Kinoko Teikoku – “Ai no Yukue”

Well, it’s finally arrived.  The new Kinoko Teikoku album – the second since signing their major label deal with EMI – is here, and fans finally get to find out if the band is continuing on their major label J-pop trajectory or veering back toward the noisy alt rock we fell in love with years ago.  While “Neko to Allergy” had listeners resigned to the former, there were a couple of encouraging signs leading up to “Ai no Yukue” that there might be a little more balance this time around.

Well, it’s finally arrived.  The new Kinoko Teikoku album – the second since signing their major label deal with EMI – is here, and fans finally get to find out if the band is continuing on their major label J-pop trajectory or veering back toward the noisy alt rock we fell in love with years ago.  While “Neko to Allergy” had listeners resigned to the former, there were a couple of encouraging signs leading up to “Ai no Yukue” that there might be a little more balance this time around.  There was the impressive lead single, “Crybaby”, a new version of a track from one of their earlier demo EPs, and a brief but impressive glimpse at the album’s title track in the trailer for a new Japanese film.  Small sample it may have been, but it was enough to get doubters interested again.

I’ll be honest.  I expected to have a lot to say about this album, but I really don’t.  It’s really good.  It’s not mind-blowing, and it’s certainly not a shoegaze album (some people will have stopped reading at this point).  Let’s be real, though.  Kinoko Teikoku is a handful of releases removed from that sound.  Their final release from UK Project’s Daizawa label, Fake World Wonderland, was the first step toward creative control of the band shifting toward those who favor clean pop tracks to harsh roaring guitars.  Well that was two years ago, so it should come as no surprise that Ai no Yukue as a whole is a pop record.  But what’s different this time is that they seem to have been willing to meet fans of the old stuff halfway.  

The title track is a really good start to the album.  It has it all:  a gloomy intro, an explosive lead-driven hook, and reverb soaked vocals.  It never quite takes off as massively as it feels like it will at times, but that’s sort of a theme for this release.  The album’s closer and lead single, “Crybaby” is similar, though a bit more toward the pop end of the spectrum.  These are the two best songs on the album, and each showcases an enjoyable balance between the old and the new.  

Not far behind them in terms of quality is “Moon Walk”.  Kinoko Teikoku haven’t completely strayed from the melancholy sound that works so perfectly with Chiaki Sato’s gorgeous vocals, but when they’ve gone that route recently it’s been far too clean for my taste.  “Moon Walk” muddies it up a little bit, specifically in the chorus, and about halfway in fades into a nice tripped out portion through to the finale.  

One big surprise when the album’s tracklist was first published was the inclusion of “Azemichi de”, which first appeared on the band’s second demo EP “Yoru ga Aketara”.  As expected we basically get a cleaner version of the original.  Some of the edge in the chorus has been toned down a bit, but otherwise it’s very similar.  

The rest of the album is fine.  “Natsu no Kage”, as I mentioned in my previous review, is a Fishmans-esque dubgaze track, while “Last Dance” and “Ame-agari” are both really catchy pop tunes.  “Shi ga futari wo wakatsu made” is the only track I couldn’t really get into on the album.  These songs are the ones that fans hoping for the old Kinoko Teikoku may scoff at, though percentage-wise it’s a lot less than in recent memory.  

I think Ai no Yukue has a lot of really good stuff going on.  I like feeling like A-chan is being given more creative freedom, whether or not that’s actually true.  We know that Kinoko Teikoku are far removed from their days as one of Japan’s finest alt rock bands, and dwelling on the fact that we’re not going to get another Uzu ni Naru is sort of pointless.  But the band taking a step back and mixing in a bit of the old stuff with the new is welcome, and the result is a positive one.  We get a very solid pop record with a little bit of the grit and emotion that made us fall in love with the band in the first place.  For whatever my opinion is worth, Ai no Yukue was a success.  

The Florist – “Blood Music”

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

  Photo:  theflorist.info
Photo: theflorist.info

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Kinoko Teikoku – “Natsuno Kage”

So after what I thought was a really successful single release in “Crybaby” this past June, Kinoko Teikoku have put out another track as they approach the release of their new album Ai no Yukue this November.  “Natsuno Kage” (or “Summer’s Shadow”) hit iTunes at midnight Japan time – I’m assuming it’s just going to be another limited digital-only release like “Crybaby” – and my fingers were crossed, as I prepared to hit the play button, that this would be yet another sign of a return to pre-major form.  

So after what I thought was a really successful single release in “Crybaby” this past June, Kinoko Teikoku have put out another track as they approach the release of their new album Ai no Yukue this November.  “Natsuno Kage” (or “Summer’s Shadow”) hit iTunes at midnight Japan time – I’m assuming it’s just going to be another limited digital-only release like “Crybaby” – and my fingers were crossed, as I prepared to hit the play button, that this would be yet another sign of a return to pre-major form.  

The first thing I noticed when I pulled the song up is that it’s seven and a half minutes long, making it the longest song they’ve released since “Flower Girl” on their 2013 Long Goodbye EP.  You don’t find a whole lot of pop songs drawing on this long, so my curiosity was further piqued.  I cleared my mind, got their entire back catalog out of my head, and finally hit play.

“Natsuno Kage” kicks off like a Fishmans-esque dreamy dub track, which is a lot more appealing than the light pop chorus that it transitions into.  Similar to “Chronostasis” following “Tokyo” as the second lead single going into Fake World Wonderland, “Natsuno Kage” really slows things down when compared to “Crybaby” (and for what it’s worth, I like it a lot more than “Chronostasis”).  

My opinion through the first half of the track is that it has a bunch of redeeming qualities.  The chorus didn’t wow me, but the chill-out reggae twist was really pleasant, and Sato’s voice has just been so consistently good that there’s no real need to say anything about that.  Once again Kinoko Teikoku show a remarkable ability to fill every ounce of space with sound, and the vocals are a major contributor there.  Just as on the previous single, A-chan really gets back to what she does best: creating depth with her guitar work.  Even if the track doesn’t quite get back to the early Kinoko Teikoku material that really showcased her ability and perhaps best reflected her own artistic influence, it sure sounds, as we draw nearer to the album release, that A-chan has more freedom than she did on the major debut.  

There’s a bit on the track about three minutes in that teases with a bout of rumbling guitars, before transitioning right into that catchy chorus that I didn’t really care about, but by this point in the song has embedded itself somewhere deep in my brain against my will.  Again at the four minute mark, things get a little heavier and the song has gone in a different direction…and we’re back to the chorus.  As far as I’m concerned, the track could have ended at this point.  When that last chorus kicks in, there’s the sense that it is going to crescendo into a big finale.  It does build up, but it never quite gets to the point that it feels like it should.  It does this for two minutes, actually.  I wouldn’t call this a deal-breaker, but the five-minute version of the song is preferred.

I don’t feel as strongly about “Natsuno Kage” as I did “Crybaby”, but after a handful of listens I remain optimistic heading into Ai no Yukue, based largely on the perception that Sato is sharing the reigns with A-chan a bit more.  The dream dub vibe worked pretty well, but when we finally get this new album, the hope is that there’ll be a bit more of an edge to it.  We’ll see.

There aren’t any links to the new song at the moment, but the title track from the upcoming album is the theme song for the upcoming film 湯を沸かすほどの熱い愛, and is featured in this trailer (starting at the one-minute mark):

Cigarette in your Bed – “Nothing E.P.”

When I came to Japan and started a blog about Japanese shoegaze music, I almost immediately found the Kansai scene to be the most accessible.  I have fond memories of a bunch of bands who were not only really welcoming but also supportive of the blog and zine, especially bands like Lemon’s Chair and Ether Feels.  The Japan Shoegazer Festival in Osaka was a very comfortable spot for me, and thanks to the bands and the community that grew around the event I was able to get to know some great folks and learn a lot about the Japanese shoegaze scene.

 photo from  http://cigaretteinyourbed.com/
photo from http://cigaretteinyourbed.com/

When I came to Japan and started a blog about Japanese shoegaze music, I almost immediately found the Kansai scene to be the most accessible.  I have fond memories of a bunch of bands who were not only really welcoming but also supportive of the blog and zine, especially bands like Lemon’s Chair and Ether Feels.  The Japan Shoegazer Festival in Osaka was a very comfortable spot for me, and thanks to the bands and the community that grew around the event I was able to get to know some great folks and learn a lot about the Japanese shoegaze scene. 

One of the bands who really helped me out was Cigarette in your Bed.  The band split time between Tokyo and Osaka, though around that time they seemingly played a bit more in Osaka.  They were a staple of not only the Japan Shoegazer Festival (in both cities), but the frequently held High Fader Night at Club Vijon in Kitahorie as well. 

In addition to being cool dudes, Cigarette in your Bed’s music resonated with me instantly.  Their style was really unique compared to a lot of what was going on in the Japanese shoegaze scene.  The name conjures the image of a My Bloody Valentine knock-off, but they were far from that.  They were far edgier than their peers, drawing as much influence from grunge and 90s alt rock as they did shoegaze.  Their live show was dynamic and brutally loud.  I’d made it a point to come down to Osaka to see them play whenever I could.

Cigarette in your Bed has come quite a long way since then, releasing their debut full-length Darkness in 2014 via High Fader and playing some big shows, including opening for Astrobrite in 2015, while also starting an event of their own called “THE FUZZ”.  The band’s since moved on from their previous scene and found a new home in the Koenji hard rock scene, but with the release of their new Nothing E.P. they’ve shown a dedication to their core sound.

The EP kicks off with “Nothing”, a track that plays like a straightforward rock song blanketed in quivering shoegaze guitars.  The verses are decent enough, paced by a steady beat and frontman Kazuya Saijo’s simple vocals, but the song really takes off at the explosive chorus.  The repetition of the vocals is pretty similar to “Let Me Out”, giving them an almost instrumental quality that’s secondary to the massive guitar buildup. 

“Ghost” is a three-phase track that cuts from a bendy guitar howl of an intro verse not too different from “Nothing” to an overdrive-heavy rehashing of the same.  The song feels like three different variations of the same basic line, with the first part being more “gazey” and the second a bit more grunge-y with super distorted vocals.  The track winds down in a sort of striped down version of the introduction.  It’s a short track, but interesting enough in that the band basically demonstrates its range while never really changing the parts too much.

Finally, “I Don’t Know” gets away from the intensity of the first few tracks, showing off the dreamier side of what Cigarette in your Bed can do.  The song basically goes back and forth between a sweet-sounding, reverb-soaked verse and a sort of disorienting few measures of a chorus.  The main part is really chilled out and comfy before the guitars spin out for a bit.  One other noticeable part of the song that’s a bit different from their previous work and consistent throughout the EP is the complexity of the basslines.  The band is showing some maturity with their new stuff, and it should sound even better once the production value picks up.

Overall I’ve enjoyed the EP.  It’s just three tracks and they’re pretty simple, but Cigarette in your Bed have always made some really great tracks with a simple approach.  Unfortunately for fans of the band overseas it’s going to be tough to get your hands on this, but if you happen to be in the Tokyo or Osaka areas for one of their gigs it’s totally worth it for the show and the goods. 

There aren’t even any samples of the music online apart from a few brief clips the band has posted on its Twitter account.  You can also buy some merch at their online store and purchase their debut album “Darkness” on Amazon.  Here is a video of a live performance of “I Don’t Know” uploaded by Club Kinoto.  The recorded version is better, but this will at least give you a bit of an idea.  Enjoy!

Kinoko Teikoku – “Crybaby”

When I started this blog in early 2012 I was completely in love with Kinoko Teikoku.  Just about everything I tweeted was gushing praise of their music, and when I finally moved to Japan that spring it felt like fate that they were playing in Nagoya a mere weeks after I would arrive.  Seeing them at Club Rock n Roll is still one of my favorite live experiences ever.  Their music was powerful and emotional, and really struck a chord with me.  

When I started this blog in early 2012 I was completely in love with Kinoko Teikoku.  Just about everything I tweeted was gushing praise of their music, and when I finally moved to Japan that spring it felt like fate that they were playing in Nagoya a mere weeks after I would arrive.  Seeing them at Club Rock n Roll is still one of my favorite live experiences ever.  Their music was powerful and emotional, and really struck a chord with me.  

Fast forward to the spring of 2015, when it was announced that Kinoko Teikoku, whose previous album was extremely hit or miss, I might add, would release their major label debut in the form of a single called “Sakura ga Saku mae ni”.  The track wasn’t very good, nor was the subsequent full-length debut “Neko to arerugi”.  Kinoko Teikoku had changed, and I was balancing the feeling of being happy that they found success with the disappointment that they seemed to have left behind a majority of the qualities that I, and a growing global fanbase, had come to love.  Sure Chiaki Sato’s voice was still gorgeous and the songwriting was fine.  What I missed the most was the power and edge that they had done so well that made way for unexciting pop tracks.  It didn’t feel right and I was just about done.

It might be the reason I completely missed the news that last week Kinoko Teikoku had released a limited digital single (I’m assuming it’ll only be up for a short period of time) called “Crybaby”.  As I do with everything they release, I bought it on iTunes, a sense of apprehension and a little bit of hope that something might be different.  I was pleasantly surprised.  It’s a pop track, there’s no doubting that.  The verses are cute and gentle, and the chorus plays like a melancholy J-pop ballad, but there’s a lot more substance surrounding it.  There’s a harshness to the guitar tone that’s returned from Kinoko Teikoku tracks past, and from right around the 3:10 point the song really starts to feel like a throwback to their earlier stuff.  There’s even a bit in the buildup to the track’s climax that sounds an awful lot like the intro to fan favorite “Yoru ga Aketara”.  In past interviews, A-Chan had been pretty outspoken about her love of 90s alt rock and shoegaze, and their first few releases had really reflected that.  In “Crybaby” it feels like there is a perfect balance between Sato’s desire to make pop songs and A-Chan’s affinity for big, edgy guitars.  

For the first time in a while I’m really pleased with a Kinoko Teikoku track.  If “Sakura ga Saku Mae ni” was the prelude to a bad album, I really hope that “Crybaby” is a sign that things are heading back in the right direction.  

The single is currently available on Japanese iTunes, though I’m not sure if there will be plans to release it on the US store.  It also appears to be available on Recochoku.jp.  Here is a brief teaser that’s been posted on YouTube.

Juvenile Juvenile – “Perfect Lies”

In the Japanese indie scene, the mingling of indie pop and shoegaze is something that happens pretty frequently.  The former has been riding a steady wave of popularity for a while now, and the latter is oft-misunderstood but nevertheless enjoying an ever-growing resurgence of its own.  These two genres, vague as they may be, are a perfect marriage.  However, like a lot of bands who dabble in shoegaze, there are plenty who scoff at being called a shoegaze band.

In the Japanese indie scene, the mingling of indie pop and shoegaze is something that happens pretty frequently.  The former has been riding a steady wave of popularity for a while now, and the latter is oft-misunderstood but nevertheless enjoying an ever-growing resurgence of its own.  These two genres, vague as they may be, are a perfect marriage.  However, like a lot of bands who dabble in shoegaze, there are plenty who scoff at being called a shoegaze band.  In situations like these, we just slap on the “dream pop” tag and voila, tricky genre debate averted.  Osaka has consistently produced top notch indie pop bands in recent years, so its no surprise that it’s also the home of Japan’s finest dream pop band.  The foursome is as good as anyone at creating jangly pop tunes and drowning them in reverb and hazy background noise.  Their latest mastery of the style has come in the form of a new single titled “Perfect Lies”.  

“Perfect Lies” is one track off the upcoming double A-side 7-inch single – the opposite side is titled “Planet Heaven” – that was announced last week.  It will be the band’s first single release, and first new music since 2014s Our Great Escape album (which, for what it’s worth, topped my best releases of the year list).  The single, which will be released on August 10th in clear blue vinyl via Flake Records, was produced by The Bilinda Butchers’ Michal Palmer and will be accompanied by a bonus CD featuring remixes by Jesse Ruins and Teto 2.  

“Perfect Lies” is a pretty, thickly layered, melancholy track, consistent with the vibes of the ultra-dreamy “Just Like You Do” from Our Great Escape.  The most attractive element of Juvenile Juvenile’s sound is the depth that they create, not only with their big, lushly layered guitars, but with frontman Masami Tsuchiya’s breathy vocals.  What they lack in edge (only mentioned here because of my general affinity for the super loud) they more than make up for in their desire to fill every last square inch of space with sound.  On “Perfect Lies” they do just that, even keeping the leads that normally carry their tunes a bit more subtle.  Juvenile Juvenile is back at it, and I’ll be looking forward to hearing “Planet Heaven” in the near future.

There’s not a whole lot of info on where the single will be available, but be sure to follow the band on Facebook and Twitter for more info.  And if for some reason you haven’t heard their previously released music, you can find it on Juvenile Juvenile’s Bandcamp page.  

Sapporo Shoegazers Edy Two Arc

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

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

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

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

Citrus Nowhere – “A Nightmare Before She Sleeps”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Shun Tanabe – “March of Ghosts”

I’m willing to argue with anyone that the Japanese Shoegaze Group on Facebook is the best place for discussion on the topic.  Through the group people are not only able to introduce bands to a pretty sizable community, but plenty of artists in Japan have a dedicated platform through which they can get their own music out to an eager and thoughtful audience.  The most recent gem to be discovered here is the solo project of one Mr. Shun Tanabe.  

I’m willing to argue with anyone that the Japanese Shoegaze Group on Facebook is the best place for discussion on the topic.  Through the group people are not only able to introduce bands to a pretty sizable community, but plenty of artists in Japan have a dedicated platform through which they can get their own music out to an eager and thoughtful audience.  The most recent gem to be discovered here is the solo project of one Mr. Shun Tanabe.  

Tanabe – whose Soundcloud profile simply mentions that he’s a company employee who records when he finds the time – quietly released a couple tracks online over the last month or so.  “Standing on the seashore” is more of a chilled out, dreamy piece and it’s pleasant enough, but “march of ghosts” is a track that got my attention from the first chord.  It’s a sweet, somewhat melancholy track with nice space compliments of a warm, ambient backdrop wafting around simple, strummed acoustic guitar chords.  

It appears that this is about the extent of what Tanabe plans to do with the project, but as long as he continues to put out music like this I’ll be listening.  At the moment he’s just got the two tracks, but there will be some more soon so stay tuned and give him a follow on Soundcloud.

 

 

Looprider – “Ascension”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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