For years now, Tokyo’s Spool has been readying itself for a breakout. The all-female four-piece, which has become affectionately referred to as “Japan’s Warpaint”, has been a massive draw in its local scene, garnered attention from music fans overseas, and put out a handful of quality releases both in Japan and internationally. The announcement late last year of its self-titled debut full-length felt like a statement that Spool was ready to establish itself among the elite of the Japanese indie scene.
The Warpaint comparison almost feels lazy, but it makes sense. The shoegaze tag fits as well as the various comps to bands like The Smashing Pumpkins, Sonic Youth, and My Bloody Valentine, but each only to a certain extent. On the album Spool pulls a bit from the edgier side of 90s US alternative music as well as the dreamy UK melancholy and fuzzy guitar walls that have the band seated comfortably in the Japanese shoegaze scene. It’s a total throwback to everything that rules about 90s music. Spool has really keyed in on that general concept and written exceptional songs around it.
There are some familiar songs on the record, with “Springpool” and fan favorite “Sway, fadeaway” joining the stunningly shoegazey lead single “Be My Valentine” in getting beefed up new versions courtesy of producer and magic love drummer Kazuaki Kondo. Lead track “nightescape” is a dark, dreamy number turned absolute belter that, along with my personal favorite song on the album, “Let Me Down” really showcases frontwoman Ayumi Kobayashi’s range. The deep, breathy vocals in the verses on the latter, in particular, are teeming with attitude and there’s something quietly powerful about them as they trade off with the sad, raw chorus line.
Overall, the shoegaze influence on the album is perhaps stronger than expected, highlighted by gloomy, thickly textured tracks like “Winter” and “Morphine”. “Blooming in the Morning” adds a little dream pop into the mix as well, softening a bit of the album’s edge with some bouncy sweetness. The closer, “No, thank you”, which is a more cleanly mixed version than the one that appeared on last year’s Total Feedback 2018, wraps up the album with a blistering guitar attack and distorted vocals.
Expectations were high coming into the full length debut, and the band delivered. Though Spool’s influences are by no means unique in the current Japanese scene, the way in which they are able to put them together and really balance their sound over the course of the record is. The ability for a band to wear its influences on its sleeve without bottle-necking itself and at the same time maintaining some cohesiveness over the course of an album is something to appreciate. Spool has done it here.
You can pick up Spool’s self-titled album via Testcard Records’ Bandcamp page (overseas) or domestically from the label’s online store. It’s also available for streaming on Apple Music, though there are some issues due to another band called Spool having released an album called Spool in 1998.
Below you can find the videos for “Be My Valentine” and “Blooming in the Morning”.