My Dead Ishikawa – A Corpse in the Happy Valley

One of last year’s most anticipated Japanese shoegaze releases – at least among fans overseas – was hades (the nine stages of change at the deceased remains), the latest from Tokyo-based My Dead Girlfriend.  It was a big year for the band, who earlier in the year shared a stage with Astrobrite and, in support of the album, played a flurry of shows all over the country including a headlining spot at the annual Kyoto Shoegazer event.  By October, eccentric frontman Yuki Ishikawa had begun working on his next musical endeavor, a solo project that would be known simply as My Dead Ishikawa.

One of last year’s most anticipated Japanese shoegaze releases – at least among fans overseas – was hades (the nine stages of change at the deceased remains), the latest from Tokyo-based My Dead Girlfriend.  It was a big year for the band, who earlier in the year shared a stage with Astrobrite and, in support of the album, played a flurry of shows all over the country including a headlining spot at the annual Kyoto Shoegazer event.  By October, eccentric frontman Yuki Ishikawa had begun working on his next musical endeavor, a solo project that would be known simply as My Dead Ishikawa.  

My Dead Ishikawa’s debut album 幸せの谷の死体 (English: A Corpse in the Happy Valley) – set to be released on April 20th – features a number of guest musicians, including current and former members of My Dead Girlfriend, shoegaze and indie pop mastermind Kensei Ogata, GUEVNNA drummer Yamaguchi, and a bunch more.  The idea came up a few years back, but really started coming to fruition last fall.  Each of his guest musicians really helped shape the overall sound on the record, adding their own influence during the recording process.  As a result, the album explores a vast array of sounds, from grindcore to shoegaze to guitar pop to experimental noise.  Ishikawa notes that while there are similar elements to My Dead Girlfriend’s music on the record, it’s how the sound is balanced that really separates it from his previous work.  While MDG’s sound is built more delicately upon a shoegaze/noise-pop foundation, each track on A Corpse in the Happy Valley offers something different.  “The theme is just recording my feelings and ideas, without being too elaborate.”  The resulting sound is a lot more free and experimental, with the pop-shoegaze sound that Ishikawa has to this point become known for representing only small portion of the finished product.  

The moment the album starts, the difference in approach becomes clear, as the first two tracks – the album’s title track and “temi blaster” – are blistering noise pieces.  Ishikawa’s first vision for his debut solo release was a start-to-finish noise album.  “On those two tracks I was going for the fusion of noise and yelling in Japanese like on JOJO Hiroshige’s solo work.”  To make things even more aggressive, Ishikawa called upon his friend Tomoyuki Yamaguchi – of stoner rock band GUEVNNA – to play drums on the first two tracks.  Ishikawa cites Yamaguchi’s previous musical endeavors as the likely reason for the heavy grindcore influence that can also be heard in the songs.  

There’s a major shift in style as the chaotic guitars and violent screams make way for the sort of melodic pop tunes that fans might have been expecting on an Ishikawa solo album.  Just as on the first portion of the album, the sound on the third and fourth tracks, “kininaru aitsu” and “the theme from tenohira”, reflect the guest musicians that performed on them.  This time around current and former members of My Dead Girlfriend are featured, with ex-drummer Takashi Shimano playing drums on both songs and former bassist Fumiaki Arakawa joining in on the third.  The result, not surprisingly, contains sort of bubbly melodies, subtle guitar noise, and playful male-female twin vocals – in other words, this sounds a whole lot like My Dead Girlfriend.   In the studio there was a certain sense of nostalgia for Ishikawa.  “Current member Ideta and former member Shimano played, so there was the image of the band performing around 2007-2008 as we recorded the songs.”  

By this point in the album, there are clearly two distinct sections.  Ishikawa identifies the third act of the album as his favorite.  Composition-wise, the album turns back to the more free-form style found in the opening two tracks.  “A Nervous Addict in the Nittoh Mall Kumagaya” is a whimsical dreamscape of a tune, with wispy synths and spacey guitars woven together over steady backing percussion.  On “Manbiki” and “Submission to the Silence”, things get a little more chaotic.  My Dead Girlfriend drummer Tomoaki Kunii takes the lead in the writing process here and goes all out on the drums.  All around him is a mess of squealing guitar noise, with spoken word vocals – courtesy of Saori Takei and Si,Irene’s Reed David on tracks 6 and 7, respectively – topping everything off.  The latter two songs Ishikawa notes as being influenced by David Lynch’s Crazy Clown Time.  

The 8th and final track stands alone as the final theme on the record. The guest musician on “kamikakushi” is none other than Kensei Ogata (of talk, flaria, and perhaps best known to readers of this blog as the man behind Tatuki Seksu).  “I wanted to do a Japanese-style lyrical shoegaze song,” Ishikawa explains.  “I was really happy that Kensei Ogata, who I really like, performed the vocals on the track.”  The song has a talk-esque dreamy vibe to it, with Ogata providing delicate, J-Pop-style vocals over a backdrop over fuzzy guitar noise.  

The album really consists of four phases that, at least stylistically, are pretty different.  That being said, the changing of one word in the band name seems to have given Yuki Ishikawa a sense of freedom to express himself in a variety of ways.  The original plan was to make a noise album, but he was under no obligation to stick to that.  Musically, there’s always seemed to be a certain disconnect between his personality and the tone of My Dead Girlfriend’s music.  There’s a sense of sweetness in the bubbly pop leads and poppy vocal melodies that is contrasted by the sweaty, screaming frontman destroying his guitar at the end of a gig.  Balancing those elements is a key to what My Dead Girlfriend does, and on this album he’s thrown that all out the window.  There’s no balance here.  It’s just a whole bunch of what Yuki Ishikawa feels performed with a bunch of people Yuki Ishikawa likes to work with.  It’s a personal record and that’s what ties the whole thing together.

Outside of a few gigs lined up in May – including a supporting spot on Mayalsian post punk outfit Joi Noir’s Japan tour – there are no concrete plans for My Dead Ishikawa going forward.  Joining Ishikawa as the regular live band will be Sakagami (vocals & guitar) of Shojo Skip, Kawasuji (guitar), and My Dead Girlfriend members Kawakami (bass) and Kunii (drums).  While nothing’s been decided, Ishikawa is considering the possibility of recording with the current lineup in the future.  

Fans overseas are in luck as My Dead Ishikawa’s debut album A Corpse in the Happy Valley, will be available for purchase via outlets that ship internationally.  Also, if you’re in the Tokyo/Saitama area in early May you can catch their first couple gigs.  

Purchase the album:

Aoi Eir – “Shoegazer”

Shoegaze is a genre tag whose sound is often debated, but one that universally relies on a very simple formula:  a balance of beauty and ear-smashing loudness.  Beyond that, the limits of what is shoegaze and what ventures into other similar genres can get a bit clouded, but it also allows for some pretty liberal interpretation making shoegaze a generally flexible genre.  As opposed to the hey-day of the genre in the early 90s, the modern incarnation of shoegaze, coupled with the insane amount of music available at the moment, has broadened the shoegaze definition even more.  While you have your fair share of MBV and Slowdive clones – in the case of the former it’s really hard to blame them – you see a lot of Western bands veering from the pop side of things toward a more punk and metal influenced sound.

Shoegaze is a genre tag whose sound is often debated, but one that universally relies on a very simple formula:  a balance of beauty and ear-smashing loudness.  Beyond that, the limits of what is shoegaze and what ventures into other similar genres can get a bit clouded, but it also allows for some pretty liberal interpretation making shoegaze a generally flexible genre.  As opposed to the hey-day of the genre in the early 90s, the modern incarnation of shoegaze, coupled with the insane amount of music available at the moment, has broadened the shoegaze definition even more.  While you have your fair share of MBV and Slowdive clones – in the case of the former it’s really hard to blame them – you see a lot of Western bands veering from the pop side of things toward a more punk and metal influenced sound.  Meanwhile, as Jairo Manzur of Latinoamerica Shoegaze has pointed out numerous times in his contributions to Muso Planet, bands in South America, and in particular Chile, use more traditional, cultural music to define their shoegaze sound.  

That cultural influence is also a big part of what makes a lot of Japanese shoegaze unique.  In the early 90s Shibuya-kei artists like Salon Music, Spiral Life, and Flipper’s Guitar got in on the act and would influence future generations of shoegaze artists in the country.  The late 90s and early 2000s – probably the most globally recognizable period of Japanese shoegaze –  saw a lot more crossover into the sound with visual-kei/alt-rockers Plastic Tree and Japan’s very own shoegaze Swiss-army knife Coaltar of the Deepers surging to the forefront of the scene.  The current landscape of Japanese shoegaze is now more diverse than ever as a result, and new and unique versions of the genre are constantly popping up – there was even a good Mikgazer release this year.  

That brings me J-Pop artist Aoi Eiru (藍井エイル), whose music I admittedly had no prior knowledge of until about a month ago when I saw that she was getting ready to release a new single.  That single would be titled “Shoegazer”, which naturally piqued my interest.  My first thought was that a second-rate idol whose body of work seems to be largely in the realm of anime soundtracks doing a song called shoegazer would be absolute crap.  But I decided to wait and see what it would actually sound like.  

Curious as to how the track came to be titled as such, I dug up an Oricon writeup about the song and its writer Hisashi, guitarist of seminal Japanese butt-rock outfit Glay.  Not really revealing much of anything it simply mentioned something about the shoegaze genre as having distorted guitars and sweet vocal melodies.  The description in the article sort of connects to the aforementioned shoegaze formula.  The track itself completely misses the mark…badly.  It has not one single redeeming quality from the nasally vocals to the generic, watered down guitar tone to the way-too-prevalent drums that sound like something I might have made in Fruity Loops in high school.  And I haven’t even gotten to the lazily shoegaze-ified cover that is pretty much the same as every other CD she’s released with a wavy, spacey pink and purple backdrop, though in fairness that’s about as close as the whole thing gets to living up to its title. 

It’s a bad pop song, but I can live with bad pop music.  Japan has a lot of it to offer and you hear it every time you walk into a convenience store or turn on the TV.  It’s just sort of wallpaper here.  I generally wouldn’t take the time to write about a bad pop song, and I’ve probably devoted way too many words to writing about this one, but what really bothers me is that it’s clearly nothing more at a cheap attempt to latch onto an indie genre that has been growing more and more over the last few years in Japan without even making an attempt at the sound.  I don’t regard the word “shoegaze” as some embodiment of substance and musical integrity, but if you’re going to make reference to a genre, show it some respect and at least fucking try.  The song managed to take the lack of originality commonly found in idol music a step lower.  Lots of shoegazey bands have renounced the shoegaze tag, despite their music carrying a heavy influence, in the name of escaping the restrictive nature of genre identifiers.  In those cases they may be completely full of shit, but I can at least accept that as a valid thought.  With Aoi Eir’s disaster of a single, it’s the exact opposite and a shameless attempt by an out of touch songwriter to momentarily weasel a talentless young lady into a fad.  If you want a brief introduction to what’s bad about major label idol music look no further than “Shoegazer”.  

Tokenai Namae – “Time Machine ga Kowareru Mae ni”

Two years ago the Japan Shoegazer Festival made its first trip to Nagoya in addition to regular stops in Tokyo and Osaka.  Despite being headlined by more nationally recognizable bands from the two larger citites – Lemon’s Chair and My Dead Girlfriend – the majority of the bill appropriately featured bands from Nagoya.  There was some question as to how the annual event would draw in a new city and one with very little association with shoegaze. 

Two years ago the Japan Shoegazer Festival made its first trip to Nagoya in addition to regular stops in Tokyo and Osaka.  Despite being headlined by more nationally recognizable bands from the two larger citites – Lemon’s Chair and My Dead Girlfriend – the majority of the bill appropriately featured bands from Nagoya.  There was some question as to how the annual event would draw in a new city and one with very little association with shoegaze.  The question was answered in the form of a sold out show that had Tsurumai’s Daytrip packed tight, prompting the show’s organizer to book a follow up event with the venue almost as soon as the gig ended.  Judging by the crowd’s reaction during the course of the night it became clear that they weren’t just there to see the bigger name acts.  The night belonged to one local act in particular:  Tokenai Namae.

As a resident of Nagoya who runs a blog centered around shoegaze music in Japan, it’s been a pleasure to see the kayou-shoegazers continuing to pick up steam both within their hometown and outside of it, and in the process putting Nagoya on the Japanese shoegaze map.  They’ve moved a ton of their first two CD-R EPs throughout the country and have gigged increasingly outside of Nagoya, highlighted by appearances at Total Feedback and Japan Shoegazer Festival events in Tokyo.  The band took the next big step in their development this year when they wrapped up their debut full-length effort “Time Machine ga Kowareru Mae ni” earlier this year.

For those unfamiliar with Tokenai Namae’s signature blend of shoegaze and kayou-kyoku (a brand of Japanese pop music which originated in the Showa period and the foundation of modern pop music in Japan), the first two tracks on the album are basically an introduction to what they do.  “Koukotsu Kyoushitsu” (恍惚教室) and “Denki-shingou no Imooto” (電気信号の妹) are both catchy pop tracks showcasing the male and female twin vocals that ceaselessly shadow one another while bubbly synths bounce on top of subtle guitar noise.  One of the knocks on their previously released material is that the synths are a little too prominent in the mix, and while they’re still pretty high up there on the new record, it feels like everything else has been turned up and blended a little better.  One of my favorite aspects of the album is the filthy bass tone that contrasts the cheerful poppy vibe of the music really nicely, and they do well to showcase it from start to finish here.

The middle portion of “Time Machine ga Kowareru Mae Ni” is where Tokenai Namae really shines.  Not surprisingly, this is where the two lead singles “√ni-hiki” (√2匹) and “Calpis-chan” (カルピスちゃん) sit in the track listing, but the song that follows them, “Shoujo no Kannouki” (少女の官能基), is probably my favorite on the album.  For me the three-track block really showcases the band’s ability to write good songs.  The general shoegaze formula is predicated on a balance between beauty and sheer noise, but in Tokenai Namae’s case there’s an element of ‘cute’ that is vital.  Sure, there’s a fairly sizeable section of the Japanese shoegaze scene that leans heavily toward cute indie pop, but there seems to be an inverse correlation between said “cuteness” and shoegaze’s requisite volume and noise.  Tokenai Namae manages to jam them all together really successfully.

The last three tracks on the album are a gradual come down from shoegaze back into a more pop-heavy finale.  “Toumei Tsuushin” (透明通信) is sort of a perfect transition track here, while “Kanjiru Keisanki, 21sai” (感じる計算機、二十一歳) and “Suimin Shou”(睡眠抄) ease you out of what has been a largely pleasant listening experience. 

For an overseas listener-base, Tokenai Namae’s new album, and their body of work in general, may take a little bit of getting used to.  However while western shoegaze was born from western pop and the genre rode into Japan as well on the back of a Madchester craze, Tokenai Namae takes the principles of the shoegaze sound and reconstructs them around a uniquely Japanese foundation.  It makes for some really intriguing music that, at very least, will latch onto your brain and not let go without a fight.

As an added bonus, their track listings are like a really, really difficult kanji quiz.

Click here to buy “Time Machine ga Kowareru Mae ni” at Tower Records (overseas shipping is available)

Cruyff in the Bedroom – “Laurelei”

Another weekend, another barrage of events and new releases in what has been a remarkably busy 2015 for shoegaze in Japan.  The big news this past weekend was the annual Japan Shoegazer Festival, which was held in Tokyo on Sunday the 5th.  Perhaps a bit lost in the hype of the fest was a somewhat low-key release from the proclaimed “Japanese King of Shoegazer” Cruyff in the Bedroom, who put out their new EP Laurelei at a Tokyo release event which also featured genre-benders CQ, noisy alt rock outfit Kaimy Plants, and local up-and-comers Yukino Chaos.  

Another weekend, another barrage of events and new releases in what has been a remarkably busy 2015 for shoegaze in Japan.  The big news this past weekend was the annual Japan Shoegazer Festival, which was held in Tokyo on Sunday the 5th.  Perhaps a bit lost in the hype of the fest was a somewhat low-key release from the proclaimed “Japanese King of Shoegazer” Cruyff in the Bedroom, who put out their new EP Laurelei at a Tokyo release event which also featured genre-benders CQ, noisy alt rock outfit Kaimy Plants, and local up-and-comers Yukino Chaos.  

The EP features two original songs:  the title track “Laurelei” and “She is a Low”, plus a remix of each song by Broken Little Sister and Clubbers, respectively.  “Laurelei” kicks off with a bit of dreamy melancholy, with frontman Yusuke Hata weaving a sad-sounding vocal melody through a mass of swirling guitars.  There’s a nice groove to the bass, and the drums are tight and powerful as ever.  By the end of the song none of that matters though because the whole thing is enveloped in guitar noise deep down from within which Hata continues to croon on.  Essentially, it’s everything there is to love about Cruyff’s music.  

“She is a Low” is a bit more hook-driven and pacy, and not quite the immersive noise-fest of the track it follows, but it’s by no means tame.  It’s a simple track that’s chock full of screeching feedback and a chorus that will stick to your brain.  “Laurelei” melodically tugs at the heart strings, while “She is a Low” sort of just steals your car and drives it really fast and doesn’t care, showcasing in a little over seven and a half minutes just a bit of what Cruyff in the Bedroom is capable of.  As a bonus, you get to hear what the lovechild of Cruyff and fellow Tokyo shoegazers broken little sister would sound like.  Not to be ignored is a weird kind of trip-hop remix by Clubbers that took me a few listens to get into.  It’s nothing like the other three tracks, but is actually pretty cool once you get used to it.

For right now, the EP is only available at live venues – words that are no doubt nails on a chalkboard to the band’s overseas fans.  They’ve announced a bunch of tour dates in the coming months, with Yukino Chaos tabbed to support them on their way.  Definitely a must-see for fans in Japan.  

In the meantime you can hear a world premiere of “Laurelei” this weekend on DKFM‘s famed New Track’s Weekend, and one or both of the tracks will certainly be on next Wednesday’s Muso Asia.   As always follow the band on Twitter  and the Only Feedback site for further developments.  

Cattle – “Somehow Hear Songs”

One of the biggest knocks on the current crop of up-and-coming shoegaze bands in Japan is a lack of the “loudness” that is requisite to the genre.  A lot of bands are tending toward the indie-pop side of things at the expense of balls-out explosive volume.  To be fair, I really do like this current generation of Japanese shoegaze bands, and they do the jangly pop thing really well, but personally I prefer my pop music drowned mercilessly in reverb and noise.  Upstart shoegaze outfit Cattle have found that perfect balance between playful cuteness and relentless tonal aggression and the result is a very solid debut EP.

 Cattle (L to R):  Naoya Hinuma, Saori, Nomeko, Shuta Kokubun (photo from Facebook)
Cattle (L to R):  Naoya Hinuma, Saori, Nomeko, Shuta Kokubun (photo from Facebook)

One of the biggest knocks on the current crop of up-and-coming shoegaze bands in Japan is a lack of the “loudness” that is requisite to the genre.  A lot of bands are tending toward the indie-pop side of things at the expense of balls-out explosive volume.  To be fair, I really do like this current generation of Japanese shoegaze bands, and they do the jangly pop thing really well, but personally I prefer my pop music drowned mercilessly in reverb and noise.  Upstart shoegaze outfit Cattle have found that perfect balance between playful cuteness and relentless tonal aggression and the result is a very solid debut EP.

Technically Somehow Hear Songs, isn’t the first material the band has released – they put out a demo single and a split within a two month span last year – but neither really did justice to their live performance.  In fact, I really liked the demos until I saw them play live and actually realized what the band was capable of.  I wasn’t the only one apparently, as shortly thereafter it was announced that they would release their first proper EP and that it would be produced by none other than Makoto Gomi.  Not a bad guy to have overseeing a recording process, having plied his trade with the likes of Zeppet Store and Sphere among others.  His own experience with beautifully loud music and Cattle’s potential to create some of their own made for a pretty good pairing in the studio.

Somehow Hear Songs wastes no time getting to the point, as the intro and partial-title-track “Somehow Hear” starts off straight away with the sugary sweet vocal melodies of singer/keyboardist Saori and the blistering guitar attack from word go.  The guitar noise never actually ends, though you really feel the intensity during the extremely catchy choruses throughout.  The male and female twin vocals that are so very much a staple of Japanese shoegaze are there, though rather than running alongside each other, Saori’s vocals feature more prominently in the mix, while those of male counterpart Naoya Hinuma are a bit washed out and distant.  Effective balance is a big part of what makes this EP unique in the current landscape of Japanese shoegaze.

You can grab a physical copy of Somehow Hear Songs on July 8th, though for the time being Jigsaw Records has released it digitally on Bandcamp.  The CD is currently available for pre-order in Japan via most major music retailers and sites.  For folks in the US you can pre-order straight from Jigsaw Records.  

Here’s a preview of the EP.  Give the band a follow on Facebook and Twitter and visit their homepage here:  http://cattle-jp.wix.com/cattle

[Hong Kong] Thud’s Debut EP “Floret” (6/30)

Late last year, Thud was a little-known band from Hong Kong whose single “Lime” had drawn intrigue from just about every shoegaze fan who came across it on social media.  On the back of their first single, the band’s popularity had continued to grow and with it the demand for more music.  A second track “Venture” was released, which was an encouraging sign that perhaps a proper release was in the works.  Fast forward to June and the exciting news that they will, in fact, be releasing an EP.

Late last year, Thud was a little-known band from Hong Kong whose single “Lime” had drawn intrigue from just about every shoegaze fan who came across it on social media.  On the back of their first single, the band’s popularity had continued to grow and with it the demand for more music.  Early this year a second track “Venture” was released, which was an encouraging sign that perhaps a proper release was in the works.  Fast forward to June and the exciting news that they will, in fact, be releasing an EP.

去年末、当時あまり知られていなかった香港のバンドThudはSNSで紹介された初シングル「Lime」によって賞賛を受け始めた。曲がリリースされてからどんどん人気が出て、新曲の需要も高まった。今年の始めにセカンドシングル「Venture」がリリースされたことによりアルバムが制作中かではないかと期待が高まった。そして6月、ついにThudがEPをリリースすると発表された。

Floret will be the maiden release for both Thud and Hong Kong-based label Records For Children.  The EP will feature four tracks from the quartet, whose sound features an extremely appealing marriage of ‘classic’ shoegaze guitar textures and blanketed atmospheric synths.  Shades of Slowdive and M83 – whose influence becomes especially apparent on the charmingly woozy “Venture” – can be heard throughout Floret, and though comparisons can be made to any number of influential shoegaze/dream pop outfits, Thud’s debut is an imaginative display of a sound that they’ve uniquely constructed as their own.  The whirring instrumental blend is entrancing, the rhythm and synth pop melodies danceable from start to finish, and the breathy female vocals are a thing of beauty.  Simply put, it’s a fantastic EP with no discernible flaws, that should be among the year’s best when all is said and done.  As an added bonus, the fifth track on the CD is a chilled out remix of “Lime” done by Max Bloom of Yuck, for whom Thud opened in Hong Kong this year.  

FloretはThudと香港インディレーベルRecords For Childrenにとって初のアルバムリリースとなっている。4曲が収録され、彼らの90年代シューゲイザーを代表するようなギターテキスチャーと多層のシンセサイザーで作られた雰囲気のある組み合わせをショーケースする作品である。Slowdiveの影響が伺え、気持ちよく渦を巻くような「Venture」ではM83の影響も感じられるが、他のバンドと比べるのは公平ではない。Thudのデビューは非常に想像力のある独特のサウンドの展示である。ギターとシンセの相性がぴったりで、リズムとシンセポップ的なメロディでダンス向きの特徴もあり、かすかなボーカルは本当に美しい。簡単に言うと、欠点のない素晴らしいEPである。更に、5曲目にはThudが今年香港のライブでサポートしたYuckのMax Bloomが手がけたリミックスバージョンの「Lime」も入っている。

In addition to a digital release, physical CDs will go on sale at the EP Release Show in Hong Kong on June 30th.  To follow news and updates regarding this release and future releases follow Thud and Records for Children on Facebook.  

このEPは6月30日にデジタルリリースされ、当日行われるリリースパーティではCDも販売されるそうである。今後の情報はThudとRecords For Childrenのフェイスブックで発表されますので、是非フォローして下さい。

Here is a preview of the EP via Thud’s Soundcloud page:

A Guide to Japanese Shoegaze in 2015

Well the first month of 2015 has come and gone and I’m finally getting around to my first post of the year regarding Japanese shoegaze.  I thought 2014 was a pretty good year in terms of releases, especially from the indie sector of the shoegaze scene, white some of the country’s heavy hitters also put out some solid new material.  Every year I comment on how shoegaze is continuing to grow here in Japan, but in 2014 the development was especially marked with the number of local bands releasing material and getting their music out there by means of digital releases.  Unassuming upstart net label Kiiro Records in particular played a major role in spreading the word about the country’s shoegaze scene and even the somewhat out of touch, but nevertheless influential, Japan Shoegazer Festival took applications for young bands interested in getting on the bill.  What impact any of this has had on the scene’s progress from here on out remains to be seen, and with that in mind here are some of the story lines to keep an eye out for in 2015:

Well the first month of 2015 has come and gone and I’m finally getting around to my first post of the year regarding Japanese shoegaze.  I thought 2014 was a pretty good year in terms of releases, especially from the indie sector of the shoegaze scene, white some of the country’s heavy hitters also put out some solid new material.  Every year I comment on how shoegaze is continuing to grow here in Japan, but in 2014 the development was especially marked with the number of local bands releasing material and getting their music out there by means of digital releases.  Unassuming upstart net label Kiiro Records in particular played a major role in spreading the word about the country’s shoegaze scene and even the somewhat out of touch, but nevertheless influential, Japan Shoegazer Festival took applications for young bands interested in getting on the bill.  What impact any of this has had on the scene’s progress from here on out remains to be seen, and with that in mind here are some of the story lines to keep an eye out for in 2015:

1.  Bands to watch out for in 2015…

Last weekend I headed up to Tokyo for the monthly Total Feedback event at Koenji High, the unofficial home of shoegaze music in Tokyo as far as venues are concerned.  The main attractions were Cruyff in the Bedroom and dive, but the rest of the card was loaded with really impressive young artists.  The opening act in particular is one that I’ve had my eye on for some time and had really been looking forward to seeing live:  YUKINO CHAOS.  Originally started as a solo project by the band’s frontman Sickboy, YUKINO CHAOS started gigging last summer and have been getting some attention by way of a bunch of demo tracks uploaded to YouTube.  Total Feedback was no doubt their biggest gig to date and they did not disappoint at all, blending screaming guitars, catchy vocal melodies, and an obvious 90s alt rock influence.  Their debut album should be out at some point in March.

From Tokyo to Osaka we go, and one band that really caught my attention is Whisper Voice Riot.  When I say they caught my attention it really means they have a song on their Soundcloud page that I really dug, but that’s a start!  The band, whose members are all high schoolers, have been praised by some of their fellow Osaka musicians, uploaded their first track “Stargaze” in January and are aiming to release a debut EP some time in the spring.

Staying in the Kansai area, this time in Kyoto, AOQ (pronounced “Aoku”) is a band that has been on a steady rise over the last couple years but hasn’t completely gotten going, fumbling through lineup changes and even once stopping band activities altogether for a short period of time.  Last year, however, AOQ settled on a new lineup and took to the stage, appearing at the Osaka leg of the Japan Shoegazer Festival where they really were impressive.  Lots of energy on stage, catchy pop melodies, and all the bending, reverb-soaked guitars you could ask for.  We’ll see if they can keep moving forward in 2015, and perhaps get together an EP or something.

This gem courtesy of Tokyo indie-rock/dreampop outfit Youthmemory was brought to my attention this week, and in very timely fashion as they are getting ready to release their debut EP Dreamin on February 7th.  The 4-track EP will be available for purchase on Bandcamp, and later in the month the band will start selling physical copies with a bonus track at their gigs.

2.  Releases to look forward to in 2015.

Maybe the best moment at the Total Feedback event was when Dive frontman Takaharu Sasaoka announced to the audience that they are planning on releasing new music at some point this year.  Until further notice that will be the most anticipated upcoming release of 2015.  Not to be ignored however is new music from My Dead Girlfriend, who are in the process of recording their new album.

The band responsible for the best Japanese shoegaze EP in 2014, magic love has also promised us some new tunes.  Their first mini album was originally slated for the end of the year, but got pushed back, and there’s no real timetable regarding the release as of right now.

Finally, Nagoya’s Tokenai Namae, who also appeared at the January Total Feedback, have been working hard on their debut full-length for which the kayou-kyoku shoegazers are targeting a summer release.  A victim of mediocre recording quality thus far, a properly produced album will hopefully be able to show folks why they’ve been steadily gaining a following throughout Japan over the last couple years.

3.  Who will build off an impressive 2014?

Last year’s releases were highlighted by impressive debuts and emphatic comebacks.  Juvenile Juvenile just wrapped up the release tour in support of their first full-length Our Great Escape – and my personal favorite album of the year – so that is one band whose progress I’ll be watching eagerly this year.  Oeil returned to action in 2014 with their first EP in 7 years and also toured alongside Aerofall and Vibragun on their Japanese tour last fall.  Urban Twilight left people wanting more and with Myrtle Oeil came through in a big way.  Hopefully we won’t have to wait long for some more new material…or maybe a debut album?

The aforementioned magic love made a comeback in 2014 as well, though not as dramatic as that of Oeil.  After roughtly a three year hiatus that began after the release of their debut EP, they got back around to gigging and released another killer 3-track EP.  We know there’s new music on the way, but will it be as good as the Dawn EP?  We’ll find that out soon.

Kiiro records, as mentioned above, was one of the big stories of the year.  The three shoegaze comps organized by the net label aside, in its first year kiiro put out an astounding number of albums (all available for free on Bandcamp).  It will be interesting to see if the upstart label, which is essentially run by one person, can maintain the heavy workload and if perhaps its catalog will start to include more and more shoegaze releases.

4.  Happy 5th Anniversary!

The Japan Shoegazer Festival turns five this year, and though the details aren’t really out there yet, we do know that the Tokyo leg of the event is being planned.  Last year was the biggest year for the festival to date, and with this being the fifth anniversary it will be interesting to see if the growth continues into 2015 and beyond.  While not necessarily the most representative shoegaze event in Japan (Total Feedback does a much better job of showcasing young shoegaze bands), it is the biggest, and a lot of good bands to find their way onto the stage.  The recent efforts to infuse the lineup with up and coming talent have been encouraging.

5.  Will shoegaze continue to grow outside of Tokyo and Osaka?

Tokyo basically has a stranglehold on most of Japan’s musical talent, especially when it comes to shoegaze.  Due to the city’s sheer size this is really no surprise, and Koenji HIGH hosts a ton of worthwhile shoegaze events.  In Osaka as well you can find some great new bands at the frequently held High Fader Night at Kitahorie’s club vijion.  Cities like Fukuoka and Nagoya have their fair share of musical history and impressive scenes themselves, but as far as shoegaze is concerned Tokyo and Osaka are where the events are to be found.

In 2013, Masashi Imanishi brought the Japan Shoegazer Festival to Nagoya and it was a big success, selling out the venue and prompting a second event later that year.  Sadly the second time around wasn’t as great and there’s been no sign of a return since.  Locally, the Day In Day Out event occasionally features shoegaze bands (most recently Juvenile Juvenile appeared), but there’s usually a huge mix of sounds on the bill.  Bands like Tokenai Namae, Aysula, miiia, mishca, and me in grasshopper might be the start of a growing Nagoya shoegaze scene but whether it will continue to grow or not in a city dominated by punk rock, rockabilly, and metal remains to be seen.

Kyoto is also a candidate for a third shoegaze city in Japan, with its third Kyoto Shoegaze event on the horizon.  The two-day festival will once again be held at Annie’s Cafe, and last year had a huge lineup featuring the likes of cruyff in the bedroomcigarette in your bed, and MASH.  The only thing lacking on the back end of the card was a good amount of local talent.  As the June dates approach we will see what bands await shoegaze fans in Kyoto.

[Japan] kiiro records presents: FOREVER SHOEGAZE 2

 
With 2014 coming to a close, it’s about that time for music bloggers to start taking a look back at the year and putting together lists and reflective pieces and whatnot. Lookingat the list of shoegaze releases in Japan this year, there have been quite a few from well-established artists and newcomers alike. For those of us in Japan, these new releases have been pretty easily accessible, while for folks abroad they have in some cases been near impossible to obtain. The overall lack of digital releases is a point of frustration for a lot of people who want a gateway in to what has, in the last few years, been a growing Japanese shoegaze scene.

Japan’s kiiro records, a net label established at the beginning of the year, has done its best to provide for an eager overseas audience. With a slogan that roughly translates to “easy listening for everyone”, kiiro offers a diverse catalog featuring any number of genres from pop to alt rock to grunge. In June however, the label got the attention of shoegaze fans with the release of its FOREVER SHOEGAZE compilation album.  Shortly thereafter, a collaboration with The Japan Shoegazer Festival was announced for the summer event, where an exclusive comp CD-R was released – the first and only physical release from the label.

Kiiro records will be getting ready to release its next shoegaze comp, titled FOREVER SHOEGAZE 2, at midnight JST on December 25th (Merry Christmas!), which will be 7am PST for everyone stateside.  Similar to its predecessors, FOREVER SHOEGAZE 2 will feature mostly Japanese bands, with some foreign artists also appearing on the track list.  This time around there are some bands that are well worth keeping an eye on, such as Tokyo’s Float down the Liffey and Magic Love, and some great overseas talent in Australia’s kigo (who also appeared on the first comp), The Bilinda Butchers (USA), and one of my personal favorites, DIV I DED (Czech Republic).  The lineup for the band hasn’t been finalized, but as it stands, in addition to those just mentioned, the following bands will appear on the comp:  Dream Suicides and Ask For Joy (USA), UN PLANETA (Argentina), and POLA, Lunchu, Corsage, Ame no Naka no Uma, and nayutanayuta (all from Japan).

As with all of kiiro records’ releases FOREVER SHOEGAZE2 will be available for free download via the label’s Bandcamp page.  Keep an eye out for a mirror download link in case the album meets its 200 free download limit.  Muso Planet will be providing the recommendation write up for the record upon its release.  There’s just a little over a week left until the comp is released, so in the meantime you can check out the first FOREVER SHOEGAZE album and some of kiiro’s catalog.

[Glasgow] New Music from The Cherry Wave!

The Cherry Wave have gotten around to giving us that music they’ve been promising.  The wait was somewhat long but in the end it’s been totally worth it.  The Glasgow foursome released the first track, “Whitey”, from its upcoming album, which should (fingers crossed) be out in the near future.  “Whitey” features two and a half minutes of the fuzzed-out droning guitars, howling leads, and powerful rhythm section that we’ve come to love through an EP and some change to date.  There’s a bit more of an edge to this track than the first EP, a direction perhaps signaled in last summer’s single “Under Dull Grey Skies”, which appeared on Lamppost Records’ Under the Wildflowers: volume 1 comp.  Anyway, it’s good to hear some music from the guys and it’s enough to whet your appetite while the finishing touches are put on a highly anticipated new record.  Have a listen, enjoy, and tell your friends.