Otom – “You Lost Me”

Tokyo-based shoegaze producer Otom is back with his first track of 2019, titled “You Lost Me”.  The new song is a bit more upbeat than the billowy electronic shoegaze he wowed us with last year, though if it’s too poppy for your taste Otom included an edited version that’s more or less a glitchy remix showcasing the track’s textural backdrop.  Otom sits atop a fairly long list of recording-only Japanese music projects that I wish would get a band together and take it to the stage.  His style of music seems like it would translate better than a lot of the lo-fi bedroom pop that also populates my list, but for whatever reason it doesn’t seem like that will be happening.  In the meantime, we’re likely to get quite a few more singles this year, so at least we have that to look forward to.

You can pick up all of Otom’s work via Bandcamp.

The Rainy – “Film”

While it’s true that the Nagoya scene has been a bit lacking over the years with regard to shoegaze bands with a reputation outside the city, there’s been a steady flow of alternative bands largely based around Tsurumai live house Daytrip and its sister venue Daytrive.  That section of the Nagoya indie scene is extremely underrated, but it boasts real quality and considerable diversity.  Gloomy post rock outfit, The Rainy, has been one of the bands at the center of the current wave of Nagoya shoegaze-adjacent artists, and they followed up an impressive 2018 with the release of their debut EP, “Film”, at the start of this year.

The Rainy is one of a number of Nagoya bands that identify to some degree as shoegaze, but the way in which they draw on the genre is extremely subtle.  The band’s approach to songwriting is based largely on gradual crescendos from light, often acoustic, intros to deeper emotional finishes.  “Film” is basically a showcase of that style of song development, highlighted by the heart-wrenching fan-favorite that is the EP’s title track.  Though a lot of what The Rainy does is repetitive as a general process, they change it up by feinting and teasing the flows of songs, picking their shots and setting them up effectively.  The placement of “Yulunohi” smack in the middle of the EP creates a nice change of pace with its the piqnic-esque moody intensity.  It might be somewhat difficult to truly appreciate The Rainy without seeing their spectacular live performances, but “Film” is a nice introduction to what the band does.

You can listen to The Rainy’s “Film” EP on most streaming services and purchase it via iTunes.  Physical copies are also available for purchase via File-Under Records.

You can hear the title track below:

Noah – “1st Demo”

The pool of new Japanese shoegaze talent was apparently so deep in 2018 that some managed to slip through the cracks.  That’s the case with Kanazawa’s Noah, who released a 3-track demo, titled “1st demo”, on Bandcamp in October.  As it’s extremely obviously a demo, it’s not the most polished release, but it’s still clean enough to get a good scouting report on Noah.  “Hakuchuumu” is a big slow billowy shoegaze track that reminds me a lot of softsurf.  “Kaitei Kara” has a similar vibe to it with a kicked up tempo, and the balance of the male-female twin vocals is perfect.  “Twilight” feels a bit more like a Japanese shoegaze song with the very up-front lead fluttering over a poppier, more subdued backdrop, but Noah nails the vocal harmonies again here.  For a demo, this is really impressive stuff, and this band should be on any Japanese shoegaze fan’s radar.

You can grab Noah’s demo for whatever you’d like to pay over at Bandcamp.

 

Spool – “Spool”

For years now, Tokyo’s Spool has been readying itself for a breakout.  The all-female four-piece, which has become affectionately referred to as “Japan’s Warpaint”, has been a massive draw in its local scene, garnered attention from music fans overseas, and put out a handful of quality releases both in Japan and internationally.  The announcement late last year of its self-titled debut full-length felt like a statement that Spool was ready to establish itself among the elite of the Japanese indie scene.

The Warpaint comparison almost feels lazy, but it makes sense.  The shoegaze tag fits as well as the various comps to bands like The Smashing Pumpkins, Sonic Youth, and My Bloody Valentine, but each only to a certain extent.  On the album Spool pulls a bit from the edgier side of 90s US alternative music as well as the dreamy UK melancholy and fuzzy guitar walls that have the band seated comfortably in the Japanese shoegaze scene.  It’s a total throwback to everything that rules about 90s music.  Spool has really keyed in on that general concept and written exceptional songs around it.

There are some familiar songs on the record, with “Springpool” and fan favorite “Sway, fadeaway” joining the stunningly shoegazey lead single “Be My Valentine” in getting beefed up new versions courtesy of producer and magic love drummer Kazuaki Kondo.  Lead track “nightescape” is a dark, dreamy number turned absolute belter that, along with my personal favorite song on the album, “Let Me Down” really showcases frontwoman Ayumi Kobayashi’s range.  The deep, breathy vocals in the verses on the latter, in particular, are teeming with attitude and there’s something quietly powerful about them as they trade off with the sad, raw chorus line.

Overall, the shoegaze influence on the album is perhaps stronger than expected, highlighted by gloomy, thickly textured tracks like “Winter” and “Morphine”.  “Blooming in the Morning” adds a little dream pop into the mix as well, softening a bit of the album’s edge with some bouncy sweetness.  The closer, “No, thank you”, which is a more cleanly mixed version than the one that appeared on last year’s Total Feedback 2018, wraps up the album with a blistering guitar attack and distorted vocals.

Expectations were high coming into the full length debut, and the band delivered.  Though Spool’s influences are by no means unique in the current Japanese scene, the way in which they are able to put them together and really balance their sound over the course of the record is.  The ability for a band to wear its influences on its sleeve without bottle-necking itself and at the same time maintaining some cohesiveness over the course of an album is something to appreciate.  Spool has done it here.

You can pick up Spool’s self-titled album via Testcard Records’ Bandcamp page (overseas) or domestically from the label’s online store.  It’s also available for streaming on Apple Music, though there are some issues due to another band called Spool having released an album called Spool in 1998.

Below you can find the videos for “Be My Valentine” and “Blooming in the Morning”.

土曜日と人鳥とコーヒー – “Parameer 02”

Kobe’s Doyoubi to Jinchou to Kohi (which very awkwardly roughly translates to “Saturday and Penguin and Coffee”) has been a low key fixture of the Kansai shoegaze scene for the past decade.  The three-piece, which has seen a few different member changes around frontman and founding member Yuki Yoshimura, has released a bunch of material and appeared at some of the Kansai area’s largest shoegaze events.  Their latest, a single titled “Parameer 02” – the follow-up to last year’s “Parameer 01” – features more of the dark post rock sound that the band has stuck to over the years.  The lead track, “Meltdown”, slowly evolves from cleanly picked guitars to an explosion of guitar noise, while Yoshimura’s falsettos eventually escalated to emotional moans.  The recording doesn’t quite belt at the level of the band’s live performances, but this is a signature song from the band.  “Ymir” on the other hand doesn’t waste any time building up, kicking off with a blgtz-esque uptempo hook and some very Shota Tamura-esque screams in the chorus.  It feels quite clear where the inspiration for this track came from.  I like the change of pace here.

You can pick up “Parameer 02” on Bandcamp.

A Eulogy to Dots

Sudden announcements have apparently become a thing in the Japanese shoegaze scene.  Late last night, polarizing Japanese shoegaze idol group Dots (・・・・・・・・・) announced via Twitter that its final one-man live will be held in March, eliciting a wide range of responses from its substantial fan base.  The reasons for the breakup – or perhaps more appropriately, indefinite hiatus – aren’t totally clear at this point.  Since forming a little less than three years ago, Dots has emerged as one of the most popular bands in Japanese shoegaze, thanks in large part to its over-the-top live performances.


I first heard of Dots around the fall of 2016 when kiiro records boss Tsuji was getting ready for his first Chiba Shoegazer event.  None of our group of event organizers had ever heard of them, and the mini festival would be their official launching point.  The idea of a 9-person shoegaze idol group was a complicated one.  One one hand idol music has a very deserving reputation as exploitative and creepy – the Maho Yamaguchi story is just the most recent reminder of the dark side of the industry.  The idea of it infiltrating a scene that I had grown so close to was honestly a little troubling.  Dots wasn’t the first idol group to cross over into the genre, but it was the first to make that crossover its central theme.

On the other hand, there was some intrigue as the group was getting ready to get rolling.  The group was mysterious.  Each member took the stage wearing a visor, dressed in white dresses, and dancing almost intentionally awkwardly over blaring gazey pop tunes.  Again, the whole “alt idol” (eh…) thing was well-established by this point, but there was at least something consistent about what Dots was doing.  And as if the whole concept of a shoegaze idol group wasn’t weird enough on its own, the stretches of harsh noise and random cutting and eating of cabbage mid-set gave Dots the “weird Japan” push that would attract a sizable crowd of Japanophiles overseas, making Dots possibly the most popular Japanese shoegaze act on the planet.

I’ve been able to see Dots live a few times, and there’s always been this sense of conflict.  The music is actually pretty good, all things considered.  For Tracy Hyde’s Azusa Suga, who for my money is one of the best songwriters in the Japanese indie music scene right now, has contributed a number of songs – not surprisingly, Dots’ best material.  While there music is at times the sort of paper thin, overly cute stuff you might expect from an idol group, enough of their catalog is well-written and fun.  The group’s live performances are outrageous and the energy is always high, credit for which is due to Dots’ loyal, seemingly entirely male fanbase that travels well and has each song’s choreography and call and response interjection’s down to a T.  The performances are incredibly entertaining spectacles that make you forget momentarily that idol groups are essentially collections of cute, young girls controlled by men for the sake of men.

Despite my apprehension about idol culture, the industry is an important, albeit tragic, part of Japanese music culture.  This has been the strongest half-decade in the history of Japanese shoegaze and Dots has been a significant part of the scene’s canon.  The girls themselves have simply been doing what they want to do, and while we can look to deeper statements that may make about Japanese society, if we come at this from a purely musical or entertainment standpoint, the group has been a success and has gotten shoegaze gig-goers in the country to stop just standing there.

Whether this breakup is a long-term thing remains to be seen.  The announcement was followed up by a super vague blog post that didn’t do much to shed any light on the situation.  Dots has a Total Feedback appearance at the end of this month that will almost certainly be packed – Spool and Dots have been two of the event’s largest draws in recent years – and then the aforementioned final one-man in March.  If I was interested in betting, I’d wager that we’ll see more from Dots in the future.  The whole thing has gone way too well to this point, and even if Dots doesn’t eventually come back, they’ve shown that the idea of a shoegaze idol group can be successful.

 

Tokyo Shoegazer is Back

After being inactive for the past 5 years, Tokyo Shoegazer came out of nowhere today with the announcement that the band is getting back together.  The new lineup consists of three original members – guitarists Kiyomi Watanabe and Yoshitaka Sugahara, and drummer Hiroshi Sasabuchi – and vocalist Kiyomi Watanabe of pop unit Cuon.  It’s not sure to what extent the band will be active, but news of the Tokyo Shoegazer revival was accompanied by an announcement of a one-man show in April, where downy’s Kazuhiro Nakamata will join them on bass.

It’s a lot to process and we’ll see how it plays out (and what it means for CQ).  You can follow the band via the Twitter account linked below.

Kiiro Records Presents FOREVER SHOEGAZE Volumes 4 & 5

Since early 2014, Chiba prefecture-based indie net label kiiro records has been releasing music for free via Bandcamp.  In June of that year, the label put out its first FOREVER SHOEGAZE compilation.  Since then there have been two more FOREVER SHOEGAZE releases in addition to a handful of collaborations with the Japan Shoegazer Festival.  Just recently, kiiro announced the next installment in the compilation series, a double release of FOREVER SHOEGAZE volumes 4 & 5 that is set to drop on January 26th.

It’s been three years since volume 3 came out, and that long space between releases coupled with the large number of bands interested in submitting music for the project led label owner Tsuji to go the double release route.  What kiiro has done in the past is add another layer to the evolving Japanese shoegaze soundscape, curating these comps largely around bands whose sounds reflect the label’s tendency toward intimate bedroom pop.  There’s been a healthy blend of established bands and new and obscure artists.  That’s once again the case here.  You’ll find familiar names like Float Down the Liffey, Nuit, 土曜日と人鳥とコーヒ, and Happypills in the track list alongside a whole bunch of artists I’ve never heard of.  But kiiro records’ catalog has long been a place to spot impressive new bands before they take off – the label also notably gave Dots their proper debut in 2016 at its Chiba Shoegazer event.

The lineup across both albums offers some very cool, very fresh new music for you to check out.  I think that across the 24 total tracks, this is the most consistently strong FOREVER SHOEGAZE record to date.  Bands like Suisou No Kikyuu, Fuyufuyuu, and Juutaku Danchi are just a few of the really solid under-the-radar contributors to the comp, in addition to gaze//he’s me, whose submission, “mavorosi”, was basically presented as the lead single to the releases.  The track list has yet to be presented, so I don’t want to get too into the music itself here, but suffice to say that this release is loaded with shoegaze gems and there’s really no excuse not to grab it once it hits Bandcamp on the 26th.

Kiiro records did post the lineups on Twitter, which you can find below.  Here is the video for the aforementioned track from gaze//he’s me.

And the band lists, with Twitter links.

And here are links to FOREVER SHOEGAZE volumes 1-3:

Only one of kiiro records’ Japan Shoegazer Festival exclusive compilations is up on Bandcamp, but only for streaming unless you want to drop a cool ¥99,999 on it.

Misty Cure – Chinese Dream Pop in Japan

Since forming plant cell a few years back, Masaki Sato has shown an eagerness to infuse his music with some Chinese influence.  Sato’s connection to China is one that is rooted in his own personal experiences in the country.  In his new project, Misty Cure, his aim is to push that bond to the forefront.

Misty Cure formed toward the end of 2018 when Sato and concrete twin leader/plant cell support member Kazzuya Okada recruited Chinese frontwoman Riyo, on whom the band’s image has largely been centered.  The trio immediately got to recording, quickly posting a couple tracks to Soundcloud.  The songs are basically covers of Faye Wong covers, with the band doing Chinese-language renditions of The Cranberries’ “Dreams” and “Bluebeard” by Cocteau Twins.  As Misty Cure begins working on its own original songs, the approach seems to be focused around making Chinese lyrics the feature that defines the band in the Japanese scene.

It’s hard to really get a good idea about a band when covers are all we have to work with, but based on Sato and Okada’s previous work and the quality of the vocals on the track, I’m looking forward to hearing what Misty Cure does next.

Nuit – “Solitude”

Tokyo shoegaze trio Nuit kicked off the new year with their latest track titled “Solitude”.  The song, which was posted minutes after 2019 officially rang in, features frontman Yasuyuki Ota’s trademark dramatic vocals shrouded in billowing waves of hissing guitar.  The stripped down verse is just there to set up for the explosion into the heartbreaking sway of the chorus.  It’s a very Nuit-sounding song, feeling like something out of the early to mid 2000s.  “Solitude” is the second single, not counting the band’s plant cell cover, that Nuit has released since their 2018 self-titled EP.  Makes you wonder if we’ll see a follow up effort at some point in 2019.