Tokyo shoegaze trio Nuit kicked off the new year with their latest track titled “Solitude”. The song, which was posted minutes after 2019 officially rang in, features frontman Yasuyuki Ota’s trademark dramatic vocals shrouded in billowing waves of hissing guitar. The stripped down verse is just there to set up for the explosion into the heartbreaking sway of the chorus. It’s a very Nuit-sounding song, feeling like something out of the early to mid 2000s. “Solitude” is the second single, not counting the band’s plant cell cover, that Nuit has released since their 2018 self-titled EP. Makes you wonder if we’ll see a follow up effort at some point in 2019.
Having just released a self-titled debut full-length last month, Tokyo’s Once Grace Forever wasted no time in putting out its follow-up single “♭1”. The single’s A-side, “Ao” is the more impressive track of the two, transitioning back and forth well between clean lulls and big, wailing choruses. “Flat” is a fuzzy guitar pop tune that doesn’t change much dynamically, relying instead on the vocal melody and melancholic chord progressions. The single is pretty solid, but might have come out a little too soon after the record, which is a tough act to follow. If you haven’t heard any of Once Grace Forever’s music, I recommend starting here and then moving on to the album.
While all the talk recently has been about the emergence of younger bands in the Japanese scene, 2018 has also been a pretty solid year for comeback releases as well. Sugar Plant returned with an impressive album before Coaltar of the Deepers put out a long-awaited EP. But LUCY’S DRIVE – better known as the solo project of ZEPPET STORE bassist Yuichi Nakamura – made perhaps the most dramatic return of the year with TWO new albums this month. Pair of Sounds marks the bands first proper release since it’s 2007 full-length debut, DEEP SEEKER. As the name implies, the release was split into a pair of 7-track CDs, unofficially titled “red” and “blue”.
While bits and pieces of Pair of Sounds have been released via limited edition singles over the past couple years, the final product sees all of the material effectively split to create two pretty different vibes. The red version offers a mellow dream pop feel with a more ethereal backdrop throughout. The second half is especially dreamy thanks to electronics-driven tracks like “Sometime I Think” and “Ebb Tide”. The album’s finale “Daybreake” is a really strong gazey pop number.
On the blue version of Pair of Sounds, Nakamura draws on a wide range of 90s UK shoegaze and britpop, from the Loveless-y lead track “Perfect” to the super danceable “Heavy Rain”. While the red version relies more on softer textures to create its atmosphere, the blue version is much more driven by guitar noise. “Shining Blue”, the latter’s closer, combines the two styles and could be the best song of the bunch. LUCY’S DRIVE may not get the love of its late-aughts shoegaze contemporaries, but the quality was there on DEEP SEEKER and eleven years later it might be even higher on Pair of Sounds.
Both versions of Pair of Sounds are available via distro/label Testcard records. Domestic purchase is available at their site, while international orders can be placed through their Bandcamp page. LUCY’S DRIVE also contributed a song to the recently released Total Feedback 2018 compilation, which you can also purchase through Testcard.
Below you can listen to the trailers for both red and blue versions of Pair of Sounds.
Nagoya’s Hitori Pale flew under even the local radar this summer when the young three-piece released its debut track “SPiRAL” on Soundcloud. An introductory track, “SPiRAL” is a bit rough around the edges in terms of sound quality, but the song has really grown on me since I first gave it a listen. Musically, this is another track that feels like it would have held up well in the early 2010s, reminding me a bit of former Osaka shoegaze mainstays EUPHRATES with the dramatic, soaring chorus. The vocals are the most unique bit, and while I am not the biggest fan of vocals being so present in the mix, there’s something really dramatic about the vibrating melancholic wailing in this track that combines well with the warm, fuzzy textures and gloomy chord progressions to really hit the spot.
I regrettably missed the boat on the 2017 debut LP from Matsumoto, Nagano’s And Lorelei. In retrospect, it probably would have easily made it into my best of the year list. I’m only about five months late in discovering the band’s follow up EP, “And Lorelei 0.2”, which is yet another showcase of the band’s ability to write stunningly beautiful songs. The best shoegaze song is the one that you can get lost in, and that is just the sort of sound AND LORELEI consistently produces. Whether it’s via the sort of blissed out shoegaze you can hear on “Himitsu”, the slowly-evolving, dreamy haze of “Umarekawaru” or “Abraham”, or the minimalist ambient approach found in “Legi”, “And Lorelei 0.2” is a deeply immersive and emotional listening experience.
Both of AND LORELEI’s releases are currently available on iTunes and Apple Music. The physical release is also available for purchase domestically via TTOS. Here is a video for “Himitsu”.
It’s been sort of tough to keep up with all of the solid new shoegaze bands that have popped up in Japan in 2018, and the flurry of new releases from promising young artists over the last few months continues. It’s especially cool to see new representatives from outside the Tokyo area, as is the case with Hamamatsu’s plasmaclub who just released a debut two-track EP titled “14011”. Shizuoka prefecture’s largest city hasn’t yielded much in the way of shoegaze since the piqnic went more toward drony psych and post punk and changed its name to qujaku. On “14011” plasmaclub gives a bit of a nod to early piqnic with a heavily-layered dark, moody brand of shoegaze, and not surprisingly the release was also produced by qujaku guitarist Soushi Mizuno. The soaring guitar lead over hazy walls of guitar noise on lead track “dress” has the dramatic sound to it that was a lot more prominent in the Japanese scene in the early part of the decade. It’s a straightforward track that relies on heavy textures and dramatic vocal melodies over simple beats. “Veil of shine/(save me)” is similar, but a dreamier, wafting sort of track, highlighted by a sad, longing chorus. Both tracks feel like they would be tremendous live. Add plasmaclub to the ever-growing list of Japanese shoegaze bands to keep an eye out for.
The EP is currently available at Bandcamp.
While 2018 has seen plenty of new bands introduce themselves with singles and EPs, Once Grace Forever came out of nowhere with a well-assembled 8-track self-titled debut last week. The Tokyo trio shows a couple different looks on the album, starting off with some deliberately-paced, moody post rock. On the latter half they pick up the tempo a bit, transitioning to some pretty shoegaze tracks before a chilled-out electronic finale. The period of the album spanning “Summer”, “∞”, and “Melody” particularly hit the spot, but the entire thing from start to finish is quite impressive, all things considered. Once Grace Forever decided to forego the requisite “roughly-produced two- to three-track demo” phase and go right to putting together a really nice first release.
You can pick up Once Grace Forever’s debut at Bandcamp.
Figure, the solo project of Tottori-based musician Masanobu Hasebe, provided one of the more pleasant discoveries of the year, a new 6-track release titled “Parakalein”. The EP, which was released in both digital and cassette formats by Kobe indie label, Sauna Cool, is the first release from figure in four years. It’s a collection of washed out lo-fi indie pop tunes, spread out in layers over a backbone of snappy electronic drums. “Parakalein” hits the sweet spot where indie pop and shoegaze combine – something that’s been both popular and perhaps a bit contentious among some bands but undoubtedly successful in the Japanese scene. While there’s not a bad track on the EP, “True Bosom” is the highlight of the release – a blurry mishmash of jangly melodies, synths, and reverb-drenched blaring guitars. The six-minute “Mary” is a more uptempo, melodic pop song with an ultra-catchy chorus. It’s some well-written, charmingly-produced dreamy melancholy from an artist that will hopefully get some more attention from here on out.
You can pick up “Parakalein” via Sauna Cool’s Bandcamp page. Cassettes are available, but limited to 100 copies.
Tokyo’s Luby Sparks is back with its second release of the year, a four-track EP titled “(I’m) Lost in Sadness”. The EP, which was produced by Yuck’s Max Bloom , is Luby Sparks’ first release since bringing in new vocalist Erika Murphy. With the band’s sweet melancholy still present, the new music takes a turn toward a more shoegaze sound, something that was hinted at with the release of hazy lead single “Perfect” last week. “Cherry Red Dress” is a stunning, moody dream pop tune and the title track is an epic seven minutes of layered guitars and well-harmonized twin vocals. The EP wraps up with a heart-wrenching cover of haunting Mazzy Star number “Look On Down From The Bridge”. While Luby Sparks’ self-titled debut full length effort from earlier this year is still sitting comfortably at the top of my 2018 release list, “(I’m) Lost in Sadness” hits home in a bit of a different way, showcasing the band’s ability to craft gloomy, nostalgic tunes using tremendous depth and texture. And while the loss of original Luby Sparks singer Emily was sad news, Murphy has shown she’s a perfect match for what the band does. These guys continue to show that they can write songs with the best of them with yet another top notch release to their name.
“(I’m) Lost in Sadness” is available to stream on Apple Music and can be purchased on iTunes or via Amazon (JP). Below is the video for “Perfect”.
Instrumental post rock/shoegaze four-piece Ulm has spent the last year or so establishing its place in the Nagoya scene thanks to impressive live performances alongside some of the bigger names in shoegaze and shoegaze-adjacent alt rock circles. At the end of July, the band released its first recorded material, an EP titled “After Dark”, which was recorded and mixed by Muscle Soul frontman Tomoaki Taguchi. Over the course of the EP’s three tracks, which span almost twenty-four minutes, Ulm offers a lot of what you’d expect from a post rock album with dreamy lulls crescendoing into huge guitar explosions. In each phase of an Ulm song, there is a wonderful harmony between the two guitar parts, whether it’s clean, mellow arpeggios woven tightly together or heavy, distorted leads soaring alongside one another. The EP’s title track in particular is a good example of what cinematic post rock should sound like, and the transitions between parts are smooth and tight. While a lot of the post rock segment of the Japanese shoegaze scene has gone away in recent years, Ulm have brought some of it back and done so really well. It’s a good showing from yet another impressive young act from Nagoya.
The CD is currently available at Nagoya’s File-Under Records (which ships internationally). Below is a link to some sample audio from Soundcloud.