Looprider – “My Electric Fantasy”

The mad rush of Japanese releases this summer continues, this time with the debut from Tokyo newcomers Looprider.  Though the band got started in late 2014 its members are no strangers to the Tokyo indie scene, having plied their trade in a number of local bands including Tropical Death Metal, henrytennis, and Yogee New Waves, among others.  The album is called My Electric Fantasy, and it is out on August 19th via Koenji-based indie label Call and Response Records (Hyacca, Hysteric Picnic, etc.).  

The mad rush of Japanese releases this summer continues, this time with the debut from Tokyo newcomers Looprider.  Though the band got started in late 2014 its members are no strangers to the Tokyo indie scene, having plied their trade in a number of local bands including Tropical Death Metal, henrytennis, and Yogee New Waves, among others.  The album is called My Electric Fantasy, and it is out on August 19th via Koenji-based indie label Call and Response Records (Hyacca, Hysteric Picnic, etc.).  

Toward the end of last year Looprider released the first single from the album, titled “Farewell”.  The umptempo track plays like something off of Supercar’s iconic Three Out Change record, with a super catchy riff and female backing vocals courtesy of Charlotte of Merpeoples.  It’s a very listenable shoegaze/pop track, but the band’s second single was something entirely different.  “Dronelove (Is All You Need)”, which was released digitally earlier this year, is a sludgy Sabbath-esque face kicker of a track full of muddy, droning hooks, grooving bass, and harsher vocals than those on “Farwell”.  Shortly after the release of this single the band announced its debut album would be released in the summer.

With two drastically different songs on the table, the big question leading up to the record release was which direction would they ultimately take their sound.  This blog and all associated projects deal mostly with shoegaze in Japan, where that term has often been blended with other genres and styles – most notably with bands like Coaltar of the Deepers, BP., the aforementioned Supercar, and Boris, from whom Looprider presumably got its name.  I wouldn’t call My Electric Fantasy a shoegaze record, but it successfully draws on the genre and jams in a bunch of others to create an album that is much more cohesive than the first two singles on their own might lead one to believe.

The first track on the album is the noise-filled instrumental title track that serves as a nice buildup to “Dronelove” and “Kill La”, a chugging face melter that really picks up the pace of the album.  To this point the record is extremely heavy and still very much on the metal side of things, but without killing the heaviness the band transitions to “Satellite” – my favorite track on My Electric Fantasy, and one of the better shoegaze tracks that’s come out of Japan this year.  There’s a persistent attack of bending guitars present here, though the vibe is much “prettier” than any of the songs before it, accentuated by really well harmonized male-female twin vocals.  It’s the sort of track that fans of “Farewell” might have anticipated, and it starts to balance the album out while keeping up with fine instrumentation that’s present throughout the album. 

“Thunderbolt” is a high flying rock track that kicks off with a Motorhead-like riff before drifting into a mass of screaming leads and chaotic guitar noise over a steadily pounding rhythm section.  “Interlude (Am I Still Dreaming?)” is another instrumental track, this time a lighter, more experimental weaving of guitar textures paced by a simple electronic beat, softening things up for the album’s aptly titled closer “Farewell”.

My Electric Fantasy is by no means a straightforward album, but it draws on some somewhat contrasting influences and puts them together in a way that fans of doom and shoegaze could appreciate, without every really becoming a “doomgaze” record.  Mixed and mastered by Charles Macak at Electrowerks Recording in Chicago, the album’s central theme is its loudness, whether in the form of a ripping sludge track like “Dronelove” or a fuzzy pop track like “Farewell”.  It’s a creative and adventurous album, and above all else it’s tight as hell, really showcasing a killer rhythm section that works in harmony with guitarists that want to blast your face off.  

You can keep up with Looprider news via their homepage, or by following them on Twitter and Facebook.

My Electric Fantasy comes out on August 19th via Call And Response Records and can be purchased in CD or digital format on iTunes and at the following links:

Seventeen Years Old and Berlin Wall – “Aspect”

Tokyo-based Seventeen Years Old and Berlin Wall (17歳とベルリンの壁) released their first mini-album on the 18th of July, adding on to an already robust month of shoegaze releases and events in Japan.  Aspect is a six-track CD, which includes some new music and older demo tracks that have received some much needed polish.  As is so often the case, some of the demos were pretty rough to listen to, and up until they released a split with Nagoya gazers me in grasshopper earlier this year, it was hard to get a feel for what they were doing.  On top of that male-female twin vocals can be very unflattering when poorly produced.  On Aspect they were able to clean everything up production-wise courtesy of Yasutaka Ishikawa, and the result is a surprisingly solid debut.

Tokyo-based Seventeen Years Old and Berlin Wall (17歳とベルリンの壁) released their first mini-album on the 18th of July, adding on to an already robust month of shoegaze releases and events in Japan.  Aspect is a six-track CD, which includes some new music and older demo tracks that have received some much needed polish.  As is so often the case, some of the demos were pretty rough to listen to, and up until they released a split with Nagoya gazers me in grasshopper earlier this year, it was hard to get a feel for what they were doing.  On top of that male-female twin vocals can be very unflattering when poorly produced.  On Aspect they were able to clean everything up production-wise courtesy of Yasutaka Ishikawa, and the result is a surprisingly solid debut.

The folks at kiiro records – who have put out some of Seventeen Years Old and Berlin Wall’s music via the aforementioned split and the first Forever Shoegaze compilation – have described the band’s sound as “sparkly shoegaze pop”, and that’s the sort of vibe of the first couple tracks of Aspect.  “A Thousand Days” and “Talking Eggs” could probably be considered their most identifiable songs to this point.  The former evolves into a really thickly textured, dreamy track and the latter a pop song that could easily be mistaken for a My Dead Girlfriend song.  At this point in the album things are still very light, relying on some really nice vocal melodies (especially in “A Thousand Days”, which really is a good song) and subtle guitar noise, but seemingly stopping just short of really letting it all out.  

Cattle have set the precedent for the pop-heavy indie shoegaze bands really stepping things up noise-wise once they get into a proper studio.  Though Seventeen Years Old and Berlin Wall never quite reach that blistering intensity, they do a pretty good job of belting it out on “27:00” and “June”.  My two favorite songs on the album step things up in the volume department wrapping bending guitars around the poppy leads and vocal melodies that define the band’s sound.  The tracks flank “Lilac”, a tune that is probably my least favorite on the album, if only because its placement really stunts the intensity of the album at that point.  Overall though, I was really impressed with the new stuff from Seventeen Years Old and Berlin Wall.  I would say I love half of it, and really like a couple more songs.  Seeing bands starting to focus on and gathering resources in order to start getting more solid recordings together is a huge for a scene that is full of untapped potential, but covered by a shroud of a bad demos and live recordings.

You can purchase Aspect on iTunes.  Physical copies can be ordered from the following shops:

Here is the video for the final track on Aspect, titled 終日 (“All Day Long”).

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:

[China] The White Tulips – “Fondle”

Just over a month after the release of their first studio EP, Xiamen, China’s The White Tulips have put out their debut full-length album titled “Fondle”.  The group released a collection of rehearsal space demo tracks titled “Wrapped in the Waves” last year, but, citing a lack of musical resources in Xiamen, were unable to get into a proper studio until recently.  Veterans of the East Asia Shoegaze Festival, The White Tulips have been working fast to get their jangly brand of shoegaze recorded and out there for your enjoyment.  It’s currently available for $6.80 USD on the band’s Bandcamp page.

Just over a month after the release of their first studio EP, Xiamen, China’s The White Tulips have put out their debut full-length album titled “Fondle”.  The group released a collection of rehearsal space demo tracks titled “Wrapped in the Waves” last year, but, citing a lack of musical resources in Xiamen, were unable to get into a proper studio until recently.  Veterans of the East Asia Shoegaze Festival, The White Tulips have been working fast to get their jangly brand of shoegaze recorded and out there for your enjoyment.  It’s currently available for $6.80 USD on the band’s Bandcamp page.

 

 

Tenkiame and Originality

“This band has no originality.”  This is the short sentence that was written to describe the music of the newly founded Tokyo four piece Tenkiame.

Surprisingly, however, the words – which appear in boldface at the top of their online ballot to appear at this year’s Rock In Japan Festival – were written by the band’s members themselves.  To many music fans, and perhaps even more so to musicians, that sort of statement can be viewed as negative and not something to boast, let alone use to introduce a band’s biography.  However, it’s something that the band stands by as it continues to grow in the massive Tokyo indie scene.

“This band has no originality.”  This is the short sentence that was written to describe the music of the newly founded Tokyo four piece Tenkiame.

Surprisingly, however, the words – which appear in boldface at the top of their online ballot to appear at this year’s Rock In Japan Festival – were written by the band’s members themselves.  To many music fans, and perhaps even more so to musicians, that sort of statement can be viewed as negative and not something to boast, let alone use to introduce a band’s biography.  However, it’s something that the band stands by as it continues to grow in the massive Tokyo indie scene.

Tenkiame is an indie super group of sorts, with its members also involved in local acts like For Tracy Hyde, Boyish, Batman Winks, and Art Theater Guild.  The band formed earlier this year and in the span of a month or so released its first two demo tracks and a debut EP, “So Sad About Us”.  From the first listen, it is perfectly clear that they are heavily influenced by Art School, with frontman Azusa Suga doing his best Riki Kinoshita impersonation.  Add to that the “Candy” bassline that is straight out of “20th Century Boy” and the heavy influence drawn from any number of shoegaze bands, and the list of influences at the bottom of their Bandcamp page, and you have a band that certainly appears to lack originality.  Guilty as charged.

But is that a bad thing?  Look all around the Japanese music scene and you will see a ton of bands trying way too hard to be unique.  Sometimes it works, and that’s great – this is by no means an attack on originality.  A lot of times it doesn’t work though and what you get is overcomplicated and ultimately uninteresting music, or a band that simply ends up looking like a desperate copy of its contemporaries (you know who you are).  This is a problem with a lot of Japanese music, and particularly within the Japanese shoegaze scene.  Bands are so focused on their gimmick and how to be unique when sometimes it’s simply better to just shut the fuck up and make music.

It does seem a bit peculiar to use such a blunt, self-deprecating preface to a biography in the first place, especially when said biography is being used to encourage people to vote them onto the bill of one of Japan’s largest music festivals.  It’s clearly Tenkiame’s motto though, and it surely makes more sense than a band crying in every interview about not wanting to be associated with shoegaze and then essentially just being a shoegaze band.  The honesty of Tenkiame’s approach to music is the band’s most appealing quality.  The biggest victory, should they make it to Rock In Japan, would be a band who admits to having no originality likely being among the best on the entire card.

Tenkiame’s debut EP is simple and straightforward.  Not coincidentally these are the same reasons I loved Art School’s music (up until right around the release of “Illmatic Baby” at least).  It’s a combination of the aforementioned Kinoshita-esque vocals, fuzzed-out bass, and loud-as-hell guitars.  Without trying too hard, Tenkiame has released one of the better EPs of the year so far and they’ve done so by doing what they know and letting it flow naturally.  

You can get Tenkiame’s debut EP on Bandcamp.  They also work ridiculously fast so you should also keep an eye on their Soundcloud page as well.

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.

Top 10 Japanese Shoegaze Albums and EPs of 2014

As you may notice, there are some big names missing from the list, namely Luminous Orange who released a really good album titled Soar, Kiss the Moon this year.  Though Luminous Orange is an important name in the history of Japanese shoegaze music, the new album simply isn’t a shoegaze record.

The Albums

As you may notice, there are some big names missing from the list, namely Luminous Orange who released a really good album titled Soar, Kiss the Moon this year.  Though Luminous Orange is an important name in the history of Japanese shoegaze music, the new album simply isn’t a shoegaze record.

Kinoko Teikoku, a band that has been on a massive roll over the past couple years, also distanced itself a bit from the genre with Fake World Wonderland.  The album itself is okay as a pop record, but lacks a certain intensity that I really came to appreciate from their first couple releases.

Finally, I’ve really enjoyed net label Kiiro Records‘ shoegaze compilations this year, but the large number of foreign artists included in the album disqualifies them from the list.  You should still download them though, which you can do here:  https://kiirorecords2.bandcamp.com/.

Enough about the records that didn’t make the list, though.  Here are my favorite ten shoegaze albums from Japan in 2014.

10.  The Novembers – Rhapsody in Beauty

Though The Novembers aren’t strictly a shoegaze band, the record isn’t as experimental nor as diverse as the Luminous Orange release and is chock full of the requisite “wall of sound” guitar noise of a good shoegaze album.  It’s loud as hell and the title track is extremely addictive.

9.  Origami – 113,197.73

This one made it in at the buzzer with a Christmas release.  Origami are a relatively unknown, brand new band based in England and thanks to a timely recommendation via Greg from DKFM I was able to hear this album.  Really nice ambient, textural stuff from the newcomers.

8.  Plastic Girl in Closet – Eye Cue Rew See

More sugary sweet pop music from Plastic Girl in Closet, whose album was their second release of the year (the first being their January mini-album White Loud).

7.  Aysula – Release Me

Another sort of under the radar release this year, Nagoya’s Aysula impressed at the 2013 Japan Shoegazer Festival in their hometown and were invited to this year’s event in Osaka as a result.  Their mini-album Release Me (seven tracks so I threw it on this list) shows off their intense blend of shoegaze and post rock with massive guitars and powerful vocals.

6.  Lemon’s Chair – My Favorite Reverb

As usual, Lemon’s Chair have put out a beautiful instrumental record.  Put on your headphones and jack up the volume, but be careful, as about halfway through the epic 12-minute final track “My Favorite” the band’s trademark guitar eruption kicks in and shit gets real.

5.  Shelling – Aquarium Sympathy

The textures on this album are beautiful, blending guitar noise, thickly layered synths and breathy, sunken vocals.  The electronic beats are super simple and do their job, pacing the listener through a sea of ambient fuzz.

4.  Cigarette in your Bed – Darkness

Cigarette in your Bed’s debut full-length album release marked their emergence from the High Fader ranks, and rightfully so.  They’re arguably the best band on the roster now and their gritty, somewhat grunge brand of shoegaze is a welcome addition to a pop-heavy Japanese shoegaze scene.  My only complaint is that the new version of lead single “Let Me Out” is significantly slower than the original.

3.  The Florist – Dark Entries

I’ve raved about this record a lot since it came out in April, and the replay value has hardly dimished since then.   The album is super “dreamy” and a bit melancholy, and the gently harmonized vocals throughout are a nice touch.  Lead single “Middle of Winter” has gotten a lot of love, and not just in Japan.  Dark Entries is a successful debut and it looks like a follow up is likely at some point in 2015.

2.  Boyish – Sketch for 8000 Days of Moratorium

Boyish entered the conversation a bit late with the November release of Sketch for 8000 Days of Moratorium, but made an emphatic statement with a killer record.  The album is a throwback to the jangly guitar-laden shoegaze sound reminiscent of early Ride and My Bloody Valentine, highlighted by my favorite track “Heartwarm Guitar” (which when translating the phoneticized Japanese reads alarmingly like “Heartworm Guitar”).

1.  Juvenile Juvenile – Our Great Escape

Our Great Escape is simply the best Japanese record this year.  Every song is good and the production is great thanks in large part to shoegaze producer extraordinaire Kensei Ogata’s hand in the mixing.  It’s hard to say much more, other than this album is excellent.

The EPs

10.  Suichuu Zukan – Nami

Though it’s just a single, Nami deserved a spot on this list as it’s one of the best tracks released in 2014.  I’m extremely hopeful that this is the first step toward a new album.

9.  Grinch/Cattle – Feel Flaw, Lost Girl (split)

Grinch’s “Digitalis” plays like a Coaltar of the Deepers track, and Cattle’s “fluff” is one of my favorite songs this year.  Two really good bands got together and released this split courtesy of Kiiro Records.  Sadly it’s only two tracks.

8.  Uchuu Neko-ko and Lovely Summer-chan – Hibi no Awa

Another project to which the aforementioned Lovely Summer lent her vocal talents.  It’s just two tracks but Hibi no Awa, released via Bandcamp a couple times, had quickly garnered interest from shoegaze communities and bloggers all over the place.

7.  Tokenai Namae – Osiete V Kankaku

While a lot of Japanese shoegaze bands draw on Western influences, Nagoya’s Tokenai Namae’s music goes back the the roots of modern J-Pop with a unique blend of guitar noise and “kayou kyoku”.  The self-proclaimed “kayou-shoegazers” released their second EP in March and gigged alongside Japanese shoegaze heavy hitters Plastic Girl in Closet and Shelling on their respective album release tours this year.

6.  For Tracy Hyde – In Fear of Love

The Tokyo-based indie pop group had a big year in its new incarnation.  Fronted by Lovely Summer – the same Lovely Summer mentioned above – For Tracy Hyde released two new EPs this year as well as a new single (a new version of an older track titled “Shady Lane Sherbet“).  In Fear of Love‘s opening track “First Regrets” is an ultra-catchy pop track, and the rest follows suit.

5.  the city – celebration – Another Osaka entry on the list, the city were newcomers in 2014.  The indie rock/dream pop foursome put out a really impressive, somewhat moody 3-track EP amidst a flurry of gigs in 2014.

4.  Ether Feels – Twilight Dreams 

One of my personal favorite bands and one that I’ve seen live countless times, Ether Feels have released a bunch of material previously, but Twilight Dreams marks the first time they’ve made their music readily available to an overseas audience.  Featuring fan favorite track “Raindrop Sparkle”, Ether Feels’ latest EP is a step up in production value from their previous works.

3.  Al Van She’s Coming – Drop* 

A nice introduction to how a persistent guitar noise attack and Japanese pop vocals work well together.  Hokkaido-based Al Van She’s Coming delivers the requisite loudness of shoegaze with uptempo pop beats while switching back and forth between male and female vocals.  “Mint” is one of the most addictive tracks I’d heard all year.

2.  Oeil – Myrtle 

Though Oeil has been hanging around and gigging sporadically over the last few years, Myrtle marked the band’s first proper release since 2007’s Urban Twilight EP.  Whereas their previous EP was more of an homage to My Bloody Valentine, the new one incorporates those same elements while also mixing in a bit of a new wave sound, namely on the extremely danceable title track.  The release of Myrtle coincided with Oeil’s support of Aerofall and Vibragun on their Japan tour this fall.

1.  Magic Love – Dawn

Magic Love came back from a roughly three-year hiatus and did so emphatically.  The band spent the latter half of 2014 gigging following the release of their Dawn EP, the reaction to which prompted a re-release of their 2011 EP Bright a Scene and a new two-track live sessions CD.  Magic Love’s harsh, screaming guitars contrast the jangly pop-infused sound that is generally more prevalent in the Japanese shoegaze scene these days.

[Taiwan] TuT – “You Got Me When I Stare At You”

So I’ve already professed my love for the intimacy of demo tracks despite the general lack of overall sound quality. In particularly I was a big fan of the “Send Me” demo released earlier this year by Taiwan’s TuT (pronounced “tee-you-tee”). This summer the band released a bunch of other demos that they’d recorded live at the studio over the last year, and needless to say I was in the sort of odd heaven that muddy guitars, too much hi-hat, and vocals that sound like they were recorded from the other side of the room can create. I love it.
That being said, I was stoked to see that TuT stealth got the copies of their debut album You Got Me When I Stare At You earlier this week from the pressing factory. While demo tracks offer the sort of nostalgia that takes me back to the vast library of shoddy recordings I’ve made myself, it doesn’t compare to the excitement of being able to hear the instruments at proper levels and get a better feel of what the band is made of (because it’s actually audible). Fortunate to get a copy, I popped on my headphones and got lost in a gorgeous shoegaze record on my train ride home.

The album’s title track, which will premiere on this week’s episode of Muso Asia, is absolutely beautiful. Wrapping textures around a simple guitar melody while showcasing the band’s double barreled male/female vocal harmonies, TuT makes you wait to hear how the improved recording environment would show off Fifi’s sweet, breathy vocals – but only for one track.

There is a lot more balance between the two vocalists on the album, but neither disappoints and the harmonies are stunning, particularly on “Little Child”. From start to finish, You Got Me When I Stare At You, features the loud, grimy guitars that seem so much an integral part of the Taiwanese shoegaze scene when compared to bands from the continent.  It would seem to be an obvious quality of shoegaze music, but the balance between volume and subtlety, grit and elegance that TuT maintains gets the whole “beautiful noise” thing right.

TuT’s demos were great, but their move to a proper studio has yielded some spectacular results.

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