Misty Cure – Chinese Dream Pop in Japan

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

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

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

The Best Japanese Shoegaze and Dream Pop Releases of 2018

2018 was an incredibly busy year in the Japanese shoegaze scene.  There were exciting comebacks from beloved artists, brand new bands popping up all over the country, compilation albums galore, and lots of crossing over with international artists.  It feels like this happens every time there’s news from MBV, but the year was incredibly active.

As a result, the “best of the year” list was an even bigger pain than it normally is.  There was a good number of full length releases in 2018, and as usual the EP count was ridiculously high.  There are a ton of omissions that I will certainly get panned for, but in particular the EPs from NuitNurse17 Years Old and the Berlin Wall, tip top nap, and figure, among others were all really solid and could have easily made the list.  On the album side, plant cell‘s Landscape release would have made it, but since the majority of the record is re-released material it didn’t feel right to include it.  Also, the Total Feedback 2018 compilation was one of the best albums this year, but as a continent-wide shoegaze comp it didn’t qualify.

Now that that’s out of the way, here are my favorite releases of 2018:

 ☆ ★ BEST SINGLE ★ ☆

“Without you” by Otom

Tokyo-based ambient shoegaze producer otom has been steadily releasing singles since his last full-length release five years ago.  The first of his 2018 releases, “Without You”, was also his strongest.  The 6-minute track is a beautiful, blurry dreamscape of sunken vocals and layers upon layers of guitar and electronics.  Otom’s catchy rhythm gets the listener’s attention before a crescendo of hissing static opens a portal to his vast world of sounds.  “Without You” is gazey ethereal escapism at its finest.

Perhaps the biggest news of the year in this realm was the sudden release of new material from legendary alternative outfit Coaltar of the Deepers, whose “SUMMER GAZER ’92” single was the band’s first new music in 7 years.  Though the track itself was a preview of the “Rabbit EP” that would soon follow, it was the only new track on the CD.  The dreamy, jazzy number was perhaps more subdued than expected, but it was a really strong return from NARASAKI and Deepers.

Kyoto’s Browned Butter was one of the most pleasant finds of 2018.  The young band announced itself with its debut single “Fall”, which was also included on Ano(t)raks’ “Die in Pop” compilation and would later appear as the title track of the band’s debut EP.  “Fall” follows the very familiar Japanese shoegaze formula of a blaring guitar lead and twin vocals, but the former isn’t overly relied on and the latter is done exceptionally well.  It’s a lovely song that isn’t even the best song on Browned Butter’s EP, which speaks to the quality of the band in its first year of activity.

There isn’t much else to say about otom that I didn’t already say in this post, but his winter-themed “Snowfall” single was yet another of the best singles of the year.  If I stretched this list a bit more, he’d have even more music included.

When I wrote about Tokyo newcomers Kiwi recently, I made the comparison to one of the all-time Japanese shoegaze greats, Ether Feels.  It’s a small sample, but their debut single “Beautiful Back” was a bit of emotional nostalgia that hit me in a way that few other tracks did this year.


★ ☆ ★ BEST EP ★ ☆ ★

“(I’m) Lost in Sadness” by Luby Sparks

Not too long after the release of their full-length debut in January, Tokyo’s Luby Sparks announced the departure of their singer Emily.  Given her role in helping the band establish itself over the past couple years and how seemingly perfect a fit she was for their sound, there might have been some concern moving forward.  But new frontwoman Erika absolutely kills it on the new EP, matching up perfectly with the dreamy melancholy of the new music.  Luby Sparks picked right up where they left off with another moody effort that fittingly wraps up with a heart-wrenching version of Mazzy Star’s “Look on Down From the Bridge”.

As is the case every year, the EP pool was extremely deep.  While there are more releases than I can reasonably fit in this list, COLLAPSE‘s “Delirium Poetry” sat alongside Luby Sparks’ EP on a tier above the rest.  COLLAPSE’s noise attack is relentless on both the EP’s slower, brooding numbers and its pacier tunes.  “Meadow” is perhaps the best example of what COLLAPSE do as well as anyone with a beautiful balance of heavy, layered guitars and wispy vocals.

Nagano’s AND LORELEI created a gorgeous listening experience with their “And Lorelei 0.2” EP.  The songwriting throughout is really good, and the band showed the ability to create deep, breathtaking songs using a variety of methods.  “Umarekawaru” and “Himitsu” are two of my standout tracks of the year.

Yuragi took a massive step forward in 2018 with the release of their “Still Dreaming, Still Deafening” EP.   The young Shiga outfit has been consistently impressive over the past couple years, but the new music feels bigger and a bit darker than their previous work – you can especially hear this on the reworked version of “bedside”.  I noted in my review that the flow of the EP as a whole feels a bit disjointed, but as a collection of individual tracks, “Still Dreaming, Still Deafening” is as good as any release from last year.

I wish I could make this list longer, as it doesn’t feel right to omit some really really good EPs, but that’s just how it goes every year.  Taking my final spot in this post was the debut demo EP “In Demonstrationem” from Tokyo’s Yukla Down.  “Torture Me (With Your Kiss)” is a delightful nod to My Bloody Valentine, while “If You Only Knew” is an absolute banger.


★ ☆ ★ BEST ALBUM ★ ☆ ★

“Luby Sparks” by Luby Sparks

So, yeah.  2018 was a pretty good year for Luby Sparks.  This one was pretty much decided back in January when their self-titled album hit shelves.  Luby Sparks is a warm and emotional yet dynamic collection of pop songs that range anywhere from jangly indie pop to lush dream pop to fuzzed-out gazey guitar rock that feels a lot like something off of Supercar’s iconic Three Out Change album.  There’s a sort of gloomy nostalgia hanging over the whole record that is extremely satisfying.  No album felt better to me in 2018.

While Coaltar of the Deepers and Sugar Plant got a lot of the comeback release attention this year, Lucy’s Drive‘s double CD release, pair of sounds, was arguably the best of the bunch.  Split into a red and a blue version, pair of sounds as a whole is an effective nod to 90s UK shoegaze and britpop, with each of the discs having its own unique feel.  The atmosphere ZEPPET STORE bassist Yuichi Nakamura creates in his solo project is consistently deep throughout.

Tokyo’s Once Grace Forever announced themselves in a big way, opting to forego the introductory single or short EP release and putting out a self-titled record that was shockingly good.  The 8-track album is decently-produced for a self-produced debut effort and the songwriting is quite good.  What really pushes this album to my best of the year list is the depth of sound from start to finish as the album drifts from post rock to more textural shoegaze.  It’s not as refined as some of the other releases this year, but the quality of the content is really impressive.

Acidclank‘s Addiction album is another genre-hopping effort that once again shows the band’s affinity for 90s UK indie music.  Just as on their 2015 debut, Inner, the band covers a lot of ground, but Addiction never manages to feel weird or inconsistent, thanks largely to more consistent production quality this time around.  On the record, Acidclank is at their best when belting out textural psych tunes like “Overdose” and “This Time”.  It’s another impressive, versatile release from the Osaka band.

Headlightswas the ultra-mellow, dreamy comeback release from Tokyo dream pop outfit Sugar Plant.  The band’s first music in 18 years, Headlights throws it back to the band’s old sound, while also managing to keep things fresh on this tripped-out dream pop return.

Once Grace Forever – “♭1”

Having just released a self-titled debut full-length last month, Tokyo’s Once Grace Forever wasted no time in putting out its follow-up single “♭1”.  The single’s A-side, “Ao” is the more impressive track of the two, transitioning back and forth well between clean lulls and big, wailing choruses.  “Flat” is a fuzzy guitar pop tune that doesn’t change much dynamically, relying instead on the vocal melody and melancholic chord progressions.  The single is pretty solid, but might have come out a little too soon after the record, which is a tough act to follow.  If you haven’t heard any of Once Grace Forever’s music, I recommend starting here and then moving on to the album.

 

Acidclank – “Addiction”

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.

concrete twin – “Re:boots”

Tokyo-based shoegaze outfit concrete twin is back with its first release in two years, a two-track EP titled “Re:boots”.  Originally the solo project of Kazuya Okada, concrete twin has remained a consistent but underrated member of the current Tokyo shoegaze scene over the last year or so.  Okada, who also currently performs with better-known Chiba shoegaze band plant cell, has been making music for concrete twin – originally known as Guruwa Vail – since 2008.  In 2017, he recruited members and the band started gigging in the Tokyo area, appearing multiple times at monthly Koenji HIGH shoegaze showcase Total Feedback.  After losing a few members recently, Okada rebooted the lineup with bassist/keyboardist Fumio and drummer Zenn.

“Re:boots” is a bit more subdued in terms of pace than concrete twin’s previous EP release.  “Accelerator” is a swirly, dreamy mess of guitars and sunken, blippy synths.  “Door” is much larger and more chaotic, and I can’t help but think about how much bigger it would sound with real drums.  The vocals on both tracks sit right at that perfect point of being unintelligible but present enough.  While the latter track is a really solid concept, “Accelerator” is a legit gazey dreamscape that is also executed well on the recording.  It’s hard to imagine concrete twin’s sound not being incredible in a live setting.

You can pick up concrete twin’s latest release at the band’s newly created Bandcamp page.  Physical copies of their material are also available at their shows.

Yuragi – “Still Dreaming, Still Deafening”

When Yuragi appeared out of Shiga in 2016, it was as another impressive young Kansai act putting out some catchy, and surprisingly loud, poppy shoegaze.  Their debut single “bedside” fit in well with the pop-leaning tone of the local scene.  When the band released its first EP, “nightlife” just before the turn of that same year, there was something markedly different about its sound – leads were more sunken into the mix, the previously clean vocals were now echoing from whirlwinds of guitar noise.  Over the course of nine months and six tracks, Yuragi’s sound had changed  into something deeper and even a bit darker.

On its latest release, the six-track mini album “Still Dreaming, Still Deafening”, Yuragi shows us something totally new.  The CD kicks off with wailing clean guitars over a march-like cadence crescendoing into the post rock shoegaze explosion of “Horizon”.  On “Utopia” the band goes back to the uptempo, danceable sound of its previous releases, but doing so in a much more massive way.  The reworked version of “bedside” sits in the middle of the album, verifying the band’s transition to much bigger sound by keeping the poppy sweetness of the original but making the guitar wash much more prominent in the mix.  Lead single “Unreachable” returns to the melancholic post rock style of the openers, before the almost 11-minute “Path of the Moonlit Night” wraps things up in epic fashion, building from a dreamy lull to a raging outburst of swirling guitars before descending into a quiet marching snare that wraps it all up very comfortably.

If I have one issue with “Still Dreaming, Still Deafening” as a whole body of work, it’s that the middle portion of the mini album almost disrupts the flow between the first and final thirds.  It’s hard to really complain too much, though, since each of those tracks is ridiculously good on its own.  From a songwriting standpoint, this is the most impressive music Yuragi has released to date, and production-wise it’s excellent.  The new generation of Japanese shoegaze is moving in a very cool, very loud direction, and Yuragi, along with bands like Collapse, Softsurf, and YURAGI LANDS, is among the most exciting contributors.

You can pick up a copy of “Still Dreaming, Still Deafening” via Amazon (JP), though their previous releases have flown off the shelves so it’s best to do so quickly.

Magic Love – “Night Falls”

So remember that new release from magic love that I predicted would come around the end of 2014?  Well it’s finally arrived.  ight Falls is the Tokyo trio’s first new release since they put out their previous EP Dawn in the summer of 2014.  Just as their sophomore effort followed a pretty lengthy transitional period, magic love has spend the last two years…

 Source:  Facebook
Source: Facebook

So remember that new release from magic love that I predicted would come around the end of 2014?  Well it’s finally arrived.  Night Falls is the Tokyo trio’s first new release since they put out their previous EP Dawn in the summer of 2014 (the two-track Night Before single doesn’t count, because it was just a filler release with a couple live tracks).  Just as their sophomore effort followed a pretty lengthy transitional period, magic love has spend the last two years since its release retooling its lineup and re-recording some previously released material.  It’s been a long wait, but Night Falls features everything we’ve come to love about magic love and then some.

Night Falls kicks off with a new version of “Waiting for Rain”, a track that originally appeared on the Dawn EP.  The new version is essentially the same as the original but with female vocals complements of new-ish addition Marika Sato.  “Midnight Baby” is a brand new track that had only previously been released via the Muso Asia comp at this year’s Kyoto Shoegazer event.  Along with “Popularity”, the middle segment of the EP is a little more dream pop than the roaring, guitar texture-laden shoegaze tracks we’ve come to expect.  There aren’t many shoegaze bands in the country that belt out waves of huge guitar noise as well as magic love, but they show that they can mix it up a little bit without sacrificing quality.  It’s a nice departure from their usual sound, but a brief one, as the EP wraps up with a blaring, bendy hook in “Ghost Novice”. Though tonally this is very much back to what I expected of the new EP, there’s a bit more energy and a skip in the step of the chorus that plays more like a 90s US alt rock track than a straightforward shoegaze song. 

Though magic love showed us something a little different on Night Falls, the band’s quality remains consistent and they continue to establish themselves as one of the best – and underrated – bands in Japan.  The EP was first released in Taiwan where they played “Meow Bang Party vol. 1” along with Fuguko and Bison Country.  Currently physical copies are available exclusively at shows, though you can purchase the digital EP on Bandcamp.  According to the band’s Twitter account, the CD may soon be made available online as well.  Give them a follow on Twitter and Facebook, and keep checking their Bandcamp page to stay tuned. 

The End Of DKFM…For Now

As 2015 was winding down, shoegaze and dreampop fans all over the world had their usual year-end routines of reading Top 10 lists and sorting out their own interrupted by some pretty sad news.  California-based independent radio station DKFM, a staple within the shoegaze community, had announced that at midnight Eastern time the station would cease to be on air. 

As 2015 was winding down, shoegaze and dreampop fans all over the world had their usual year-end routines of reading Top 10 lists and sorting out their own interrupted by some pretty sad news.  California-based independent radio station DKFM, a staple within the shoegaze community, had announced that at midnight Eastern time the station would cease to be on air.  The reason came down to the expiration of the Webcaster Settlement Act, established in 2009, which enabled small and mid-sized webcasters (as determined by a revenue threshold) to pay special, more manageable rates.  With the expiration of the current agreement and the Copyright Royalty Board’s newly increased rates, DKFM and its small webcaster brethren are left with uncertain futures, removing from the music world a group of valuable and highly appreciated resources.  

Anyway, it’s 2016 right now and no last-minute miracles occurred.  DKFM is silent and the shoegaze community is pretty bummed out about it.  For the purpose of this post I’ll spare any “little guy getting squeezed out” rants.  

I had originally talked to the station’s owner, Greg Wilson, around the time of the first issue of Muso Planet.  It was around that time that I’d first heard of DKFM, and I adored the station’s concept.  Tuning in for the first time, it occurred to me that good radio was something that was I seriously missed – I’d never really listened to much Internet radio to that point, Chicago had been without a quality radio station for probably a decade, and what I’ve listened to of Japanese radio hasn’t been pleasant.  A station devoted 100% to shoegaze and dream pop was just the thing I needed.  On top of that, the station’s mission to promote new music from all over the world via its New Tracks Weekend programming was on a much larger scale than what I had intended with my own project.  I admired the hell out of what DKFM was doing, and tuning in made my life a little better every time.  

A year and some change ago, I was fortunate enough to have been adopted into the DKFM family and given a bi-monthly hour-long slot during which I could share choice tracks from Japan and around Asia.  DKFM had no lack of Japanese music in its database, but Greg, fueled by a love of Kensei Ogata and Tatuki Seksu among others, wanted to have programming dedicated to it and I was happy to oblige.  Having recorded my own radio shows on a tape deck when I was a child, the opportunity was something of a dream come true.  I had a blast working on Muso Asia over the following year and throughout 2015, and for that I’ll always be grateful.

Other members of the DKFM family included Mikkel of Danish new wave/post punk trio The Foreign Resort, Amber of the essential shoegaze and dream pop blog When The Sun Hits, and the somewhat mysterious DJ Ariel.  The family was getting bigger, the programming was expanding, and DKFM just kept getting better and better.  What seemed like a sudden announcement by the CRB put an end to a good thing, and what we’re left with following the station’s final broadcast on New Year’s Eve is a big hole that all the YouTube spam and description-less Soundcloud links in the world can’t replace.  

I get that that last bit’s a little dramatic.  The disappointment could very well just be a temporary thing, as there’s reason to believe that DKFM’s absence from our airwaves may be short lived.  There are alternatives, and while returning to its previous format isn’t likely, a somewhat modified version of DKFM is preferable to none at all.  Twitter activity indicates that the powers that be are working hard to find a solution.  While there are no guarantees, shoegaze and dream pop fans can and should hold out hope that the planet’s foremost purveyor of all things blissful will be back sooner than later.

[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.

Muso Asia Playlist 004

From broadcast #4 of Muso Asia on DKFM which aired on December 3rd in the US/December 4th in Japan.
 
1. The Majestic High – “See Her Fall”
2. Paint in Watercolour – “The Sweetest Sugar”
3. Oeil – “Myrtle”
4. Looprider – “Farewell”
5. TuT – “You Got Me When I Stare At You”
6. Cigarette in your Bed – “Killer Song”
7. Cruyff in the Bedroom – “Loves and Lights”
8. For Tracy Hyde – “Shady Lane Sherbet”
9. Luminous Orange – “Walkblind”
10. Seaside – “Giggle and Blush”
11. Boyz & Girl – “Kiss Me Blind”
12. 溶けない名前 (Tokenai Namae) – “幽霊少女は八月を殺す” (“Yuurei shoujo wa Hachigatsu wo Korosu”)
13. sphere – “Hope”
14. きのこ帝国 (kinoko teikoku) – “Eureka”