently, has rarely ventured outside of the area.  If you’ve stumbled across their two-track live studio demo on YouTube, you likely weren’t impressed and moved on without thinking much.  YURAGI LANDS has been hard to find and easy to overlook for most of the past year.  However, with the release of their new EP, Soleil, the band is making an effort to branch out and establish its name in the domestic scene.

Over its four tracks, Soleil is a solid showcase of what YURAGI LANDS does.  On “need it” and the EP’s title track, you get a pretty, billowy shoegaze sound that reminded me a bit of another current Japanese shoegaze standout, softsurf.  “Soleil” is probably the song that will attract shoegaze fans the most with its dreamy, explosive, sway-inducing chorus.  “Mahou-tsukai”, on the other hand, features loose, wonky guitar leads woven together into something that feels more like Angel’in Heavy Syrup-esque psych rock.  “Kuuki no Naka Ni” has a similar vibe, trippily building into a sweet, foot-tapper of a chorus.  The female vocals throughout the EP have a nice balance.  They’re soft, but not too soft, with a sort of piercing cuteness to them that works well within the range of what the band does.

The EP is pretty good on its own.  Though far superior in terms of quality to the first demo, it’s still a little rough around the edges.  If you want to get a basic idea of what YURAGI LANDS can do, you should definitely check it out.  There’s enough there to show that this is a band with a lot of potential.  If you want to really see YURAGI LANDS at their best, you should absolutely catch them live.  Their live sound is much bigger and more dynamic than any of their recorded material so far.  With an EP release tour currently underway and stretching into December, there are a lot of opportunities to see YURAGI LANDS perform.

Unfortunately, there isn’t so much as a sampler of Soleil streaming anywhere, and the band currently has no plans to upload any audio.  Below is a clip of YURAGI LANDS set at Nagoya’s Tsurumai Daytrip from this past January where they played at Chaos Recommend’s Chaos Meeting event.  Being a live video presumably shot with a camera, it doesn’t do their live sound – or Daytrip’s genius sound man – justice.    If you’re interested in buying the EP, you can do so for a very reasonable 500 yen at File-Under Records (international shipping is available).

Coaltar of the Deepers – “SUMMER GAZER ’92”

Legendary Japanese shoegaze/alternative/metal outfit Coaltar of the Deepers came out of nowhere yesterday at around 7pm with a massive announcement that their first new music in about seven years would be released at midnight.  The news came roughly six months after the band’s core member NARASAKI cryptically Tweeted that he was working on Deepers music again.  The track, titled “SUMMER GAZER ’92”, is the first single off the upcoming “Rabbit E.P.”, which will be out in November.  Both announcements were initially made via NARASAKI’s newly formed label U-desper Records.

The announcement of a new Deepers single a mere five hours prior to its release was pretty jolting considering there was no real reason to believe we’d get any new material from one of Japan’s most well-known and influential cult acts.  NARASAKI has been incredibly active over the years writing and producing for a bunch of different artists while also creating music for various anime.  However, the new  was unsurprisingly well-received, with “SUMMER GAZER ’92” at one point reaching as high as number 2 on the iTunes song charts on the day of its release.

The song itself was initially described by U-desper Records as a (loosely translated) “hot summer tune for summer lovers”,  and with its warm, groovy sound that feels pretty accurate.  “SUMMER GAZER ’92” has something of a mellow, jazzy samba vibe, relying on a dreamy swirl of instrumental and vocal textures and a more subtly developing intensity than the in-your-face chaotic sound that Deepers is perhaps better known for.  Though it might not be what people expect, it’s a really solid return to action for a very important band and a preview of what is easily now the most anticipated Japanese shoegaze release of 2018.

“SUMMER GAZER ’92” is currently available for purchase on iTunes worldwide.  Follow U-desper Records on Twitter for updates regarding the “Rabbit E.P.” release.

Yuragi – “Still Dreaming, Still Deafening”

When Yuragi appeared out of Shiga in 2016, it was as another impressive young Kansai act putting out some catchy, and surprisingly loud, poppy shoegaze.  Their debut single “bedside” fit in well with the pop-leaning tone of the local scene.  When the band released its first EP, “nightlife” just before the turn of that same year, there was something markedly different about its sound – leads were more sunken into the mix, the previously clean vocals were now echoing from whirlwinds of guitar noise.  Over the course of nine months and six tracks, Yuragi’s sound had changed  into something deeper and even a bit darker.

On its latest release, the six-track mini album “Still Dreaming, Still Deafening”, Yuragi shows us something totally new.  The CD kicks off with wailing clean guitars over a march-like cadence crescendoing into the post rock shoegaze explosion of “Horizon”.  On “Utopia” the band goes back to the uptempo, danceable sound of its previous releases, but doing so in a much more massive way.  The reworked version of “bedside” sits in the middle of the album, verifying the band’s transition to much bigger sound by keeping the poppy sweetness of the original but making the guitar wash much more prominent in the mix.  Lead single “Unreachable” returns to the melancholic post rock style of the openers, before the almost 11-minute “Path of the Moonlit Night” wraps things up in epic fashion, building from a dreamy lull to a raging outburst of swirling guitars before descending into a quiet marching snare that wraps it all up very comfortably.

If I have one issue with “Still Dreaming, Still Deafening” as a whole body of work, it’s that the middle portion of the mini album almost disrupts the flow between the first and final thirds.  It’s hard to really complain too much, though, since each of those tracks is ridiculously good on its own.  From a songwriting standpoint, this is the most impressive music Yuragi has released to date, and production-wise it’s excellent.  The new generation of Japanese shoegaze is moving in a very cool, very loud direction, and Yuragi, along with bands like Collapse, Softsurf, and YURAGI LANDS, is among the most exciting contributors.

You can pick up a copy of “Still Dreaming, Still Deafening” via Amazon (JP), though their previous releases have flown off the shelves so it’s best to do so quickly.

The Ambient Sounds of Arptranaus

Tokyo-based singer-songwriter Aya from Fraqsea and the now defunct Shelling has a new ambient project called Arptranaus. Aya’s music has always been characterized by its rich textures, whether used as the thick wash that defined Shelling’s hazy shoegaze sound or the atmosphere behind her solo work as Fraqsea. So it’s no surprise that she’s been able to create some more stunning ethereal tunes under this new name. Over the past few days, Aya has uploaded a series of cryptically named songs, from the light chime-laden “Noouclxz” to the darker, throbbing bass of “Dlivva”. And of course, her breathy vocals are also featured, echoing from deep in the background. Listening to Arptranaus’ music is sort of like listening to a very stripped down version of Shelling and Fraqsea. It’s a more intimate experience with the basic elements that are essential to the deep sounds of those other projects. Turn off the lights and pop your headphones on.

BLANCO – “A Place For Youthful Days”

I admittedly didn’t know a whole lot about Tokyo’s BLANCO prior to falling in love with their dreamy indie pop track “Paradise” on Ano(t)raks’ DIE IN POP comp from a couple months back.  The uptempo new wave pop track is super dancy and kind of messy, with bouts of tripped out wonky synths.  Today the band released it as the latter half of its new two-song single titled “A Place For Youthful Days”.  The lead track on the single is a slower-paced blurry psych tune called “Isolated City” that’s driven by some delightfully fuzzed-out bass.  Just like in “Paradise” this song has some pretty solid depth thanks to its synth backdrop, though in this case it’s used to create a bit more texture.  The male-female vocal harmonies are really solid, too.  Check it out for yourself at Bandcamp.

And here’s their video for “Paradise”.

Introducing Nagoya Supergroup I Like Birds

Looking at their lineup, one might expect newly-formed Nagoya quintet I Like Birds would appear to be a shoegaze supergroup.  The band’s lineup is stacked with veterans of the Nagoya shoegaze scene including Kosuke Tozuka (vocals & guitar, Apple Light), Yukie Kawaguchi (vocals & keys, me in grasshopper/mishca), Naoki Magota (guitar, Apple Light), Yutaka Mukouda (bass, softsurf), and Naoki Sogabe (drums, Tokenai Namae).  As if in premeditated response to any assumptions regarding their sound, I Like Birds introduced itself with a Tweet that started off with the words (roughly translated) “a not-shoegaze band by the Nagoya shoegaze team”.

The band’s first demo, “Bus Stop”, confirms its direction away from the gazey side of things, toward a gentler indie pop sound in the vein of Death Cab or perhaps slightly cleaned up Daisies of the Galaxy-era Eels – the latter is maybe more of a stretch based on where I’m assuming they got their name.  Of the bands represented by the individual members, Apple Light’s sound comes through the strongest.  It’s a pleasant track, with the sort of melancholy that feels just right alongside Tozuka’s voice.  Based on the lineup, the expectations are going to be pretty high from the get-go, but it’s hard to imagine this band not being good.  Give I Like Birds a follow on Twitter and stay tuned for more news and music.

The 5th Anniversary of Beatless

July 10th, 2018 marks the 5 year anniversary of Broken Little Sister’s popular shoegaze tribute to the Beatles.  The album, titled Beatless and released under the moniker Meeks, includes ten covers of famous Beatles tracks, but with a dreamy, reverb-drenched twist.

To celebrate the anniversary, Broken Little Sister released three extra tracks that didn’t make the original release.  They’re currently available at the band’s Bandcamp page for whatever you’d like to pay.

Yukla Down – “In Demonstrationem”

Tokyo’s Yukla Down put out their first record material in the form of a three-track demo EP titled “In Demonstrationem”.  The five-piece, whose lineup includes a member apiece from Si,Irene and Civic, offers a throwback 90s UK shoegaze sound that isn’t all that common in the Japanese scene.  It’s pleasantly scuzzy introduction, particularly on the first track, “Torture Me (With Your Kiss)” which sounds both nominally and tonally like something off of Isn’t Anything, but with a turn of the century American emo tinge to it that’s pretty cool.  “If You Only Knew” is another textural ripper of a song with more of a groove carrying along the cascade of harsh guitar noise, while “Borealis” is a chilled-out instrumental featuring droning guitars and a simple bongo-tapped beat.

While I don’t bemoan the lack of aggression in Japanese music nearly as much as I used to, I really appreciate Yukla Down’s noisy contributions.  The quality of the demo, in terms of both sound and composition, is really solid.  The band will be appearing at the July 29th Total Feedback event at Koenji High.  For more information you can follow Yukla Down on Facebook and Twitter.

Browned Butter – “Fall”

A couple months back, Kyoto newcomers Browned Butter released their first recorded material in the form of a single track titled “Fall”.  The song would be more formally introduced via net label Ano(t)raks’ DIE IN POP compilation album.  Just this past month the band released a debut 3-track EP of the same via the same label.

At first listen, the title track follows a pretty standard pattern for Japanese shoegaze with the blaring lead, somewhat subdued guitar backdrop, male-female twin vocals, and the stripped-down verse crescendoing into the bridge.  But while this format can be boring in some cases, Browned Butter’s sound has a really good balance to it.  The male and female vocal parts complement each other really well and sit really well in the mix.  The melodies are catchy and simple.

The album’s second track offers something a little different, playing a bit more like something inspired by “Three Out Change”.  It’s more of a deliberately paced guitar rock track, with those excellent breathy vocal harmonies really shining on top of another simple but fun guitar hook.

“Fever”, the third and final song, might be the best of the bunch.  Again, it’s pretty different from the previous two songs, featuring more of the elements of a shoegaze tune.  The vocals in the verse are chilling and when the song explodes into the chorus they just fit in there brilliantly.  It’s a powerful track.

Though a three-track EP is a pretty small sample, Browned Butter showed some good versatility on their debut.  The songwriting is really solid and the vocals are stunning.  “Fall” is a great start.  Let’s hope they keep it going.