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

An Interview With La Casa Al Mare

Italian shoegaze trio La Casa Al Mare made waves this year with their This Astro EP.  The album was released in May and soon thereafter received a Japanese release via Tokyo-based label HANDS AND MOMENT.  The folks at the label had a sitdown with Alessio, Marco, and Paolo to discuss the band, the EP, and more.

Italian shoegaze trio La Casa Al Mare made waves this year with their This Astro EP.  The album was released in May and soon thereafter received a Japanese release via Tokyo-based label HANDS AND MOMENT.  The folks at the label had a sitdown with Alessio, Marco, and Paolo to discuss the band, the EP, and more.

イタリアの3人組シューゲイザーバンドLa Casa Al Mareは今年にリリースされた「This Astro EP」を通じて世界で注目を浴びました。5月にリリースされ、すぐ東京のレーベルHANDS AND MOMENTより日本でもリリースされましたHANDS AND MOMENTさんはLa Casa Al MareのメンバーAlessio、Marco、Paoloにバンドの歴史、EP等色々についてインタビューをしました。日本語のインタビューは以下です。

  • When was the band formed?

Alessio: In 2012

Marco: It was a beautiful sunny day 

Paolo: I joined Marco and Alessio a couple of years ago, when I was still playing guitars in Sea Dweller

 

  • How did you all meet?

Alessio: by going at each other’s band gigs

Marco: I met Alessio because we used to play in the same rehearsal room with our bands. I knew Paolo for his webzine-blog Komakino, and for his bands Sea Dweller / My Violent Ego

Paolo: I met Marco after a show of Sea Dweller in Rome, and Alessio in his studio several years ago, where I went to see La Calle Mojada to rehearsal. They were all very friendly with me. Later, La Calle Mojada and Sea Dweller made some gigs together, so, it was fun to get along.

 

  • Who is the central figure of the band?

Alessio: there is no central figure: it’s like a triangle where every angle has its importance

Marco: I think guitar sound and the reverb that comes out..

Paolo: Yeah, we are a guitar driven thing, fuzzed out and blessed with a noisy vibe.

 

  • What is the meaning behind the band’s name?

Alessio: In the 70’s and 80’s, the forbidden dream of italian people from big towns like Rome was to own a seaside house. It refers to something about holiday, childhood, and bittersweet happiness.

Marco: a concrete possibility to escape, for all.

 

  • Please talk a bit about the history of the band.

Marco: the true history is the one that hasn’t been written yet

Alessio: I started to write songs  and I wanted to have my own band.  So I invited Marco and Michele (Toffoli) to join me, they were both former members of La Calle Mojada.  After a while, Michele quit to work on his own music project, so we needed a new drummer.  One night me and Marco saw Paolo playing drums in a gig, – we already knew him for playing the guitar in Sea Dweller and My Violent Ego, and we thought: perfect!

 

  • Who are some of the support members and guest musicians you work with?

Alessio: Michele Toffoli, our ex drummer, performed drums on CD Girl, alongside with Andrea Novelli, an old time friend of mine (and keyboardist for Snow in Mexico).  Livia just sang additional vocals on other 2 songs (I Don’t Want To and At All).  Michele Pollice (former guitarist of La Calle Mojada) is helping us for incoming live shows.

 

  • What kind of bands were you in before?

Alessio: I played in a emo-post rock band, many years ago.

Marco: I played in a dreampop band named La Calle Mojada

Paolo: Sea Dweller, and, before, My Violent Ego: both shoegazing

 

  • What is your favorite movie and book?

Alessio: Mulholland drive by David Lynch, and Les Particules élémentaires by Michel Houellebecq.

Marco: L’Atalante by Jean Vigo and Camere Separate by Pier Vittorio Tondelli.

Paolo: Naked, by Mike Leigh, and Budapest, by Chico Buarque.

 

  • Why did you work with Dave Cooley for mastering?

Alessio: I worked with Dave Cooley because he did an M83 record that I liked very much.  Getting in touch with Dave has been very interesting, for me, as a sound engineer.  He’s a pro and he respects music.

 

  • What are your favorite pedals?

Alessio: Boss TU-2: it’s very useful and reliable.

Marco: Electro Armonix Big Muff U.S.A. : totally anarchist and out of control..

Paolo: my kick pedal

 

  • I think ‘M’ is a very mysterious title.  What was the inspiration for the title?

Alessio: Sorry, I can’t answer this

Marco: She’s a mystery.. 

Paolo: M is for Mystery

 

——

 

  • いつバンドを結成しましたか?

アレッシオ:  2012年に。

マルコ:それは美しい晴れた日でした

パオロ:  数年前、まだSea DwellerでギターをやっていたときにMarcoとアレッシオと音楽を作り始めました。

 

  • どのようにLa Casa Al Mareのメンバーと出会ったの?

アレッシオ:  互いのライブを見に行っていたので。

マルコ:  僕のバンドとAlessioのバンドは同じリハーサル部屋をシェアしていたのがきっかけです。Paoloとは彼がやっていたKomakinoというウェブジン/ブログと前のバンドのSea DwellerとMy Violent Egoを通じて知り合いました。

パオロ:  ローマであったSea DwellerのライブでMarcoに会いました。数年前La Calle Mojadaのリハーサルを見に行ったときスタジオでAlessioに会いました。2人とも凄く優しいと思いました。そのあと、La Calle MojadaとSea Dwellerが一緒にライブをして、交流するのは楽しかったです。

 

  • バンドの中心人物は誰ですか。

アレッシオ:  中心人物というのは存在しない。三角形の三辺ようにそれぞれが同じくらい重要なんだ。

マルコ:  人ではなく、ギターサウンドとリバーブが中心だと思っています。

パオロ:  うん、僕らはノイズに包まれたギターサウンドのかたまりみたいなもの。ノイジーなヴァイブと一緒にフワフワ飛んで祝福される。

 

  • バンド名にはどんな意味がありますか?

アレッシオ:  70、80年代イタリアでローマ等の都市に住んでいた人の夢は海辺に家を所有することでした。つまり休暇、子供時代、ほろ苦い幸福についてのことです。

マルコ:  誰もが持っている具体的な逃避の可能性です。

 

  • バンドの歴史を教えてください。

マルコ:本当の歴史はまだ書かれていないものです

アレッシオ:  僕は曲を書き始めて、自分のバンドを結成したいと思っていました。元La Calle MojadaのメンバーMarcoとMichele(Toffoli)を誘いました。しばらくしてから、Micheleが自分のバンドに専念するため脱退したので、新しいドラマーを募集し始めました。ある夜は私とマルコはパオロがギグでドラムを演奏しているのを観た。(我々はすでにSea DwellerとMy Violent Egoでギターを弾いている彼を知っていた)そして私たちは彼は相応しいと思いました。

 

  • サポートメンバーとゲストミュージシャンについて教えてください。

アレッシオ:  元ドラマーMichele Toffoliとずっと前からの仲間Snow in MexicoのキーボードAndrea Novelliは「CD Girl」で参加してくれました。Liviaは「I Don’t Want To」と「At All」でサポートボーカルをやりました。元La Calle MojadaのギターリストMichele Polliceはこれからライブサポートメンバーとして参加します。

 

  • 以前はどんなバンドをやっていましたか?

アレッシオ:  昔はエモ、ポストロックバンドで活動していました。

マルコ:  La Calle Mojadaというドリームポップバンドのメンバーでした。

パオロ:  My Violent Ego、そしてSea Dweller。両方ともシューゲイザーバンドでした。

 

  • お気に入り映画、本は何ですか。

アレッシオ:  David Lynchの「Mulholland Drive」とMichel Houellebecqの「Les Particules élémentaires」。

マルコ:  Jean Vigoの「L’Atalante」とPier Vittorio Tondelliの「Camere Separate」。

パオロ:  Mike Leighの「Naked」とChico Buarqueの「Budapest」。

 

  • なぜDave Cooleyをマスタリングに起用したのですか?

アレッシオ:  Dave Cooleyがマスタリングを手掛けたM83のアルバムのマスタリングがとっても好きなんです。デイブと仕事をする事は私にとって非常に興味深い事なんだ。サウンドエンジニアとして。彼はプロだし、彼は音楽を尊重します。

 

  • あなたのお気に入りのエフェクターは何ですか?

アレッシオ:  Boss TU-2.  とても役立つし信頼できるペダルです。

マルコ:  Electro Harmonix Big Muff U.S.A.  とんでもなくアナキスト。混沌とします…

パオロ:  僕のキックドラムペダル。

 

  • M’は非常に神秘的なタイトルだと思います。あなたは何にインスピレーションを受けましたか?

アレッシオ:  申し訳ないけど、僕はこれに答える事が出来ません。

マルコ:  謎に包まれている、、

パオロ:  MはMysteryのMです。

 

 

Interview – HANDS AND MOMENT

Translation – Matthew Bedford and HANDS AND MOMENT

Introducing Osaka Netlabel Thru The Flowers

One of the big stories last year was the emergence of kiiro records, a Tokyo-based netlabel that put out a TON of releases including three shoegaze comps that grabbed a lot of Internet attention.  This wasn’t a brand new concept by any means, but it was new to the Japanese shoegaze scene, helping expose some of the country’s local talent to an international audience.  Furthermore all of the label’s releases are available for free download, which has pretty much welcomed a foreign audience with open arms while encouraging a curious national listener base to hop aboard the shoegaze wagon.

One of the big stories last year was the emergence of kiiro records, a Tokyo-based netlabel that put out a TON of releases including three shoegaze comps that grabbed a lot of Internet attention.  This wasn’t a brand new concept by any means, but it was new to the Japanese shoegaze scene, helping expose some of the country’s local talent to an international audience.  Furthermore all of the label’s releases are available for free download, which has pretty much welcomed a foreign audience with open arms while encouraging a curious national listener base to hop aboard the shoegaze wagon.

Osaka’s answer to kiiro records is the newly formed Thru The Flowers, which was founded by a man simply known as Bobby from  Boyfriend’s Dead.  Bobby also runs an event of the same name that often showcases some of Osaka’s local shoegaze talent.  Though he has a reputation throughout Japan, the Thru The Flowers label appears to be Kansai-centric, and with Tokyo hogging the majority of the Japanese shoegaze scene this is a breath of fresh air.  

The label formed earlier this year and it’s maiden release was, not surprisingly, Boyfriend’s Dead’s self-titeld EP in mid-March.  In the two months since, Thru The Flowers has put out Honey Mustard Sauce’s ultra-cute shoegaze EP FREEZER (one of my personal favorites of the year so far), and the first recorded material from Dinosaur Party – a two-track EP called ベランダ/風車 (Veranda/fu-sha).  

Though Osaka is home to High Fader Records and does share the annual Japan Shoegazer Festival with Tokyo (and occasionally a third city), the shoegaze scene hasn’t progressed much over the years.  Free releases are great, but Thru The Flowers’ real task will be establishing a strong community of shoegaze artists in Osaka that can be at the core of a scene that will continue to grow.  There’s so much more good music outside of Tokyo, and labels like this one can really help get it out there.

To download Thru The Flowers’ releases and keep an eye out for future releases check out the label’s Bandcamp page:  https://thrutheflowers.bandcamp.com/

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.

[Japan] kiiro records presents: FOREVER SHOEGAZE 2

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

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

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

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

[Japan] Aysula – “Release Me”

I took a trip to Sakae for some Saturday afternoon wandering around and stopped off on the way at Nagoya’s famed File Under Records where a copy of the debut from local shoegaze outfit Aysula was waiting for me.  I’d caught them last year at the Japan Shoegazer Festival in Nagoya and their abundance of what many Japanese shoegaze bands lack – a face blasting amount of guitar noise by way of their ridiculously loaded pedalboards – was one of the more impressive aspects of the evening.  At the time there was only a little of their music available at the time, and most of that was the series of live videos on Youtube I’ve come to be accustomed to.

In June, however, the band released their debut effort titled, in an almost beckoning way, Release Me.  I popped the CD in as soon as I got home and, while this is based on a mere couple listens through, it’s phenomenal.  It’s got the shoegaze guitar noise that distinguished them at the JSF event, and on the recording the somewhat whiny, moody vocals really stand out a lot moreso than on Tsurumai Daytrip’s PA (understandably).  The album has a really dark feel throughout.  That guitar sound produced by the more than 70 pedals in their arsenal is all I need.  Tracks like “Sphere” and “Remark” stuck out from their live performances, but “Lay Down Your Feathers”, the closest thing to a pure shoegaze track on the album, is the early favorite.

It’s a really impressive debut, and an important one for the city as Nagoya has started to produce its share of talent as the shoegaze scene in Japan continues to grow more and more.  The band has also been announced as a participant in the Osaka leg of this fall’s Japan Shoegazer Festival.  You can give them a follow on Facebook or Twitter and be sure to check out their homepage as well for info on how to purchase their CD.  There are some “trailers” available on Aysula’s Soundcloud page as well.

[Japan] Ether Feels – “Twilight Dreams”

Osaka shoegazers Ether Feels have released their new 3-track EP “Twilight Dreams” this week.  The EP, which features re-recorded versions of some of their earlier material, includes the fan favorite “Raindrop Sparkle” sandwiched between two other songs which feature regularly at the trio’s gigs – “Morning Star” and “Paddy”.  The improved recording quality does well to really capture the band’s light, somewhat melancholy brand of shoegaze capped by the dreamy vocal lines of frontman and principal songwriter TOMO which really carry well on this new EP.  Having released a bunch of material previously, “Twilight Dreams” is the most mature of their works thus far and with a new lineup in place it will be cool to see a new full length in the future.

Here’s a preview of “Raindrop Sparkle” from the album which is available on Amazon (JP).

Night Out in Nagoya: 4/20 – Crocodile Bambie CD Release Party @ Huck Finn

I recently moved to Nagoya (one reason for the lack of updates lately) and one of my goals once settled in was to take advantage of living in a city with a special music scene.  The first venue I had set my sights on was Huck Finn, a small basement live house a few blocks from Imaike Station, which hosts a who’s who of local artists.  Having gotten past the initial money-sink that is moving to a new city, I was ready to get a taste of the local music flavor.  After browsing a list of shows I noticed a band name that was hard to pass up.  Crocodile Bambie (a ‘cute name’ as stated by frontman Yoshihiro Yasui) just sounded awesome, and upon checking out a teaser for their upcoming EP, I decided to book the evening.  This was not an easy decision, as Kinoko Teikoku had a show at Club Rock n Roll the same evening, but I decided to dive into something new and different, and I wouldn’t regret my decision.
Crocodile Bambie, a band set to release their debut EP, may have, in name, been a relative unknown, but the band had already developed three decades worth of following.  Yasui, the singer and bass player of Bambie, was previously the bassist of long-time Nagoya thrash metal outfit Outrage.  It took a bit to get used to the change in atmosphere at the venue.  The snappily dressed and fashionably groomed twenty-somethings I’ve become accustomed to at events were replaced by long hair and leather jackets adorned with studs and Motorhead patches.  It was the sort of thing I had grown up with at concerts and I instantly felt right at home.

The show kicked off at about 6:30 with Osaka’s The Probes.  The best way I could describe this band was a fun and energetic reminder of why we all start bands at some point in our lives.  It was nothing complex, but simple, straightforward, aggressive rock music.  Lots of fun and a good start to the evening.

Next up was The Nibs.  Another band I knew nothing about coming in.  I didn’t love it at the start, with the opening song feeling like a medley full of tempo changes.  As the set went on, the songs turned into more down-tempo muddy tunes that had really nice grooves to them.  They finished strong and made me eager to hear some of their recorded songs.

Stone Edge was the third band of the evening and by the time their set came up Huck Finn was packed tight.  This show was a special event for them, being their first performance in 13 years.  I had heard them described as an all-girl rock band, which wasn’t entirely true as their guitarist was a guy, but the one thing I had heard that I can verify as true is that this band is excellent.  Their in-your-face and fun punk rock sound was a throwback to 90s Fat Wreck Chords-esque bands.  Despite it being extremely hot and crowded, the atmosphere was great throughout their set.

After Stone Edge wrapped up a decent amount of the audience seemed to have headed out. Up next was a band whose recordings I had become fond of whom I was eager to see live.  Eternal Elysium is another band receiving a good amount of local acclaim.  While their live performance was a lot of fun, it didn’t do their recordings justice in my opinion.  What I liked most is that the band had a great relationship with the audience.  It was a really intimate set and at one point the singer even addressed the (rather large) non-Japanese section of the audience in fluent English.  The crowd pleaded for an extended set, but Eternal Elysium reminded everyone at Huck Finn that this was Crocodile Bambie’s night.

Finally the moment we had all been waiting for.  After a fairly lengthy set-up, Crocodile Bambie took the stage.  They kicked off the show with “Freedom”, the track with which they promoted their debut EP.  While Yoshihiro Yasui had made his name with Outrage’s thrash style, his new band is more of a stoner rock outfit with grooving bass lines and droning heavily-delayed guitars.  The set was heavy, and despite a small tuning problem at the start, it was every bit as great as I had hoped for.  They weaved jam sessions and drum solos in and between songs, but not obnoxiously.  There was energy and aggression but it was controlled.  I am a big fan of Yasui’s new style and I hope that the 4 tracks on the EP will hold me over until the next batch of sounds is released.

Some blurry iPhone pictures to come!