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!

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.  

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.  

 

 

Standing on the Moon with Whisper Voice Riot

By 1996 the shoegaze genre had sort of peaked in terms of popularity in its first go-round and made way for grunge and Britpop, while slipping away into relative obscurity.  In Japan the so-called ‘first wave’ of shoegaze had already come and gone with the country’s founding fathers of the genre long disbanded or still working out a release.  1996 would be the year that Luminous Orange released its debut album Vivid Short Trip, and a mere two years before Supercar would release Three Out Change and effectively kick off a new wave of shoegaze bands in Japan.  That’s a very brief glimpse back at the year 1996, but one to just put things in perspective.

By 1996 the shoegaze genre had sort of peaked in terms of popularity in its first go-round and made way for grunge and Britpop, while slipping away into relative obscurity.  In Japan the so-called ‘first wave’ of shoegaze had already come and gone with the country’s founding fathers of the genre long disbanded or still working out a release.  1996 would be the year that Luminous Orange released its debut album Vivid Short Trip, and a mere two years before Supercar would release Three Out Change and effectively kick off a new wave of shoegaze bands in Japan.  That’s a very brief glimpse back at the year 1996, but one to just put things in perspective.

1996 was also the year that the first of Whisper Voice Riot’s members were born.  The Osaka shoegaze band’s lineup consists of members born in ’96 and ’97, prompting comments about how they’re the future of the Japanese scene and whatnot.  The concept isn’t just based on the fact that they’re all still in high school, though.  They’re actually really, really good.  Right around the end of last year they put out their first track “Stargaze” and prompted a whole bunch of Tweets by people who were surprised that it was made by teenagers.  Admittedly, I was a little curious, if not skeptical, about how things would go from there.  Having witnessed first-hand how little free time high schoolers have and experiencing how tedious arranging band practices can be, I wouldn’t have been surprised if they just fell victim to the pressures of university entrance exams and disappeared entirely.  

That wasn’t at all the case, however, and Whisper Voice Riot has had a great 2015, during which the band been a part of some pretty good gigs and put out some new material – the first of which was a danceable follow up single aptly titled “Let’s Dance and Sink Down”.  Their songwriting ability once again grabbed a lot of attention, resulting in an invitation to perform at Hata Yusuke’s monthly Total Feedback event at Koenji HIGH in Tokyo – something of a rite of passage for Japanese shoegaze bands.  However, it’s in the Kansai-area shoegaze scene that Whisper Voice Riot has quickly become a mainstay.  Their emphatic performance at the Kyoto Shoegazer vol. 3 event at Annie’s Cafe this summer showed a level of confidence and poise beyond their years that impressed the hell out of me and just about everyone else at the show.  

The highlight of the year for Whisper Voice Riot was undoubtedly this past weekend in Osaka where the band had a supporting slot at the Tokenai Namae album release party.  They had teased a release of their very own with a new track on their Soundcloud page, but the show in Osaka was where they officially put out their debut 3-track EP Before the Morning Cleaves Our Night.  As a further testament to their increased standing in the Osaka music scene, the maiden release was produced by Post Modern Team’s Kishida-san.  

With their first two singles being pretty different, I was a little curious whether Whisper Voice Riot would go the way of the first and choose the indie pop/shoegaze path or if they might just choose the pop route.  Naturally, as a fan of the former I had my own hopes, especially seeing how their aggressive live show would be an asset to a Japanese shoegaze landscape that could use a bit of a jolt.  Needless to say, I am pleased with the balance of the EP and the fact that they, along with Kishida-san, did not shy away from the loud side of things while still keeping the catchy pop melodies in tact.

There’s not much to say that hasn’t already been said in terms of Whisper Voice Riot’s potential.  There’s still room for growth, but they’ve shown that they should be capable of filling out their sound even more as time goes by.  I still wonder about the effect that their formal education may have on their creative passion, but to this point it’s done nothing to slow them down.  I had them on my list of bands to keep an eye on in 2015, and it’s reasonable to extend that claim for the foreseeable future.

At the moment Whisper Voice Riot’s EP is only available at shows, but they’ve announced that it will be available via mail order in the near future.  Stay tuned by following the band on Facebook and Twitter.  

Tokenai Namae – “Time Machine ga Kowareru Mae ni”

Two years ago the Japan Shoegazer Festival made its first trip to Nagoya in addition to regular stops in Tokyo and Osaka.  Despite being headlined by more nationally recognizable bands from the two larger citites – Lemon’s Chair and My Dead Girlfriend – the majority of the bill appropriately featured bands from Nagoya.  There was some question as to how the annual event would draw in a new city and one with very little association with shoegaze. 

Two years ago the Japan Shoegazer Festival made its first trip to Nagoya in addition to regular stops in Tokyo and Osaka.  Despite being headlined by more nationally recognizable bands from the two larger citites – Lemon’s Chair and My Dead Girlfriend – the majority of the bill appropriately featured bands from Nagoya.  There was some question as to how the annual event would draw in a new city and one with very little association with shoegaze.  The question was answered in the form of a sold out show that had Tsurumai’s Daytrip packed tight, prompting the show’s organizer to book a follow up event with the venue almost as soon as the gig ended.  Judging by the crowd’s reaction during the course of the night it became clear that they weren’t just there to see the bigger name acts.  The night belonged to one local act in particular:  Tokenai Namae.

As a resident of Nagoya who runs a blog centered around shoegaze music in Japan, it’s been a pleasure to see the kayou-shoegazers continuing to pick up steam both within their hometown and outside of it, and in the process putting Nagoya on the Japanese shoegaze map.  They’ve moved a ton of their first two CD-R EPs throughout the country and have gigged increasingly outside of Nagoya, highlighted by appearances at Total Feedback and Japan Shoegazer Festival events in Tokyo.  The band took the next big step in their development this year when they wrapped up their debut full-length effort “Time Machine ga Kowareru Mae ni” earlier this year.

For those unfamiliar with Tokenai Namae’s signature blend of shoegaze and kayou-kyoku (a brand of Japanese pop music which originated in the Showa period and the foundation of modern pop music in Japan), the first two tracks on the album are basically an introduction to what they do.  “Koukotsu Kyoushitsu” (恍惚教室) and “Denki-shingou no Imooto” (電気信号の妹) are both catchy pop tracks showcasing the male and female twin vocals that ceaselessly shadow one another while bubbly synths bounce on top of subtle guitar noise.  One of the knocks on their previously released material is that the synths are a little too prominent in the mix, and while they’re still pretty high up there on the new record, it feels like everything else has been turned up and blended a little better.  One of my favorite aspects of the album is the filthy bass tone that contrasts the cheerful poppy vibe of the music really nicely, and they do well to showcase it from start to finish here.

The middle portion of “Time Machine ga Kowareru Mae Ni” is where Tokenai Namae really shines.  Not surprisingly, this is where the two lead singles “√ni-hiki” (√2匹) and “Calpis-chan” (カルピスちゃん) sit in the track listing, but the song that follows them, “Shoujo no Kannouki” (少女の官能基), is probably my favorite on the album.  For me the three-track block really showcases the band’s ability to write good songs.  The general shoegaze formula is predicated on a balance between beauty and sheer noise, but in Tokenai Namae’s case there’s an element of ‘cute’ that is vital.  Sure, there’s a fairly sizeable section of the Japanese shoegaze scene that leans heavily toward cute indie pop, but there seems to be an inverse correlation between said “cuteness” and shoegaze’s requisite volume and noise.  Tokenai Namae manages to jam them all together really successfully.

The last three tracks on the album are a gradual come down from shoegaze back into a more pop-heavy finale.  “Toumei Tsuushin” (透明通信) is sort of a perfect transition track here, while “Kanjiru Keisanki, 21sai” (感じる計算機、二十一歳) and “Suimin Shou”(睡眠抄) ease you out of what has been a largely pleasant listening experience. 

For an overseas listener-base, Tokenai Namae’s new album, and their body of work in general, may take a little bit of getting used to.  However while western shoegaze was born from western pop and the genre rode into Japan as well on the back of a Madchester craze, Tokenai Namae takes the principles of the shoegaze sound and reconstructs them around a uniquely Japanese foundation.  It makes for some really intriguing music that, at very least, will latch onto your brain and not let go without a fight.

As an added bonus, their track listings are like a really, really difficult kanji quiz.

Click here to buy “Time Machine ga Kowareru Mae ni” at Tower Records (overseas shipping is available)