The Florist – “Blood Music”

After a stellar debut in 2014, Tokyo’s The Florist have returned with an even better sophomore effort.  With Dark Entries, my third favorite album from two years ago, the band burst onto the scene with its own unique sound.  In a year when the best shoegaze albums were infused with everything from grunge to post rock to indie pop, The Florist drew heavily on 90s American emo to put together a lush, dreamy record.

  Photo:  theflorist.info
Photo: theflorist.info

After a stellar debut in 2014, Tokyo’s The Florist have returned with an even better sophomore effort.  With Dark Entries, my third favorite album from two years ago, the band burst onto the scene with its own unique sound.  In a year when the best shoegaze albums were infused with everything from grunge to post rock to indie pop, The Florist drew heavily on 90s American emo to put together a lush, dreamy record.  Thanks to an addictive signature song in “Middle of Winter” and a strong push from a number of overseas media outlets, The Florist’s debut attracted a large international audience and thus a desire for more music.  This June, The Florist obliged with the release of Blood Music.

The day of the album’s release The Florist simultaneously released videos for co-lead singles “Disintegration” and “Halcyon”.  The former, which kicks off the record, picks up right where the band left off on Dark Entries.  The latter is a bit colder, though the jagged guitar line eventually makes way for the warm, thickly textured sound that fans of The Florist have come to expect.  

While the first half of the album is really solid – “Sadness Like Water Raining Down” is my personal favorite of the first five songs – it’s the portion of the album that comes after the beautiful instrumental interlude, “Untitled”, that really defines this album.  

“Marigold” is a flurry of squalling guitars and drums, the intensity of which balances so incredibly well with the high, harmonized vocals.  This is also the track where those guitar leads showcased on the first album really shine.  The emo influence really shows about halfway through when the bridge kicks in.  The song is a bit harsher than anything they’ve done to this point, but still incorporates familiar elements.  

If “Marigold” was a reintroduction of The Florist’s familiar guitar leads on the new album, “Ghosts” is where they really shine.  If I had to choose one song to make a lead single prior to Blood Music‘s release, it would have been this one.  The galloping first 45 seconds bursts into a blurry mass of guitar, highlighted by a bending lead reminiscent of the one that drove “Middle of Winter” so well.  Guitarist Yosuke Shiina’s ability to craft a gorgeous tone and weave it through each track is what really sets The Florist apart from other shoegaze bands in Japan.  “Ghosts” is the band’s best showcase of that fact to date.

The pace picks up and takes a bit of a danceable turn with two melodic tracks in “Sweet Decadence” and “Weird Dreams”.  At first listen it sort of felt like a poppy palate cleanser after a couple of emotional, harder-hitting songs, but both tracks really grew on me, especially “Weird Dreams” which, if I’m ranking the songs on the record, is right up there with “Ghosts”.  

The light atmosphere of closer “The Last Dance” nicely wraps up an album that, as a whole, tops their debut release.  While Dark Entries may have had higher peaks, Blood Music is a more consistent effort.  It’s a more tonally explorative record that manages to remain cohesive with a very natural flow to it.  As was the case with their debut, Blood Music figures to be on many a “Best of the Year” list when all is said and done.

Blood Music is available on iTunes and Apple Music, and physical copies can be purchased via Japanese Amazon (international shipping is available).

Here is the video for the album’s first single, “Disintegration”:

 

 

Sapporo Shoegazers Edy Two Arc

After a couple years of trying to hunt down their music, I was finally able to get my hands on a release from Sapporo’s Edy Two Arc.  The CD, titled Kurakute, Oto no nai Tokoro (暗くて、音のないところ), is actually an 8-track split, featuring two tracks apiece from four Sapporo bands.

 http://edy-sapporo.jimdo.com/
http://edy-sapporo.jimdo.com/

After a couple years of trying to hunt down their music, I was finally able to get my hands on a release from Sapporo’s Edy Two Arc.  The CD, titled Kurakute, Oto no nai Tokoro (暗くて、音のないところ), is actually an 8-track split, featuring two tracks apiece from four Sapporo bands.  Edy Two Arc, who prior to a sudden name change last month simply went by Edy, lend a dark, heavy shoegaze vibe to a comp that features everything from math-y funk to melancholic pop.  Though the band has been around for a few years, they’ve been largely inaccessible with a limited web presence and live-exclusive releases.  

Edy Two Arc have managed to remain something of a mystery, despite frequently appearing Total Feedback events and opening for Ringo Deathstarr in Hokkaido.  Their songwriting is by no means adventurous, but their sound is very comfortable and should hit the spot for fans of big, billowy shoegaze with a darker vibe.  About five months or so ago, the band posted the two tracks they submitted for the split on Soundcloud.  Check them out below.

Citrus Nowhere – “A Nightmare Before She Sleeps”

By now it’s no longer much of a secret that Tokyo’s Citrus Nowhere are regarded as one to keep an eye on in the Japanese shoegaze scene.

By now it’s no longer much of a secret that Tokyo’s Citrus Nowhere are regarded as one to keep an eye on in the Japanese shoegaze scene.  I wrote as much in my 2016 preview piece at the beginning of the year, and the band’s commitment to not only putting out more material – seemingly the endgame for a lot of promising young bands here – but to gigging and ironing out any remaining wrinkles in their live game has been a really positive sign.  

The band had a bit of a coming out party in the form of a self-titled EP and release party alongside fellow passengers on the raging war wagon that is the new generation of Japanese shoegaze bands, Yukino Chaos.  At the gig, which took place in Nagoya, there was a sense that everything was still being figured out.  It wasn’t super tight, but you got a feel for what they were doing.  I enjoyed the opportunity to see them.  It didn’t feel like a finished product.  To be fair, it was also the band’s fourth ever show.  

This month Citrus Nowhere released its second EP, this one titled A Nightmare Before She Sleeps, as a free download on Bandcamp.  At first listen its hard to ignore the release’s raw production value.  The fuzzed-out guitars dominate the mix while the drums are faint enough in the background to guide you hazily through each song.  There’s a playful poppiness to what’s going on below the layers of noise, and I found the combination more interesting than their previously released work.  

The intro track “Beautiful Lies” is a persistent, free-flowing wash of droning guitars.  It’s a refreshingly unstructured song with a bit of a subtle jangle and light male-female vocal harmonies fluttering around.  There’s some pop there, but it’s subdued for the sake of noise.  

“Blue Enemies” is another that stuck out, perhaps because it’s got a bit of a different vibe from the rest of the EP and it sits right smack in the middle of the five songs.  The beat on this track is infectious and the band does well to create a haunting mood from some trippy textures and subtle falsetto vocals.  

As a stand-alone, Citrus Nowhere’s A Nightmare Before She Sleeps is really enjoyable, but the production will definitely be a turn off for some.  In context though, this EP is a step in the right direction, muddying things up in a scene where too many bands try to keep things super clean.  It’s their willingness to experiment and not shy away from the harsher side of things that makes these guys, in my opinion, such a key member of this new wave of Japanese shoegaze bands.

You can pick up A Nightmare Before She Sleeps, as well as their self-titled EP, on Bandcamp for free.  

 

 

Looprider – “Ascension”

It was just last August that I was writing about the debut from Tokyo newcomers Looprider. My Electric Fantasy was a diverse record, with the band exploring any number of sounds from shoegaze to pop to sludgy, grimy, at times doom-y rock.  With their sophomore effort, titled Ascension, released on May 4th via Call and Response Records, Looprider has taken a different and more direct approach to annihilating your eardrums.   

Photo by Matt Schley (http://www.mattschley.com/)

It was just last August that I was writing about the debut from Tokyo newcomers Looprider. My Electric Fantasy was a diverse record, with the band exploring any number of sounds from shoegaze to pop to sludgy, grimy, at times doom-y rock.  With their sophomore effort, titled Ascension, released on May 4th via Call and Response Records, Looprider has taken a different and more direct approach to annihilating your eardrums.  

You get an idea of what to expect when comparing the covers of their two releases, both of which were done by Tokyo-based artist Nasutakeo.  My Electric Fantasy‘s vibrant pink cover art is contrasted pretty starkly by Ascension‘s black and white.  The wide-eyed manga-style character on the cover of the first album appears on the second, however it’s a more tormented version this time with severed arms, a distraught-looking face, and sort of creepily ribboned torso spiraling downward.  By setting the physical CD cases right next to each other, you are presented with one of the themes of Ascension: the violent destruction of pop.

Musically, Ascension is brutally loud.  There are no shoegaze-y pop tracks, nor catchy melodic palate cleansers to be found on the record.  “N.E.C.O.” is a noise track featuring drawn out chords and distorted screams over a backdrop of ambient fuzzy static.  Tonally, it’s a fitting introduction to the album, which picks up the pace starting with the following tracks, “Fantômas”, “Doppelgänger”, and “Science ≠ Evolution”.  There’s a major hardcore influence here and some really nice depth, compliments of a ferocious blur of guitars, overdriven growls, and raging drums.  

“Kaboom!” is six-seconds of blast beat grindcore a la Anal Cunt that leads into probably my favorite section of the album.  “Sekai” keeps the record trucking a blistering pace before slowing down into the chugging title track.  What I really like about “Ascension”, apart from the fact that it’s heavy as hell, is the showcase of my favorite element of Looprider’s sound on this CD.  Everything slows down and that aforementioned depth in the form of persistent feedback and squealing guitars really shines through.  Also it reminds me a little of older Sepultura, which is awesome.  “Mustafar”, presumably named after the volcanic planet on which Obi-Wan Kenobi dismembers a young Anakin Skywalker, scores big points both for its relentlessness as well as the reference – surely no mere coincidence that the album’s release date happened to be Star Wars Day.  Finally, “667” closes everything out with seven-plus minutes of harsh noise.  

Even at its heaviest, My Electric Fantasy was a very clean-cut album, production-wise.  On Ascension things are much more raw and the album feels very organic.  Over the course of nine months, Looprider has shown some tremendous diversity and, impressively, has done so at a consistently high level.  The new record demonstrates a pretty big change in approach and style, but over the course of two releases Looprider has shown an affinity for doing things loudly.  This time around, however, by shedding previous elements of pop in their sound, that loudness is accompanied by an unrestrained aggressiveness resulting in a brutally chaotic and extremely cohesive album.  

The release party for Ascension will be held this weekend, the 7th, at Koenji Niman-Denatsu in Tokyo.  You can purchase the album at the following websites (international shipping is available).  They’ve got some pretty sweet shirts for sale on Bandcamp, as well.

Here’s the video for “Mustafar”.  There are some pretty intense strobe effects, so viewer discretion is advised.

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