figure – “Parakalein”

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.

Luby Sparks – “(I’m) Lost in Sadness”

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”.

Ulm – “After Dark”

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.

concrete twin – “Re:boots”

Tokyo-based shoegaze outfit concrete twin is back with its first release in two years, a two-track EP titled “Re:boots”.  Originally the solo project of Kazuya Okada, concrete twin has remained a consistent but underrated member of the current Tokyo shoegaze scene over the last year or so.  Okada, who also currently performs with better-known Chiba shoegaze band plant cell, has been making music for concrete twin – originally known as Guruwa Vail – since 2008.  In 2017, he recruited members and the band started gigging in the Tokyo area, appearing multiple times at monthly Koenji HIGH shoegaze showcase Total Feedback.  After losing a few members recently, Okada rebooted the lineup with bassist/keyboardist Fumio and drummer Zenn.

“Re:boots” is a bit more subdued in terms of pace than concrete twin’s previous EP release.  “Accelerator” is a swirly, dreamy mess of guitars and sunken, blippy synths.  “Door” is much larger and more chaotic, and I can’t help but think about how much bigger it would sound with real drums.  The vocals on both tracks sit right at that perfect point of being unintelligible but present enough.  While the latter track is a really solid concept, “Accelerator” is a legit gazey dreamscape that is also executed well on the recording.  It’s hard to imagine concrete twin’s sound not being incredible in a live setting.

You can pick up concrete twin’s latest release at the band’s newly created Bandcamp page.  Physical copies of their material are also available at their shows.

S A W A G I – “Forget-Me-Not”

Nagoya newcomers SAWAGI have arrived, bringing their dark blackgaze sound to a local scene that had already boasted a tonally diverse shoegaze scene.  The band formally announced its formation just last month, one day after releasing a two-track demo EP titled “Forget-Me-Not”.  The EP is very much a demo with some somewhat distracting programmed drums and the sort of mixing you’d expect from a demo, but there is some real promise here.  The EP’s title track crescendo’s nicely from an unexceptional verse to a lush, heavy chorus.  While the clean guitar strums over the chorus are sort of off-putting, the mix of the massive guitar wall, tinny screams, and a soaring guitar lead work tremendously well together.  The other track, “Zephyranthes”, is more of a speedy, proggy black metal track.  It’s unspectacular – those drums just get sillier sounding at a higher tempo – but I like the consistency of the vocals over the two tracks.  Considering the EP was composed and produced by one person and released the day the band officially formed, the flaws can be overlooked.  There’s enough to pique my interest here.  Also, this studio clip the band posted on Twitter is really promising (props for the Mayhem shirt, too):

 


SAWAGI is getting ready to make its live debut next month at the YURAGI LANDS release show at Nagoya’s Tsurumai Daytrip.  You can pick up their EP for whatever you’d like to pay on Bandcamp:

Foilverb & Sourin – “The End of Whitenote”

Japanese chiptune producer Foilverb has teamed up with shoegaze unit Sourin – perhaps better known as the solo project of monocism’s Tomoya Matsuura – to put out an interesting new collaborative EP titled The End of Whitenote.  With Foilverb’s tendency toward darker, somewhat cinematic chiptune tracks shrouded in non-8-bit instruments and Sourin’s shoegaze backed by chaotic electronic drums and synths, the pairing is a very logical one and the result feels right.  The End of Whitenote is unsurprisingly dark and dramatic, perhaps more along the lines of chiptune post rock than the familiar chipgaze standard of The Depreciation Guild.  Intro track “Funeral Song” is as good a blend of chiptune and shoegaze as there is, with the 8-bit blips sitting comfortably under the blanket of guitar noise and echoing falsetto vocals without getting too distracting.  The mix is solid.

You can pick up the EP via Foilverb’s Bandcamp page.  Check out Sourin as well (the first album is spectacular).

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 – “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.

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”.

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.