Kiiro Records Presents FOREVER SHOEGAZE Volumes 4 & 5

Since early 2014, Chiba prefecture-based indie net label kiiro records has been releasing music for free via Bandcamp.  In June of that year, the label put out its first FOREVER SHOEGAZE compilation.  Since then there have been two more FOREVER SHOEGAZE releases in addition to a handful of collaborations with the Japan Shoegazer Festival.  Just recently, kiiro announced the next installment in the compilation series, a double release of FOREVER SHOEGAZE volumes 4 & 5 that is set to drop on January 26th.

It’s been three years since volume 3 came out, and that long space between releases coupled with the large number of bands interested in submitting music for the project led label owner Tsuji to go the double release route.  What kiiro has done in the past is add another layer to the evolving Japanese shoegaze soundscape, curating these comps largely around bands whose sounds reflect the label’s tendency toward intimate bedroom pop.  There’s been a healthy blend of established bands and new and obscure artists.  That’s once again the case here.  You’ll find familiar names like Float Down the Liffey, Nuit, 土曜日と人鳥とコーヒ, and Happypills in the track list alongside a whole bunch of artists I’ve never heard of.  But kiiro records’ catalog has long been a place to spot impressive new bands before they take off – the label also notably gave Dots their proper debut in 2016 at its Chiba Shoegazer event.

The lineup across both albums offers some very cool, very fresh new music for you to check out.  I think that across the 24 total tracks, this is the most consistently strong FOREVER SHOEGAZE record to date.  Bands like Suisou No Kikyuu, Fuyufuyuu, and Juutaku Danchi are just a few of the really solid under-the-radar contributors to the comp, in addition to gaze//he’s me, whose submission, “mavorosi”, was basically presented as the lead single to the releases.  The track list has yet to be presented, so I don’t want to get too into the music itself here, but suffice to say that this release is loaded with shoegaze gems and there’s really no excuse not to grab it once it hits Bandcamp on the 26th.

Kiiro records did post the lineups on Twitter, which you can find below.  Here is the video for the aforementioned track from gaze//he’s me.

And the band lists, with Twitter links.

And here are links to FOREVER SHOEGAZE volumes 1-3:

Only one of kiiro records’ Japan Shoegazer Festival exclusive compilations is up on Bandcamp, but only for streaming unless you want to drop a cool ¥99,999 on it.

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.

 

kiwi – “Beautiful Back”

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.

Coaltar of the Deepers – “SUMMER GAZER ’92”

Legendary Japanese shoegaze/alternative/metal outfit Coaltar of the Deepers came out of nowhere yesterday at around 7pm with a massive announcement that their first new music in about seven years would be released at midnight.  The news came roughly six months after the band’s core member NARASAKI cryptically Tweeted that he was working on Deepers music again.  The track, titled “SUMMER GAZER ’92”, is the first single off the upcoming “Rabbit E.P.”, which will be out in November.  Both announcements were initially made via NARASAKI’s newly formed label U-desper Records.

The announcement of a new Deepers single a mere five hours prior to its release was pretty jolting considering there was no real reason to believe we’d get any new material from one of Japan’s most well-known and influential cult acts.  NARASAKI has been incredibly active over the years writing and producing for a bunch of different artists while also creating music for various anime.  However, the new  was unsurprisingly well-received, with “SUMMER GAZER ’92” at one point reaching as high as number 2 on the iTunes song charts on the day of its release.

The song itself was initially described by U-desper Records as a (loosely translated) “hot summer tune for summer lovers”,  and with its warm, groovy sound that feels pretty accurate.  “SUMMER GAZER ’92” has something of a mellow, jazzy samba vibe, relying on a dreamy swirl of instrumental and vocal textures and a more subtly developing intensity than the in-your-face chaotic sound that Deepers is perhaps better known for.  Though it might not be what people expect, it’s a really solid return to action for a very important band and a preview of what is easily now the most anticipated Japanese shoegaze release of 2018.

“SUMMER GAZER ’92” is currently available for purchase on iTunes worldwide.  Follow U-desper Records on Twitter for updates regarding the “Rabbit E.P.” release.

The Return of Whisper Voice Riot

Roughly two years after unexpectedly disbanding, Osaka’s talented young shoegaze band Whisper Voice Riot recently announced out of nowhere that they’re starting it back up.  Despite having emerged as one of the really impressive young bands in the Japanese shoegaze scene, the then teen-aged Whisper Voice Riot decided to call it quits in 2016, with two of its members going on to form indie rock outfit Mississippi Khaki Hair almost immediately after.  

Roughly two years after unexpectedly disbanding, Osaka’s talented young shoegaze band Whisper Voice Riot recently announced out of nowhere that they’re starting it back up.  Despite having emerged as one of the really impressive young bands in the Japanese shoegaze scene, the then teen-aged Whisper Voice Riot decided to call it quits in 2016, with two of its members going on to form indie rock outfit Mississippi Khaki Hair almost immediately after.  

It surprised a lot of people when, on January 24th, WVR and MKH frontman Taito Kimura randomly posted “we’re back” with a link to Whisper Voice Riot’s sound cloud page and some photos of the defunct band.  The response was overwhelmingly positive, which doesn’t seem at all surprising given the band’s reputation prior to breaking up.  However, Taito and WVR guitarist/MKH bassist Usui didn’t intend to make that announcement that the time.

“Usui and I had been talking about wanting to start up WVR again for a while,” Taito explained. “I posted ‘we’re back’ on Twitter to mean ‘at some point we’ll be back’, and everyone mistook it as ‘we’re starting the band back up soon’.  The response exceeded our expectations.”  Believing it to be some kind of “fate”, Taito and Usui had to find members.  They brought back former WVR bassist, Shibata, and added a two new members to round out the band’s new lineup.  

When I talked to Taito after the breakup, he stated that he was simply no longer satisfied with Whisper Voice Riot.  Talking to him recently he clarified that the pace of the band was too slow, and there were some personal issues.  “We were a band that started in high school and broke up while we were teenagers.  A few of the problems were inevitable.”  When asked about what changed over the last two years, Taito responded, “I got the urge to be in a band that is personal and is active at a slower pace.  So I started WVR back up.”

While he mentioned that Whisper Voice Riot is here to stay for as long as possible, Taito also plans to keep Mississippi Khaki Hair going at the same time.  “I’m an egotist, so if I want to quit, I’ll quit.”  For now at least it seems that fans of both bands won’t have to worry about any more sudden breakups in the near future.

Since announcing its return, Whisper Voice Riot had its first gig on April 30th.  Things have been relatively quiet otherwise, perhaps just due to the slow pace that Taito has come to embrace.  Whisper Voice Riot seems very near and dear to his heart, and after talking to him I get the feeling that he never intended to let it go forever.  His current approach to and goals for the band seem much more laid back than before.  “I just want to write good songs.  My dream is to be singing songs I wrote as a teenager, even when I’m old.”

Here’s a link to their first EP “Before the Morning Cleaves Our Night” on Soundcloud:

The Best Japanese Shoegaze and Dream Pop Releases of 2017

In 2017 things got pretty interesting in the Japanese scene.  The Daydream events took off this year, drawing some more of the focus away from Tokyo and further establishing Kyoto as Japanese shoegaze’s “second city”.  Elsewhere, Nagoya’s local scene got a big bump thanks in large part to releases from local bands and the emergence of some new, young bands.  There were also some long-awaited releases, a shoegaze idol group that blew everyone’s minds, and a couple of tragic break ups.  It was a busy year with a few intriguing storylines.  

In 2017 things got pretty interesting in the Japanese scene.  The Daydream events took off this year, drawing some more of the focus away from Tokyo and further establishing Kyoto as Japanese shoegaze’s “second city”.  Elsewhere, Nagoya’s local scene got a big bump thanks in large part to releases from local bands and the emergence of some new, young bands.  There were also some long-awaited releases, a shoegaze idol group that blew everyone’s minds, and a couple of tragic break ups.  It was a busy year with a few intriguing storylines.  

Release-wise, there was still the “not enough full length releases and too many EPs” problem, but it was more manageable.  The bigger issue this year was the closeness of the contenders.  At least for the LP and EP lists, the top spots were pretty obvious in my mind.  Below that I did a lot of shuffling throughout the year.  So, as is usually the case, I could very easily change this list around in a week or so.  

As is the case everywhere there will be some seemingly notable omissions on this list, but there’s a good reason for them.  The most obvious one would be Plant Cell, who re-released Flowergaze? in 2017.  As it’s just a re-worked version of a 2016 album, I left it off this year’s list.  Then there are bands like Apple Light and Crunch who both released really good music this year (the new Apple Light is seriously so good), but neither falls in the blurry realm of shoegaze or dream pop, even at its blurriest.  Cairophenomenons, Amsterdamned, Kill My 27, Acidclank, and Looprider all released good stuff this year that would have qualified on their own but ultimately didn’t feel right in this list.  

With that out of the way, here are my favorite releases of 2017:


★ ☆ ★ BEST SINGLE ★ ☆ ★

“NEO TOKYO” BY YOUTHMEMORY

At first listen, Neo Tokyo sounds like a pretty big departure from youthmemory’s previous material.  This is true in the feel of the music with the usual bouncy rhythm and jangly guitar backdrop replaced by drum machine beats and dense synth pads.  However, the Tokyo band’s M.O. of crafting danceable, lush, dreamy pop music remains unchanged.  There’s something cold and even a bit gloomy about this release, but it was a great change of pace without ever straying from what had made youthmemory a really enjoyable band.  (Bandcamp)

If this list took live performances into account, Fog Park would be right at the top.  The Saitama-based newcomers put out two demo singles in 2017 – “cigarette punch” in January and then “sleeping cat” in May.  While neither of the demos demonstrates how brutally loud these guys are capable of being, the songs are still really good.  I’m looking forward to their recently announced debut mini album “beautiful blood”, that was released on 1/20.  (Currently only available at shows)

The Kansai region consistently produces some of the country’s best dream pop acts, and the best of the bunch in 2017 was Mariana in our Heads.  The five-piece put out a single an an EP this year, and while the latter received some consideration before ultimately falling to some strong competition, their “Anemone/Yarn” 7-inch was among my favorite singles.  While I generally favor harder-hitting, noisy chaos, I do occasionally have a soft spot for really warm synth-laden dream pop.  2017 was a good year for that, and Mariana in our Heads nailed it.  (Flake Records)

The most bittersweet entry on this whole list belongs to Ether Feels, whose “moonshine” single would be the last material they released before announcing all of the members would be going their separate ways.  The track actually starts off uncharacteristically peppy before transitioning into the sad but catchy melancholic pop sound that Ether Feels spent years doing so well.  (Bandcamp)

I have mixed feelings about Japan’s hottest shoegaze band, ・・・・・・・・・(pronounced “dots”).  The idol group’s surge in popularity is probably due more to their live gimmicks and cute-but-edgy idol shtick, but their debut single “CD” features some legitimately good music – particulary “Slide” which was written by For Tracy Hyde’s Natsu-bot.  I remain skeptical of “alt-idol” acts, but credit where credit is due here.  (Amazon)


★ ☆ ★ BEST EP ★ ☆ ★

“INTO THE DREAM” BY SOFTSURF

With all due respect to the rest of the bands who released EPs this year, this one was never going to be close.  It’s been fun watching softsurf’s rise over the last couple years, and “Into the Dream” helped solidify their status as the best shoegaze band going in Japan right now.  I’ve beaten the Slowdive/Pastel Blue comp into the ground to this point, but it’s pretty remarkable since that sound is so rare here.  With their first proper release and a three-city tour in support of it, Softsurf had an incredible year which saw them establish themselves within the national shoegaze scene.  And you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better live band in that scene.  (Amazon)

Though Softsurf was in a league of its own in 2017, there were still some really good EP releases in the next tier.  17 Years Old And The Berlin Wall put out their second EP Reflect last year, following up their excellent 2015 debut.  17Berlin’s sound pretty much reflects the popular sound in the Japanese shoegaze scene, with male-female vocal harmonies and poppy guitar melodies.  What has set them apart, besides the fact that their songs are really catchy, is the fact that hit a bit harder they’re willing to muddy it up a bit and drown some of the sweetness in guitar noise.  (Flake Records)

My 2017 Rookie of the Year award goes to Kyoto-based newcomers Nurse, who released their debut EP ODD.  Nurse sort of spawned from the very short-lived Hakusen Shikatsu, who released a couple impressive demo tracks earlier in the year and then split.  But the new project is even better and way way noisier.  Hopefully these guys stick around for a bit. (Bandcamp)

Chiba’s plant cell may not have been qualified for the album of the year award, but they put out two really good EPs in 2017.  The first, titled Queen of the Nebula – Fairy Lurking In the Thundercloud, was a thematic departure from their usual nature/spirit-based content, but featured their usual dense, dreamy sound.  The second, Cyan, was a collection of new versions of songs previously released on CDs or as singles on Bandcamp.  To be clear, the rebuild version of Flowergaze? wasn’t included in the list because it was just a modified version of a previously released album.  Cyan, on the other hand, was recorded from scratch and marked plant cell’s first recording as a full band.  The result isn’t really all that different, but the live drums add a bit of warmth to some familiar tracks.  For a band that’s put out some of the same tracks more than a couple times now, plant cell always manages to keep things interesting.  (Disk Union)

Perhaps better known as half of Hachioji-based alternative band The Weddings, singer-songwriter, kano, has been writing some seriously good dream pop tunes over the last 2 years. Her second EP, Shochuu, is short and sweet, including three whimsical, feel-good tracks with some really pretty textures woven along with gentle, breathy vocals.  The release was fairly low-key, but the release really hits the spot and rose to the top of a very deep list of 2017 EPs.  (File-Under Records


★ ☆ ★ BEST ALBUM ★ ☆ ★

“HE(R)ART” BY FOR TRACY HYDE

For Tracy Hyde outdid themselves and delivered the most enjoyable album of 2017.  While most bands are putting out singles and EPs, the Tokyo-based dreamy indie pop/shoegaze outfit released an incredibly well-written 17-track album (16 if you don’t want to include the intro) that draws on western indie pop influence while conjuring youthful imagery of life in Tokyo.  That imagery is key, as He(r)art is structured like a film, down to the movie poster album cover and “Opening Logo”.  It’s a nostalgic, playful, and emotional walk through a massive city and impactful relationships made there.  While He(r)art is an extremely cohesive album that is best consumed as presented from start to finish, the individual tracks stand well on their own as well.  “Leica Daydream”, “Houbutsusen”, and “Teen Flick” are among my personal favorites, while “Ghost Town Polaroids” might be my favorite track of the year.  There are some strong contenders below, but For Tracy Hyde owned 2017. (Amazon)

There’s not much to say about Shelling‘s latest album, Waiting for Mint Shower!!  The Tokyo-based duo gave us another gorgeous album based on the simple-but-effective formula of blanketing everything in a cascade of reverb-soaked guitars, warm synths, and Aya’s gentle, breathy vocals.  The way the tracks subtly evolve over the repetitive beats and lulling bass lines is hypnotic.  But you’ve heard all this before.  (Amazon)

Taffy is an interesting inclusion, because I almost have to remind myself that they’re a Japanese band.  More appreciated overseas than in their home country – which is crazy for a band of their quality – Taffy occasionally emerges in the Tokyo scene as they did in 2017 following the release of their Nyctophilia album.  Taffy pushes guitar texture to the foreground, making the deeper lying melodies more subtle and the overall tone of the tracks harsher.  The result is a much different album than most of the releases you find on these lists.  (Amazon)

One of the biggest surprises of the year was the announcement from Nagoya’s Tokenai Namae that they’d be returning from their fairly lengthy hiatus with a new album.  On Seifuku Kanro Kurabu the kayo-pop shoegaze band stayed true to their sound with a cute but chaotic blend of bubbly vocals, bouncy synths, crunchy bass, and ear-blasting guitars.  It’s pacier than the first, and everything below the synth leads feels like it’s been bumped in the mix, making things sound a bit messier.  A really solid release, which is remarkable considering the band was inactive for the better part of 2017.  (File-Under Records)

There are two albums dueling it out for the fifth spot on this best albums list, both of which were fairly long-awaited releases.  Cruyff in the Bedroom‘s first full-length album in almost 5 years, Hate Me, was probably the most highly-anticipated Japanese shoegaze release coming into 2017.  Caucus‘ first in four years, Sound of the Air, came later in the year and was fairly low-key in comparison.  Hate Me had higher highs with a few bangers including HATE and my personal favorite Laurelei, but got a bit too clean and rock n roll at times.  Caucus’ record had its own hot track in lead single, “What Have You Done”, but the album was more consistent start to finish, giving it the nod.  Caucus changes pace well on the album, going from fuzzy pop tunes to slower, more textural tracks like the almost 9-minute “Circles”.  Overall it was a more interesting listening experience. (Caucus on Amazon) (Cruyff in the Bedroom on Amazon)

A Fond Farewell to Ether Feels

A lot of bands come and go.  The Japanese shoegaze scene has seen so many really good bands just disappear out of nowhere or break up without notice that I’ve become desensitized to it.  Late last night, however, Kansai shoegaze legends Ether Feels announced that its October gig in Taiwan was its last.  The band’s members would be splitting up, and Ether Feels would be going on an indefinite hiatus.  The news really hit home (enough to get me to come back and post after a few months away).  

A lot of bands come and go.  The Japanese shoegaze scene has seen so many really good bands just disappear out of nowhere or break up without notice that I’ve become desensitized to it.  Late last night, however, Kansai shoegaze legends Ether Feels announced that its October gig in Taiwan was its last.  The band’s members would be splitting up, and Ether Feels would be going on an indefinite hiatus.  The news really hit home (enough to get me to come back and post after a few months away).  

On a personal level, Ether Feels was an extremely important band.  I had been to various gigs since moving to Japan in the spring of 2012, but my first ever venture into the heart of the Japanese shoegaze scene was in January of 2013 at the Osaka leg of the Japan Shoegazer Festival.  The bill was headlined by the likes of like Lemon’s Chair and Cruyff in the Bedroom, but the band that blew me away was the lesser-known Ether Feels – then a three-piece.  The performance was mesmerizing.  It says a lot that Ether Feels was the highlight of the night, when Lemon’s Chair also played.  Since that night, the band’s founder Tomo, has been one of the coolest, most supportive people I’ve known.  He’s one of the really good guys in a scene in which the veterans aren’t always the most pleasant or sincere.  

 Ether Feels at the 2013 Japan Shoegazer Festival Osaka
Ether Feels at the 2013 Japan Shoegazer Festival Osaka

Shoegaze in Japan in the early to mid 00s – unofficially referred to as the “golden age” of Japanese shoegaze – was strong but derivative.  Shoegaze in the current Japanese scene is often criticized for being too poppy and melodic, and not strong enough.  Ether Feels’ sound combines the best of each of these periods.  They borrow the requisite “wall of sound” guitar waves from the forefathers of the genre, using that element as a backdrop for their signature melancholy.  It’s powerful and sad and the vocal melodies will rip your heart to pieces.  Ether Feels’ sound is unique in a genre where pastiche is praised, and that’s helped to establish them as one of the best shoegaze bands on the planet.  

I will say that a fair criticism I’ve heard about the band is that their songs can be a bit repetitive.  It’s totally true, but I’ve never found it to be a bad thing in Ether Feels’ case.  The repetition almost hypnotic (think The Fleeting Joys’ “Kiss a Girl in Black”)  The song that stuck with me from the first time I heard it was “Annabelle”.  It’s basically just two and a half parts played over and over, but the song hit me hard and showcases the dreamy sadness that made me fall in love with them in the first place.  

I’m biased and a bit emotional in light of the news, but the love I have for this band is genuine.  It’s been a bit disappointing seeing Ether Feels somewhat underappreciated within the Japanese scene.  There’s the perception that the scene here runs through Tokyo, and in particular Koenji HIGH, but Ether Feels managed to forego that step of the process en route to playing all over the country as well as in Taiwan and Hong Kong, while also being included on a massive international shoegaze compilation.  All the while, Ether Feels has also helped usher in a new wave of shoegaze bands in Japan, while encouraging the scene to continue to grow in the Kansai region.  

If there’s one bit of good news in all of this, it’s that Ether Feels technically isn’t over.  Some would argue that the most recent lineup was the band’s best ever, but the fact remains that Tomo is the brains of the operation and he still seems dedicated to continuing what he referred to as his “life work”.  It would appear that there is still hope for the future, but for now it’s a good opportunity to sit back and reflect on the career of one of the best Japanese bands in recent memory.

If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably already familiar with Ether Feels’ catalog, but if by some chance you’re not, I recommend diving right in on their Bandcamp page and enjoying everything they’ve done.  Sadly, the Raindrop Sparkle CD – my personal favorite – isn’t up here, but the rest of their stuff is great as well.

 

 

 

softsurf – “Into the Dream”

In July of 2016, the Nagoya Shoegazer Expo was held at KD Japon and Daytrip, two venues in Nagoya’s Tsurumai area that have more or less been the stage for the emergence of the local shoegaze scene over the last few years.

In July of 2016, the Nagoya Shoegazer Expo was held at KD Japon and Daytrip, two venues in Nagoya’s Tsurumai area that have more or less been the stage for the emergence of the local shoegaze scene over the last few years.  To be honest, it wasn’t much of a shoegaze event at all, but more of an alternative rock showcase curated by a fan of the genre.  With the exception of mishca and Aysula, many of Nagoya’s more established shoegaze representatives were conspicuously absent from the lineup.  Little-known local newcomer softsurf was buried on the bill, scheduled to take the stage at 3:30 in the afternoon at the Monday event.  

It’s been a hell of a year since that event for softsurf.  They put out a 2-track demo single and absolutely packed the house at our Daydream event in Nagoya.  They stepped up their gigging schedule and earlier this year supported NIGHTS’ Jenna Fournier on her Japan tour.  They established themselves as one of the brightest new acts in Japan, and boast one of the best live shows I’ve seen in a long time.  And today softsurf has released its debut EP, “Into the Dream”.

I’m not the biggest fan of band comparisons, and I don’t really use them a whole lot when writing reviews.  But in softsurf’s case, given the overall tone of the Japanese shoegaze scene, it’s hard not to at least mention similarities to Slowdive – something that hasn’t really been done since Pastel Blue called it quits years ago.  You find a whole lot of Ride, Pale Saints, and My Bloody Valentine influence in Japan, but softsurf goes agains the grain, opting to bury melodies deep within hazy, billowy guitars.  You get a sense of it from the single they released, but the depth of softsurf’s sound absolutely blows you away when you see them on stage.  It’s impossible for a recording to capture the intensity and fill space like a live performance, but “Into the Dream” is as good a representation as one could hope for.  

Both of the tracks released on softsurf’s first demo, “Blue Swirl” and “Beautiful Day” appear on the EP in much more beefed-up forms.  There’s not much to be said that I haven’t already mentioned in previous reviews, other than the fact that the quality is, expectedly, much-improved.  The remaining three tracks are all new.  “Another Garden” is a sweet, whimsical dream pop track that follows more of the Japanese shoegaze model with its more prominent melodies.  It’s one of the catchier tunes on “Into the Dream”, injecting a bit more bounce into an EP that is otherwise based around texture-building.  

For me, the real strength of “Into the Dream” lies in the other two new tracks.  “Rainy Moon” sits smack in the middle of the five track EP and starts off with a gentle, lulling verse, crescendoing at points, but not quite fully taking off.  That is until about halfway through when the song explodes into a mass of big swirling guitars.  Frontwoman Yuki Udono’s vocals really shine on “Rainy Moon”, going from sweet and soft to powerful, matching each phase of the song.  It’s an intense track, and also my personal favorite in any softsurf live set.

If the first four tracks don’t sell you on the Slowdive comp, the finale, “Dawn of the Sun”, most definitely will.  There isn’t much in the way of subtle developments in this song, as it kicks right off with big screaming guitars.  There’s a heavy “When the Sun Hits” vibe, the way the song takes off and carries you through a thick atmosphere of layered guitars and reverb-soaked male-female twin vocals.  It’s not the most original of their tracks, but it’s a beast of a song that you just sort of get lost in.

There’s a good reason this was my most anticipated release of the year, and softsurf, with the help of some fine production work, delivered.  Softsurf has announced itself as one of Japan’s finest shoegaze bands, coming a long way since last year’s Nagoya Shoegaze Expo.  You can see them live at this year’s Daydream events in Kyoto, Nagoya, and Tokyo.  And folks interested in buying “Into the Dream” can do so via Nagoya’s File Under Records (see the link and directions below).

File Under Records (Nagoya):  http://www.fileunderrecords.com/?pid=120872924

Directions for overseas customers:  Send an e-mail with the name of the title you would like to purchase to file-under.rec@nifty.com.  After confirming the total with shipping, payment can be made via PayPal.  

“Into the Dream” trailer:

Cruyff in the Bedroom – “HATE ME”

Not much remains of the “golden age” of Japanese shoegaze, which started on April 1, 1998 and lasted until some point in the early to mid 2000s.  Few of the bands from that era are still around, and only a handful of those have released anything.  But while most of their contemporaries have either disbanded or abandoned the genre, Cruyff in the Bedroom has remained an active and important member of the Japanese shoegaze scene.  Still going strong after almost two decades, the proclaimed “Japanese King of Shoegazer” is getting ready to release its 6th studio album, HATE ME, on May 10th.  

Not much remains of the “golden age” of Japanese shoegaze, which started on April 1, 1998 and lasted until some point in the early to mid 2000s.  Few of the bands from that era are still around, and only a handful of those have released anything.  But while most of their contemporaries have either disbanded or abandoned the genre, Cruyff in the Bedroom has remained an active and important member of the Japanese shoegaze scene.  Still going strong after almost two decades, the proclaimed “Japanese King of Shoegazer” is getting ready to release its 6th studio album, HATE ME, on May 10th.  

Five years removed from the release of their previous album, hacanatzkina, Cruyff in the Bedroom has picked up right where it left off.  Fans of their past work will be pleased to know that HATE ME is as Cruyff as can be.  There aren’t any curve balls thrown, and there aren’t any surprises.  It’s a Cruyff in the Bedroom album through and through, but without being a boring rehash of everything else that they’ve done.  

The build up to the new record started a couple years back, when Cruyff began releasing a series of new EPs.  “Laurelei”, “Fuzz Me!!!”, and “Tiny Dancer” featured identical cover art (colored blue, orange, and red, respectively) and the same formats – each had four songs including two original tracks and a remix of each.  The title track from each EP appears on the new record, which comprises eleven songs in total, and features the same lion and crest cover art, but colored black.

The album’s strength is its top-end quality.  HATE ME boasts a few tracks that instantly made my personal “Best of Cruyff” list.  In particular, “HATE”, the album’s lead track, hits hard with big swirling guitars and melancholic progressions, capped off by a belter of a chorus.  “Laurelei”, which was an instant hit when it was originally released, stands as one of the best tracks on the record, and it’s hard to imagine that it wouldn’t be incredible to see them perform live.  “The Shade” is another moody gaze tune that has a very cool drone to it.  There’s a theme here.  These guys are at their best when they’re leaning hard and heavy on the shoegaze side of things.  

The album itself is hardly a straightforward shoegaze album, though.  Cruyff has always mixed things up, using shoegaze as a base for pop and rock songs.  “Ashtray in Snow”, “I’m Floating in Your Seventh Heaven” and “Tiny Dancer” are all quality examples of songs that incorporate persistent guitar noise as a back drop for catchy melodies and hooky choruses, with some big explosive moments here and there.  No Cruyff album is complete without one song that gets a bit more rough and aggressive.  “Die, die, die” fulfills that requirement this time around, starting off with a sludgy, stomping riff before making way for a dreamy, whimsical chorus.  And as always, the production quality on the album is top notch, really balancing things well.  

There are a couple tracks on the album that were misses for me, but as a whole I really liked it.  While it doesn’t offer anything fresh, it is a successful return by Cruyff in the Bedroom to what they do best.  The highs are really high, and the lows aren’t offensive.  Fans of the band’s catalog will definitely want to pick this up.

Cruyff in the Bedroom’s HATE ME comes out on May 10th, and can be purchased at the links below (international shipping is available).  Some versions of the release include a bonus CD featuring remixes by members of broken little sister, CQ, For Tracy Hyde, Cuicks, Zeppet Store, and more.

Amazon (JP)

Tower (JP)