In July of 2016, the Nagoya Shoegazer Expo was held at KD Japon and Daytrip, two venues in Nagoya's Tsurumai area that have more or less been the stage for the emergence of the local shoegaze scene over the last few years. To be honest, it wasn't much of a shoegaze event at all, but more of an alternative rock showcase curated by a fan of the genre. With the exception of mishca and Aysula, many of Nagoya's more established shoegaze representatives were conspicuously absent from the lineup. Little-known local newcomer softsurf was buried on the bill, scheduled to take the stage at 3:30 in the afternoon at the Monday event.
It's been a hell of a year since that event for softsurf. They put out a 2-track demo single and absolutely packed the house at our Daydream event in Nagoya. They stepped up their gigging schedule and earlier this year supported NIGHTS' Jenna Fournier on her Japan tour. They established themselves as one of the brightest new acts in Japan, and boast one of the best live shows I've seen in a long time. And today softsurf has released its debut EP, "Into the Dream".
I'm not the biggest fan of band comparisons, and I don't really use them a whole lot when writing reviews. But in softsurf's case, given the overall tone of the Japanese shoegaze scene, it's hard not to at least mention similarities to Slowdive - something that hasn't really been done since Pastel Blue called it quits years ago. You find a whole lot of Ride, Pale Saints, and My Bloody Valentine influence in Japan, but softsurf goes agains the grain, opting to bury melodies deep within hazy, billowy guitars. You get a sense of it from the single they released, but the depth of softsurf's sound absolutely blows you away when you see them on stage. It's impossible for a recording to capture the intensity and fill space like a live performance, but "Into the Dream" is as good a representation as one could hope for.
Both of the tracks released on softsurf's first demo, "Blue Swirl" and "Beautiful Day" appear on the EP in much more beefed-up forms. There's not much to be said that I haven't already mentioned in previous reviews, other than the fact that the quality is, expectedly, much-improved. The remaining three tracks are all new. "Another Garden" is a sweet, whimsical dream pop track that follows more of the Japanese shoegaze model with its more prominent melodies. It's one of the catchier tunes on "Into the Dream", injecting a bit more bounce into an EP that is otherwise based around texture-building.
For me, the real strength of "Into the Dream" lies in the other two new tracks. "Rainy Moon" sits smack in the middle of the five track EP and starts off with a gentle, lulling verse, crescendoing at points, but not quite fully taking off. That is until about halfway through when the song explodes into a mass of big swirling guitars. Frontwoman Yuki Udono's vocals really shine on "Rainy Moon", going from sweet and soft to powerful, matching each phase of the song. It's an intense track, and also my personal favorite in any softsurf live set.
If the first four tracks don't sell you on the Slowdive comp, the finale, "Dawn of the Sun", most definitely will. There isn't much in the way of subtle developments in this song, as it kicks right off with big screaming guitars. There's a heavy "When the Sun Hits" vibe, the way the song takes off and carries you through a thick atmosphere of layered guitars and reverb-soaked male-female twin vocals. It's not the most original of their tracks, but it's a beast of a song that you just sort of get lost in.
There's a good reason this was my most anticipated release of the year, and softsurf, with the help of some fine production work, delivered. Softsurf has announced itself as one of Japan's finest shoegaze bands, coming a long way since last year's Nagoya Shoegaze Expo. You can see them live at this year's Daydream events in Kyoto, Nagoya, and Tokyo. And folks interested in buying "Into the Dream" can do so via Nagoya's File Under Records (see the link and directions below).
File Under Records (Nagoya): http://www.fileunderrecords.com/?pid=120872924
Directions for overseas customers: Send an e-mail with the name of the title you would like to purchase to firstname.lastname@example.org. After confirming the total with shipping, payment can be made via PayPal.
"Into the Dream" trailer: