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.

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):

Mississippi Khaki Hair – “1st Demo”

It doesn’t feel like very long ago at all that I was gushing over a promising teen indie shoegaze outfit from Osaka called Whisper Voice Riot.  2015 was a great year for the band, who established themselves as one of the promising young bands to keep an eye on – and not just in the indie scene.

It doesn’t feel like very long ago at all that I was gushing over a promising teen indie shoegaze outfit from Osaka called Whisper Voice Riot.  2015 was a great year for the band, who established themselves as one of the young bands to keep an eye on – and not just in the shoegaze scene.  They put out their debut EP, Before the Morning Cleaves Our Night, last fall, appeared at Total Feedback and Kyoto Shoegazer, and seemed to be picking up steam.  It was therefore a bit of a shock that this past spring the band announced that their appearance at the 2016 Kyoto Shoegazer fest would be their last.  The news was pretty sudden, and I was personally really disappointed to see such a promising young band call it.  

There was some consolation, however, upon hearing that three of Whisper Voice Riot’s members, including frontman Taito, would continue making music under a different name.  The direction of the new project, called Mississippi Khaki Hair, was a bit of a mystery, but one thing was made perfectly clear: this wasn’t going to be a shoegaze band.  

Mississippi Khaki Hair got right to gigging in early May and this past Friday released a 3-song demo EP.  They released two-thirds of the EP a week or so in advance on Soundcloud, and my first thought was that it wasn’t a massive departure from some of the dancier WVR stuff.  There is much more of a groove to the new project, though, but it didn’t seem different enough to necessarily warrant a completely new project.  “True Love” is a romantic, synth-laden blend of new wave and shoegaze, while “Phone Call” has a distinctly Strokes-y vibe to it, with overdriven vocals and prominent guitar lead paced by a consistent four on the floor beat.  “Silence Like A Shout” is a bit more along the lines of the latter – another lo-fi indie rock dance track.

The demos are really rough, and Taito acknowledges this along with the fact that this is pretty much just a sample to show people what the new band is all about.  When I asked him why he scrapped Whisper Voice Riot to start a new project, his answer was simple:  “I couldn’t be satisfied with WVR.”  In addition to members being busy and it being difficult to consistently write music, there were creative issues as well and Taito stresses the goal of MKH is to make music that’s more original.  “Whisper Voice Riot’s music was derivative, and I didn’t want it to end there.  The two new songs we posted are really traditional, but, combining shoegaze, post punk, and pop music, we are getting ready to show people what we’re all about.”  

This is just the beginning of Mississippi Khaki Hair as a band, and, just like WVR, they’ve gotten off to a pretty fast start.  Physical copies of their demo EP are only available at gigs at the moment, but there are plans to release it digitally on Bandcamp and potentially sell physical copies online as well.  In the meantime, the whole thing is up on Soundcloud.  It’s still a demo, but you can get an idea of what the band is going for, and it’s a lot of fun.  My personal favorite track – it’s probably not a coincidence that it’s also the song that most resembles WVR’s music – is “True Love”.  You’ll be wanting to keep an eye and an ear open for these guys, so be sure to follow them on Twitter and Facebook.  

Kinoko Teikoku – “Crybaby”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looprider – “Ascension”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Dead Ishikawa – A Corpse in the Happy Valley

One of last year’s most anticipated Japanese shoegaze releases – at least among fans overseas – was hades (the nine stages of change at the deceased remains), the latest from Tokyo-based My Dead Girlfriend.  It was a big year for the band, who earlier in the year shared a stage with Astrobrite and, in support of the album, played a flurry of shows all over the country including a headlining spot at the annual Kyoto Shoegazer event.  By October, eccentric frontman Yuki Ishikawa had begun working on his next musical endeavor, a solo project that would be known simply as My Dead Ishikawa.

One of last year’s most anticipated Japanese shoegaze releases – at least among fans overseas – was hades (the nine stages of change at the deceased remains), the latest from Tokyo-based My Dead Girlfriend.  It was a big year for the band, who earlier in the year shared a stage with Astrobrite and, in support of the album, played a flurry of shows all over the country including a headlining spot at the annual Kyoto Shoegazer event.  By October, eccentric frontman Yuki Ishikawa had begun working on his next musical endeavor, a solo project that would be known simply as My Dead Ishikawa.  

My Dead Ishikawa’s debut album 幸せの谷の死体 (English: A Corpse in the Happy Valley) – set to be released on April 20th – features a number of guest musicians, including current and former members of My Dead Girlfriend, shoegaze and indie pop mastermind Kensei Ogata, GUEVNNA drummer Yamaguchi, and a bunch more.  The idea came up a few years back, but really started coming to fruition last fall.  Each of his guest musicians really helped shape the overall sound on the record, adding their own influence during the recording process.  As a result, the album explores a vast array of sounds, from grindcore to shoegaze to guitar pop to experimental noise.  Ishikawa notes that while there are similar elements to My Dead Girlfriend’s music on the record, it’s how the sound is balanced that really separates it from his previous work.  While MDG’s sound is built more delicately upon a shoegaze/noise-pop foundation, each track on A Corpse in the Happy Valley offers something different.  “The theme is just recording my feelings and ideas, without being too elaborate.”  The resulting sound is a lot more free and experimental, with the pop-shoegaze sound that Ishikawa has to this point become known for representing only small portion of the finished product.  

The moment the album starts, the difference in approach becomes clear, as the first two tracks – the album’s title track and “temi blaster” – are blistering noise pieces.  Ishikawa’s first vision for his debut solo release was a start-to-finish noise album.  “On those two tracks I was going for the fusion of noise and yelling in Japanese like on JOJO Hiroshige’s solo work.”  To make things even more aggressive, Ishikawa called upon his friend Tomoyuki Yamaguchi – of stoner rock band GUEVNNA – to play drums on the first two tracks.  Ishikawa cites Yamaguchi’s previous musical endeavors as the likely reason for the heavy grindcore influence that can also be heard in the songs.  

There’s a major shift in style as the chaotic guitars and violent screams make way for the sort of melodic pop tunes that fans might have been expecting on an Ishikawa solo album.  Just as on the first portion of the album, the sound on the third and fourth tracks, “kininaru aitsu” and “the theme from tenohira”, reflect the guest musicians that performed on them.  This time around current and former members of My Dead Girlfriend are featured, with ex-drummer Takashi Shimano playing drums on both songs and former bassist Fumiaki Arakawa joining in on the third.  The result, not surprisingly, contains sort of bubbly melodies, subtle guitar noise, and playful male-female twin vocals – in other words, this sounds a whole lot like My Dead Girlfriend.   In the studio there was a certain sense of nostalgia for Ishikawa.  “Current member Ideta and former member Shimano played, so there was the image of the band performing around 2007-2008 as we recorded the songs.”  

By this point in the album, there are clearly two distinct sections.  Ishikawa identifies the third act of the album as his favorite.  Composition-wise, the album turns back to the more free-form style found in the opening two tracks.  “A Nervous Addict in the Nittoh Mall Kumagaya” is a whimsical dreamscape of a tune, with wispy synths and spacey guitars woven together over steady backing percussion.  On “Manbiki” and “Submission to the Silence”, things get a little more chaotic.  My Dead Girlfriend drummer Tomoaki Kunii takes the lead in the writing process here and goes all out on the drums.  All around him is a mess of squealing guitar noise, with spoken word vocals – courtesy of Saori Takei and Si,Irene’s Reed David on tracks 6 and 7, respectively – topping everything off.  The latter two songs Ishikawa notes as being influenced by David Lynch’s Crazy Clown Time.  

The 8th and final track stands alone as the final theme on the record. The guest musician on “kamikakushi” is none other than Kensei Ogata (of talk, flaria, and perhaps best known to readers of this blog as the man behind Tatuki Seksu).  “I wanted to do a Japanese-style lyrical shoegaze song,” Ishikawa explains.  “I was really happy that Kensei Ogata, who I really like, performed the vocals on the track.”  The song has a talk-esque dreamy vibe to it, with Ogata providing delicate, J-Pop-style vocals over a backdrop over fuzzy guitar noise.  

The album really consists of four phases that, at least stylistically, are pretty different.  That being said, the changing of one word in the band name seems to have given Yuki Ishikawa a sense of freedom to express himself in a variety of ways.  The original plan was to make a noise album, but he was under no obligation to stick to that.  Musically, there’s always seemed to be a certain disconnect between his personality and the tone of My Dead Girlfriend’s music.  There’s a sense of sweetness in the bubbly pop leads and poppy vocal melodies that is contrasted by the sweaty, screaming frontman destroying his guitar at the end of a gig.  Balancing those elements is a key to what My Dead Girlfriend does, and on this album he’s thrown that all out the window.  There’s no balance here.  It’s just a whole bunch of what Yuki Ishikawa feels performed with a bunch of people Yuki Ishikawa likes to work with.  It’s a personal record and that’s what ties the whole thing together.

Outside of a few gigs lined up in May – including a supporting spot on Mayalsian post punk outfit Joi Noir’s Japan tour – there are no concrete plans for My Dead Ishikawa going forward.  Joining Ishikawa as the regular live band will be Sakagami (vocals & guitar) of Shojo Skip, Kawasuji (guitar), and My Dead Girlfriend members Kawakami (bass) and Kunii (drums).  While nothing’s been decided, Ishikawa is considering the possibility of recording with the current lineup in the future.  

Fans overseas are in luck as My Dead Ishikawa’s debut album A Corpse in the Happy Valley, will be available for purchase via outlets that ship internationally.  Also, if you’re in the Tokyo/Saitama area in early May you can catch their first couple gigs.  

Purchase the album:

Aoi Eir – “Shoegazer”

Shoegaze is a genre tag whose sound is often debated, but one that universally relies on a very simple formula:  a balance of beauty and ear-smashing loudness.  Beyond that, the limits of what is shoegaze and what ventures into other similar genres can get a bit clouded, but it also allows for some pretty liberal interpretation making shoegaze a generally flexible genre.  As opposed to the hey-day of the genre in the early 90s, the modern incarnation of shoegaze, coupled with the insane amount of music available at the moment, has broadened the shoegaze definition even more.  While you have your fair share of MBV and Slowdive clones – in the case of the former it’s really hard to blame them – you see a lot of Western bands veering from the pop side of things toward a more punk and metal influenced sound.

Shoegaze is a genre tag whose sound is often debated, but one that universally relies on a very simple formula:  a balance of beauty and ear-smashing loudness.  Beyond that, the limits of what is shoegaze and what ventures into other similar genres can get a bit clouded, but it also allows for some pretty liberal interpretation making shoegaze a generally flexible genre.  As opposed to the hey-day of the genre in the early 90s, the modern incarnation of shoegaze, coupled with the insane amount of music available at the moment, has broadened the shoegaze definition even more.  While you have your fair share of MBV and Slowdive clones – in the case of the former it’s really hard to blame them – you see a lot of Western bands veering from the pop side of things toward a more punk and metal influenced sound.  Meanwhile, as Jairo Manzur of Latinoamerica Shoegaze has pointed out numerous times in his contributions to Muso Planet, bands in South America, and in particular Chile, use more traditional, cultural music to define their shoegaze sound.  

That cultural influence is also a big part of what makes a lot of Japanese shoegaze unique.  In the early 90s Shibuya-kei artists like Salon Music, Spiral Life, and Flipper’s Guitar got in on the act and would influence future generations of shoegaze artists in the country.  The late 90s and early 2000s – probably the most globally recognizable period of Japanese shoegaze –  saw a lot more crossover into the sound with visual-kei/alt-rockers Plastic Tree and Japan’s very own shoegaze Swiss-army knife Coaltar of the Deepers surging to the forefront of the scene.  The current landscape of Japanese shoegaze is now more diverse than ever as a result, and new and unique versions of the genre are constantly popping up – there was even a good Mikgazer release this year.  

That brings me J-Pop artist Aoi Eiru (藍井エイル), whose music I admittedly had no prior knowledge of until about a month ago when I saw that she was getting ready to release a new single.  That single would be titled “Shoegazer”, which naturally piqued my interest.  My first thought was that a second-rate idol whose body of work seems to be largely in the realm of anime soundtracks doing a song called shoegazer would be absolute crap.  But I decided to wait and see what it would actually sound like.  

Curious as to how the track came to be titled as such, I dug up an Oricon writeup about the song and its writer Hisashi, guitarist of seminal Japanese butt-rock outfit Glay.  Not really revealing much of anything it simply mentioned something about the shoegaze genre as having distorted guitars and sweet vocal melodies.  The description in the article sort of connects to the aforementioned shoegaze formula.  The track itself completely misses the mark…badly.  It has not one single redeeming quality from the nasally vocals to the generic, watered down guitar tone to the way-too-prevalent drums that sound like something I might have made in Fruity Loops in high school.  And I haven’t even gotten to the lazily shoegaze-ified cover that is pretty much the same as every other CD she’s released with a wavy, spacey pink and purple backdrop, though in fairness that’s about as close as the whole thing gets to living up to its title. 

It’s a bad pop song, but I can live with bad pop music.  Japan has a lot of it to offer and you hear it every time you walk into a convenience store or turn on the TV.  It’s just sort of wallpaper here.  I generally wouldn’t take the time to write about a bad pop song, and I’ve probably devoted way too many words to writing about this one, but what really bothers me is that it’s clearly nothing more at a cheap attempt to latch onto an indie genre that has been growing more and more over the last few years in Japan without even making an attempt at the sound.  I don’t regard the word “shoegaze” as some embodiment of substance and musical integrity, but if you’re going to make reference to a genre, show it some respect and at least fucking try.  The song managed to take the lack of originality commonly found in idol music a step lower.  Lots of shoegazey bands have renounced the shoegaze tag, despite their music carrying a heavy influence, in the name of escaping the restrictive nature of genre identifiers.  In those cases they may be completely full of shit, but I can at least accept that as a valid thought.  With Aoi Eir’s disaster of a single, it’s the exact opposite and a shameless attempt by an out of touch songwriter to momentarily weasel a talentless young lady into a fad.  If you want a brief introduction to what’s bad about major label idol music look no further than “Shoegazer”.  

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)

[China] The White Tulips – “Fondle”

Just over a month after the release of their first studio EP, Xiamen, China’s The White Tulips have put out their debut full-length album titled “Fondle”.  The group released a collection of rehearsal space demo tracks titled “Wrapped in the Waves” last year, but, citing a lack of musical resources in Xiamen, were unable to get into a proper studio until recently.  Veterans of the East Asia Shoegaze Festival, The White Tulips have been working fast to get their jangly brand of shoegaze recorded and out there for your enjoyment.  It’s currently available for $6.80 USD on the band’s Bandcamp page.

Just over a month after the release of their first studio EP, Xiamen, China’s The White Tulips have put out their debut full-length album titled “Fondle”.  The group released a collection of rehearsal space demo tracks titled “Wrapped in the Waves” last year, but, citing a lack of musical resources in Xiamen, were unable to get into a proper studio until recently.  Veterans of the East Asia Shoegaze Festival, The White Tulips have been working fast to get their jangly brand of shoegaze recorded and out there for your enjoyment.  It’s currently available for $6.80 USD on the band’s Bandcamp page.

 

 

[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.