While all the talk recently has been about the emergence of younger bands in the Japanese scene, 2018 has also been a pretty solid year for comeback releases as well. Sugar Plant returned with an impressive album before Coaltar of the Deepers put out a long-awaited EP. But LUCY’S DRIVE – better known as the solo project of ZEPPET STORE bassist Yuichi Nakamura – made perhaps the most dramatic return of the year with TWO new albums this month. Pair of Sounds marks the bands first proper release since it’s 2007 full-length debut, DEEP SEEKER. As the name implies, the release was split into a pair of 7-track CDs, unofficially titled “red” and “blue”.
While bits and pieces of Pair of Sounds have been released via limited edition singles over the past couple years, the final product sees all of the material effectively split to create two pretty different vibes. The red version offers a mellow dream pop feel with a more ethereal backdrop throughout. The second half is especially dreamy thanks to electronics-driven tracks like “Sometime I Think” and “Ebb Tide”. The album’s finale “Daybreake” is a really strong gazey pop number.
On the blue version of Pair of Sounds, Nakamura draws on a wide range of 90s UK shoegaze and britpop, from the Loveless-y lead track “Perfect” to the super danceable “Heavy Rain”. While the red version relies more on softer textures to create its atmosphere, the blue version is much more driven by guitar noise. “Shining Blue”, the latter’s closer, combines the two styles and could be the best song of the bunch. LUCY’S DRIVE may not get the love of its late-aughts shoegaze contemporaries, but the quality was there on DEEP SEEKER and eleven years later it might be even higher on Pair of Sounds.
Both versions of Pair of Sounds are available via distro/label Testcard records. Domestic purchase is available at their site, while international orders can be placed through their Bandcamp page. LUCY’S DRIVE also contributed a song to the recently released Total Feedback 2018 compilation, which you can also purchase through Testcard.
Below you can listen to the trailers for both red and blue versions of Pair of Sounds.
While going through the seemingly endless list of new bands who have release material this year, the debut demo single from Tokyo’s “Beautiful Back” really struck me. It was the first I’d heard of the band, which formed in 2017 and appears to have been quite actively gigging in its home city. “Beautiful Back” kicks off in a manner typical of gazey guitar pop, driven by a bouncy pop hook over a simple riff. It’s a pleasant, catchy start, and while the beat remains unchanged as it transitions to the verse, the mood surrounding the song drifts to something sadder. The vocal tone and melody create a dreamy melancholy pop sound that feels like a throwback to the late Ether Feels. It’s a simple song, created using a formula that is by no means unique, but the end result is some feel-good nostalgia from yet another talented young Japanese group.
You can hear “Beautiful Back” on Soundcloud. I also quite like the live version of a song called “Behind the Times” I found on the band’s YouTube channel, so I’ve included that below as well.
Nagoya’s Hitori Pale flew under even the local radar this summer when the young three-piece released its debut track “SPiRAL” on Soundcloud. An introductory track, “SPiRAL” is a bit rough around the edges in terms of sound quality, but the song has really grown on me since I first gave it a listen. Musically, this is another track that feels like it would have held up well in the early 2010s, reminding me a bit of former Osaka shoegaze mainstays EUPHRATES with the dramatic, soaring chorus. The vocals are the most unique bit, and while I am not the biggest fan of vocals being so present in the mix, there’s something really dramatic about the vibrating melancholic wailing in this track that combines well with the warm, fuzzy textures and gloomy chord progressions to really hit the spot.
I regrettably missed the boat on the 2017 debut LP from Matsumoto, Nagano’s And Lorelei. In retrospect, it probably would have easily made it into my best of the year list. I’m only about five months late in discovering the band’s follow up EP, “And Lorelei 0.2”, which is yet another showcase of the band’s ability to write stunningly beautiful songs. The best shoegaze song is the one that you can get lost in, and that is just the sort of sound AND LORELEI consistently produces. Whether it’s via the sort of blissed out shoegaze you can hear on “Himitsu”, the slowly-evolving, dreamy haze of “Umarekawaru” or “Abraham”, or the minimalist ambient approach found in “Legi”, “And Lorelei 0.2” is a deeply immersive and emotional listening experience.
Both of AND LORELEI’s releases are currently available on iTunes and Apple Music. The physical release is also available for purchase domestically via TTOS. Here is a video for “Himitsu”.
It’s been sort of tough to keep up with all of the solid new shoegaze bands that have popped up in Japan in 2018, and the flurry of new releases from promising young artists over the last few months continues. It’s especially cool to see new representatives from outside the Tokyo area, as is the case with Hamamatsu’s plasmaclub who just released a debut two-track EP titled “14011”. Shizuoka prefecture’s largest city hasn’t yielded much in the way of shoegaze since the piqnic went more toward drony psych and post punk and changed its name to qujaku. On “14011” plasmaclub gives a bit of a nod to early piqnic with a heavily-layered dark, moody brand of shoegaze, and not surprisingly the release was also produced by qujaku guitarist Soushi Mizuno. The soaring guitar lead over hazy walls of guitar noise on lead track “dress” has the dramatic sound to it that was a lot more prominent in the Japanese scene in the early part of the decade. It’s a straightforward track that relies on heavy textures and dramatic vocal melodies over simple beats. “Veil of shine/(save me)” is similar, but a dreamier, wafting sort of track, highlighted by a sad, longing chorus. Both tracks feel like they would be tremendous live. Add plasmaclub to the ever-growing list of Japanese shoegaze bands to keep an eye out for.
Kyoto’s tip top nap put out their first single, “Yureru/Hakuchuumu”, in July, and just a couple weeks ago they followed it up with a new three-track EP titled “calm down”. The band has added its name to the remarkably versatile 2018 roster of fresh faces in the Japanese shoegaze scene at a time when the Kansai region could use a little depth. Tip top nap hops back and forth between bouncy post punk and slow dreamy psychedelia on the intro track “Dull”, slowing it down completely on the EP’s ambient, acoustic slowcore finale, “Hum”. Sandwiched in between the two is the band’s strongest track to date. “Moon” plays like the Kinoko Teikoku track that fans have been praying for for a few years now. It’s a mellow, emotional song that builds slowly to an explosive, heart-melting chorus, carried throughout by vocalists Natsumi Yamamoto’s gorgeous, breathy vocals. The song climaxes with a minute or so of roaring guitars and dreamy moans before dying down to an outro beat that gives you some time to catch your breath.
Check out tip top nap’s “calm down” EP on Bandcamp.
While 2018 has seen plenty of new bands introduce themselves with singles and EPs, Once Grace Forever came out of nowhere with a well-assembled 8-track self-titled debut last week. The Tokyo trio shows a couple different looks on the album, starting off with some deliberately-paced, moody post rock. On the latter half they pick up the tempo a bit, transitioning to some pretty shoegaze tracks before a chilled-out electronic finale. The period of the album spanning “Summer”, “∞”, and “Melody” particularly hit the spot, but the entire thing from start to finish is quite impressive, all things considered. Once Grace Forever decided to forego the requisite “roughly-produced two- to three-track demo” phase and go right to putting together a really nice first release.
You can pick up Once Grace Forever’s debut at Bandcamp.
When Osaka indie-rock shoegaze band Acidclank popped up in 2015 with its debut album, Inner, the band showed a tremendous versatility in sound. The record essentially felt like a lo-fi exploration of 90s UK indie music, drifting from shoegaze to psych to pop. On each of the two singles that followed, the band continued to give different looks into its wide range song-writing capabilities. Acidclank’s latest full-length effort, Addiction, is more of the same, drawing on a variety of influences and styles, but featuring enough consistent elements that it never feels weird or disjointed.
There are some familiar titles in the track list, including a buffed up version of “Clever” from Inner and both of the singles that were released last year. Just like the first album, Addiction features some very shoegazey tunes, highlighted by “Turning” and the very Loveless-inspired “Sleepwalk”. On songs like “Wrong” and the aforementioned “Clever” Acidclank delivers some noisy but danceable indie rock, while “Disease” feels like a nod to Death Cab’s Transantlanticism. Throughout the album, you get a lot of different but high-quality looks, as the band has shown a knack for consistently crafting catchy, well-written songs. But Addiction really shines when it gets super trippy, particularly on “This Time” and “Overdose”. The former has a very Dark Side of the Moon vibe to it with a slow-paced, steady groove setting the foundation for layers of spaced out guitars and reverb-soaked vocals. “Overdose” is pacier, more of a free-form psych track with guitars, atmospheric synths, and harmonized vocals all blanketed over a droning bass line, waxing and waning in intensity. While the album as a whole is consistently very good, these two tracks are the standouts.
Addiction CD versions can currently be found on Amazon is currently available on most streaming platforms. You can purchase it via iTunes as well, and an LP version is due out at some point in the next month. You can also check out some of their earlier work at Bandcamp.
Tokyo’s Luby Sparks is back with its second release of the year, a four-track EP titled “(I’m) Lost in Sadness”. The EP, which was produced by Yuck’s Max Bloom , is Luby Sparks’ first release since bringing in new vocalist Erika Murphy. With the band’s sweet melancholy still present, the new music takes a turn toward a more shoegaze sound, something that was hinted at with the release of hazy lead single “Perfect” last week. “Cherry Red Dress” is a stunning, moody dream pop tune and the title track is an epic seven minutes of layered guitars and well-harmonized twin vocals. The EP wraps up with a heart-wrenching cover of haunting Mazzy Star number “Look On Down From The Bridge”. While Luby Sparks’ self-titled debut full length effort from earlier this year is still sitting comfortably at the top of my 2018 release list, “(I’m) Lost in Sadness” hits home in a bit of a different way, showcasing the band’s ability to craft gloomy, nostalgic tunes using tremendous depth and texture. And while the loss of original Luby Sparks singer Emily was sad news, Murphy has shown she’s a perfect match for what the band does. These guys continue to show that they can write songs with the best of them with yet another top notch release to their name.
“(I’m) Lost in Sadness” is available to stream on Apple Music and can be purchased on iTunes or via Amazon (JP). Below is the video for “Perfect”.
Instrumental post rock/shoegaze four-piece Ulm has spent the last year or so establishing its place in the Nagoya scene thanks to impressive live performances alongside some of the bigger names in shoegaze and shoegaze-adjacent alt rock circles. At the end of July, the band released its first recorded material, an EP titled “After Dark”, which was recorded and mixed by Muscle Soul frontman Tomoaki Taguchi. Over the course of the EP’s three tracks, which span almost twenty-four minutes, Ulm offers a lot of what you’d expect from a post rock album with dreamy lulls crescendoing into huge guitar explosions. In each phase of an Ulm song, there is a wonderful harmony between the two guitar parts, whether it’s clean, mellow arpeggios woven tightly together or heavy, distorted leads soaring alongside one another. The EP’s title track in particular is a good example of what cinematic post rock should sound like, and the transitions between parts are smooth and tight. While a lot of the post rock segment of the Japanese shoegaze scene has gone away in recent years, Ulm have brought some of it back and done so really well. It’s a good showing from yet another impressive young act from Nagoya.
The CD is currently available at Nagoya’s File-Under Records (which ships internationally). Below is a link to some sample audio from Soundcloud.