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)

The Best Japanese Shoegaze and Dream Pop Releases of 2016

There was a lot of new shoegaze and dream pop coming out of Japan in 2016, and , even more so than in previous years, album releases were way outnumbered by EPs, singles, and mini albums.  As a result I was faced with a couple of problems when putting together my annual “best of the year” list.  The first is that there weren’t ten full-length releases that qualified.

There was a lot of new shoegaze and dream pop coming out of Japan in 2016, and , even more so than in previous years, album releases were way outnumbered by EPs, singles, and mini albums.  As a result I was faced with a couple of problems when putting together my annual “best of the year” list.  The first is that there weren’t ten full-length releases that qualified.  Rather than making a numbered list this time around, I’ve decided to just name my favorite single, EP/mini-album, and album of the year, and then name a few honorable mentions for each category.

It’s a completely different feel from what I’ve put together the last couple years, but it serves the same purpose.  Enjoy, discuss, buy some music.

Note: I’d like to preface this whole list by saying that I’m aware of the new releases from Kinoko Teikoku, My Dead Ishikawa, Qujaku, and others, and I really liked a bunch of them.  Defining genres is tricky, but I decided not to mess with an already blurry line and include the releases that I felt qualified.  The aforementioned did not.


 ★ ☆ ★ Best Single ★ ☆ ★

“Planet Heaven/Perfect Lies” by Juvenile Juvenile

It’s no secret that Juvenile Juvenile is one of my favorite bands in Japan.  Their “Our Great Escape” album topped my 2014 list, and the band came back strong with its first recorded material in 2 years.  The single was produced by The Bilinda Butcher’ Michal Palmer, and further solidified their status as the finest dream pop band in Japan.  It’s also worth noting that Juvenile Juvenile also submitted a really good cover of “I Wish I Was Skinny” for The Blog That Celebrates Itself’s Boo Radleys tribute comp this year.

This was a pretty clear cut winner, but there was some quality in the next group of singles released, headed by Nagoya shoegaze newcomers Softsurf.  Their “Blue Swirl/Beautiful Day” single was a really solid debut.  If I was doing a “liver performances of the year” list, they’d be right at the top along with Juvenile Juvenile for their performances at Daydream Nagoya.  

Saitama’s Collapse was another newcomer to the Japanese shoegaze scene, and they put out a couple of releases in 2016, including their super-gazey “Curse/Drop” single.  More on them later.

Tokyo’s Youthmemory put out perhaps their catchiest track yet on the spring 2016 “April Kisses” release.  One of the more underrated bands in Japan walking the line between shoegaze and jangly indie pop.

Yukino Chaos – a band that’s established itself as a mainstay of the Japanese shoegaze scene, and one of the best young alternative rock acts in Japan – had a busy 2016 that kicked off with the release of its “Hope for the Future” single.  Despite a really positive 2016, the band has unfortunately announced it will be on an indefinite hiatus.


★ ☆ ★ Best EP ★ ☆ ★

“Night Falls” by Magic Love

At this moment, there may not be a better shoegaze band in Japan than Magic Love.  The Tokyo band left us wanting more with its 2014 “Dawn” E.P., and after a couple years they delivered.  On Night Falls, the band showed that they can deliver big walls of sound and more chilled out dream pop, switching back and forth between male and female vocals flawlessly.  “Midnight Baby” has gotten all the love, but “Ghost Novice” was one of the best tracks of the year.  

This one wasn’t as easy to pick, due in large part to the fact that there was so much quality released in EP format this year.  One of the pleasant surprises was that some of the best EP releases of the year were put out by brand new bands.  Collapse made the best singles of the year list, and they also appear on the EP list for their self-titled EP, which was released in February.  The Saitama band, not unlike a number of newcomers to the Japanese shoegaze scene, doesn’t shy away from big wall-ish guitars, citing metal among its genre influences.

Scale is another new band that has made the best EP list, but it’s important to note that since the release of its debut EP “Hidden Blue”, the band has changed its name to Waterblink.  A throwback to the early 2000s shoegaze scene, Scale goes in hard – its founding member also plays in post punk hardcore band Deviation – but also balances things out with some catchy melodies.

Shiga’s Yuragi turned a lot of heads with the release of their debut EP “Bedside” earlier in the year.  Their “Nightlife” EP, which made it in right at the end of 2016, was a massive next step.  The band’s second EP had some of the same pop appeal of the first, but also ventured off in a bit more of a darker, more exploratory direction.  

One band that’s remained a mystery to me over the last couple years is Sapporo, Hokkaido shoegaze outfit Edy Two Arc (formerly known simply as Edy).  Confined primarily to their hometown and Koenji’s HIGH venue, it’s been difficult to access the band from here in Nagoya, but that changed on Christmas Day 2016 with the release of their debut EP “Hide Intention”.  Released via Only Feedback Records, the EP boasts a perfect balance of blaring, fuzzed out guitars and beautiful, subtle vocals.  


★ ☆ ★ Best Album ★ ☆ ★

“Blood Music” by The Florist

Just like Juvenile Juvenile and Magic Love, 2016 saw The Florist release its first material in two years.  The band’s 2014 debut featured a couple of killer singles, but Blood Music is start to finish a more complete album.  In tracks like “Marigold” and “Ghosts” – my personal favorite off the record – Blood Music boasts its own signature tracks, and those weren’t even the album’s singles.  A very emotional eleven-track ride with some excellent guitar work and gorgeous tones.  

Picking the best album of the year was tough, as there were three that I felt strongly qualified.  The debut full length effort from Tokyo-based indie/dream pop outfit For Tracy Hyde was right there at the top.  Film Bleu is the culmination of the band’s hard work and development since it’s inception in 2012.  Featuring a number of tracks previously released on EPs and as demos, Film Bleu showcases some seriously good songwriting in the band’s signature sweet pop style.  “After” is a song of the year candidate.

Veterans of the Japanese shoegaze scene, and one of the best around, Osaka’s Ether Feels released a Greatest Hits album in 2016.  The nine-track record consists of two previously released EPs and three newly recorded songs, including a new version of fan-favorite “Annabelle”.  The melancholy shoegazers continue to pump out heart breaking, nostalgic tunes, with “She’s Wanderlust” highlighting the newest batch of music.  Toward the end of the year, Ether Feels also collaborated on a split EP with Yukino Chaos.

Last year, Plant Cell released a lot of quality tracks, but did so one track at a time and thus didn’t really have any material to qualify for a list of best EPs or albums.  This year, however, the band released a couple of demo EPs as well as a full album titled Flowergaze?, so their inclusion this time around is a no-brainer.  Some of the more beautiful shoegaze you’ll find, Plant Cell’s strength is the ability to weave subtle melodies through dreamy layers of synths and guitars.  “Snow and Luculia” is the recommended track off this one.

A Guide to Daydream pt. 4 – Nagoya

Over the last few years, Kyoto Shoegazer has emerged as the biggest showcase of the local shoegaze scene in Japan.  This year the Kyoto Shoegazer team has put together Daydream, a four day festival spanning three cities that will kick off in December.  The event will host some of the finest shoegaze, dream pop, alt rock, etc. that Japan has to offer.

Over the last few years, Kyoto Shoegazer has emerged as the biggest showcase of the local shoegaze scene in Japan.  This year the Kyoto Shoegazer team has put together Daydream, a four day festival spanning three cities that will kick off in December.  The event will host some of the finest shoegaze, dream pop, alt rock, etc. that Japan has to offer.  I will be previewing each of the events as they come.  The fourth and final Daydream event will be held on Saturday, January 21st at Tsurumai Daytrip in Nagoya.  Click the link below to reserve tickets. 

ここ数年京都シューゲイザーは日本のシューゲイザーを特集する一番大きなイベントになってきている。今年、12月から4日程3都市でイベントDAYDREAMを行う。このイベントに日本の高品質のシューゲイザー、ドリームポップ、オルタナのバンドが出演する(あと、香港からのゲストも出る予定!)。Muso Japanは各イベントをプレビューする。次は1月21日に名古屋鶴舞DAYTRIPにて行われるDAYDREAM NAGOYAである!チケット予約は以下のリンクから。

Home Page/イベントホームページ

Ticket Reservation/チケット予約


JUVENILE JUVENILE

Osaka’s Juvenile Juvenile has established itself as Japan’s premier dream pop band. While there’s no shortage of dreamy indie pop in the country, few bands have demonstrated the ability to craft a thick, swirling atmosphere around jangly guitar hooks and catchy melodies as proficiently as Juvenile Juvenile.  In 2016, the band released its first material in two years – the 7” double A-side single “Planet Heaven/Perfect Lies”, produced by The Bilinda Butchers’ Michael Palmer.  Their ability to transfer the tight, dreamy sound of their recordings to the stage makes for impressive live performances.

大阪のJuvenile Juvenileは、日本の主要なドリームポップバンドとしての地位を確立した。国内で多数ドリーミーインディポップバンドが存在する中、Juvenile Juvenileのようにジャングリーなギターフック、キャッチーなメロディで厚く渦巻く雰囲気を醸し出すバンドは数少ない。2016年、2年ぶりにThe Bilinda ButchersのMichael Palmerがプロデュースした7インチ両A面シングル“Planet Heaven/Perfect Lies”をリリースした。ステージ上で奏でられるタイトでドリーミーなサウンドは、印象に残るパフォーマンスとなるであろう。


APPLE LIGHT

Veterans of the Nagoya music scene, Apple Light is one of the city’s most recognizable alternative rock acts.  Formed in 2008, Apple Light has released three albums, the most recent of which was 2015’s Are You Happy Now?  Their emotional, melody-driven throwback to 90s alt rock is super-catchy – and at times quite danceable – and has caught on overseas as well.  The band has shared the stage with the likes of Ringo Deathstarr and Stockholm’s Last Days of April.  

名古屋の音楽シーンのベテランApple Lightは、地元で最も認知されたオルタナティブロックバンドのひとつである。2008年に結成された彼らは2015年の最新作“Are You Happy Now?”を含む3つのアルバムをリリースしてきた。エモーショナルでメロディアス、90年代のオルタナティブロックを彷彿とさせるサウンドはキャッチーで聴く者を踊らせ、また海外でも注目を集めている。これまでRingo DeathstarrやストックホルムのLast Days of Aprilなどと競演を果たしてきた。


YUKINO CHAOS

One of Japan’s brightest young acts, Yukino Chaos has come on strong over the last couple years with dynamic live performances and some really impressive recordings.  2016 saw the release of a new demo single “Hope For The Future” and a supporting slot at Tokyo’s Niman Den-Atsu alongside Melt Banana, Looprider, and Qujaku.  The band was also invited to Shanghai along with Broken Little Sister earlier this year.  They’ll be releasing a split EP with fellow Daydream performers Ether Feels in December.

日本の輝かしき若い才能のひとつYukino Chaosは、精力的なライブ演奏と印象的なレコーディングで近年目を離せない存在となっている。彼らの2016年は、デモシングル“Hope For The Future”のリリース、東京の二万電圧でのMelt Banana, Looprider そして Qujakuとの共演、Broken Little Sisterと共に上海へ招かれた年でもあった。12月には共にDAYDOREAMに出演するEther Feelsと制作したスプリットEPがリリース。


ME IN GRASSHOPPER

With members based between the Kansai and Tokai regions of Japan, it’s only fitting that me in grasshopper will be performing at Daydream events in both Kyoto and Nagoya.  Over the past few years the band has become one of the flag bearers for the Nagoya shoegaze scene on the strength of their sweet melodies and subtle yet persistent guitar noise.  Their 2015 “NEW SATURDAY e.p.” was one of the best of the year.  In 2016 the band supported YUCK on their Japan tour, and they will be supporting Brooklyn’s Lazyeyes in Nagoya in January.

メンバーが関西・東海地方出身のme in grasshopperは、DAYDREAM KYOTO・NAGOYAの両日に出演する。美しいメロディーと緻密且つ鳴り響くギターノイズにより、この数年で名古屋シューゲイズシーンを代表する存在となった。2015年にリリースされた“NEW SATURDAY e.p.”は、その年の最高傑作の一つ。2016年、YUCKの日本ツアーをサポートし、来年1月にはブルックリン出身Lazyeyesの名古屋公演をサポートする予定。


SOFTSURF

Local Nagoya shoegazers Softsurf went from being virtually unknown at the start of the year to Nagoya’s most promising new shoegaze band.  The band announced its presence at this summer’s Nagoya Shoegazer Expo with a performance that drew wide praise within the shoegaze community.  Softsurf’s debut single “Blue Swirl/Beautiful Day” showcased the band’s ability to create big “wall of sound” shoegaze as well as dreamy pop tunes.  Fans of shoegaze done loud will want to keep an eye on these guys.

2016年の初めにはほぼ無名だった地元シューゲイザーSoftsurfは、ここ一年足らずで名古屋で最も有望なバンドへと成長した。彼らは昨夏のNagoya Shoegazer Expoでのパフォーマンスでシューゲイズコミュニティから広く賞賛を浴び、注目を集めた。デビューシングル“Blue Swirl/Beautiful Day”は、Softsurfに大音量ウォール・オブ・サウンドも、ドリーミーポップも創り出す才能があることをしっかりと示した。


BALLOON AT DAWN

Yet another impressive dream pop band produced by the city of Osaka, Balloon At Dawn finished 2016 strong with the release of their Our Finder EP.  The band has made a name for itself by creating thick textures using numerous layers of synths and reverb-soaked guitars, all of which they drive with super-danceable beats and addictively melancholy melodies.  More than anything, their music is a lot of fun.  The new record was released by HOLIDAY!RECORDS, who will also be setting up shop at Daydream Nagoya.

大阪から生まれたドリームポップバンドBalloon At Dawnは、”Our Finder EP”のリリースによって力強く2016年の幕を降ろした。踊りやすいビートとクセになるメランコリーなメロディ、いくつものシンセを重ねた濃いテクスチャーとリバーブに浸ったギターで、その名を知らしめる。そして何よりも、彼らの音楽は聴いていてとても楽しい。最新作はDaydream Nagoyaで物販として参加するHOLIDAY!RECORDSからリリースされたことも要チェック。


THE SKATEBOARD KIDS

The Skateboard Kids is another of Japan’s finest young acts. The four-piece has rapidly gained popularity in Japan on the back of strong live performances and a couple of impressive releases, culminating in their 2016 major label debut, Newtopia.  They’ve shown a propensity to create beautifully intense music, whether on the foundation of shoegaze-infused alternative rock or mellow, acoustic tracks.  One to keep an eye on in the years to come.

The Skateboard Kidsは、日本の輝かしき若い才能のひとつ。4人組の彼らは力強いパフォーマンスと印象的なリリースで国内で急速に人気を集めている。2016年には“Newtopia”でメジャーレーベルデビューを果たした。シューゲイズの息が吹き込んだオルタナティブロック、メローなアコースティックトラックなど、美しくも激しい音楽を創り出す。今後目が離せない。

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):

Collapse – Self-Titled EP

In my constant search for Japanese shoegaze bands a little more willing to go hard in the paint, I came across a little known band from Saitama called Collapse, thanks to a poster in our Japan Shoegaze Facebook group.

 L to R: Kohei, Tomoko, Satoru, Shibuya ( Source )
L to R: Kohei, Tomoko, Satoru, Shibuya ( Source )

In my constant search for Japanese shoegaze bands a little more willing to go hard in the paint, I came across a little known band from Saitama called Collapse, thanks to a poster in our Japan Shoegaze Facebook group.  Though the band was formed by bassist Kohei in 2013, a bunch of member changes hindered any sort of momentum until Collapse finally established its current four-piece lineup with the additions of guitarist and vocalist Tomoko, guitarist Satoru, and drummer Shibuya.  Three or so years of settling culminated in a hot start to 2016 for Collapse, who, in addition to gigging regularly, released its debut self-titled EP on Bandcamp.  Shortly thereafter, the band started selling physical copies of the EP via its newly established online store.  

At first listen, I immediately appreciated the heaviness of Collapse’s sound.  In their biography they describe their sound as the combination of elements of “stillness” and “floating” from shoegaze and the “violence” and “speed” of metal.  The result is a sound perhaps more similar to the recent western model of shoegaze than the pop-heavy style that continues to dominate the Japanese scene.  There’s balance though.  The tonal aggression is contrasted by Tomoko’s sweet-but-not-too-sweet vocals that sit just right in the mix.  The melodies are poppy, but they’re not too prominent.  In that respect Collapse reminds me of a somewhat more balanced version of AZMA.  

“Syrup” and “RIP”, the EP’s opener and closer, respectively, are the two tracks on the album that really stand out.  Each really showcases the band’s ability to just pour on the waves of guitar noise with catchy vocal melodies woven in.  “Yellow” doesn’t quite keep up in terms of pace, but doesn’t lack for explosiveness.  The third track on the EP – conspicuously titled “Intro…” – is just a brief ambient interlude before the screaming finale kicks in.  

The debut EP from Collapse isn’t perfect, but it’s a really good start.  I talk about my desire for more aggressiveness in the Japanese shoegaze scene in just about every other blog post, and Collapse has come through for me.  It’s recommended that you pick up the EP on Bandcamp.  At the moment it looks like physical copies are only available for purchase within Japan.  You can check out Collapse’s homepage or follow them on Facebook for more information.

The End Of DKFM…For Now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Introducing Plant Cell

While 2015 has seen a lot of the heavyweights of the Japanese shoegaze scene releasing new material (with a few more to come before the end of the year) some new and lesser known acts have also emerged.  One such group is Chiba prefecture’s Plant Cell who managed to quietly release a ton of music via their Bandcamp and Soundcloud pages this year.  

While 2015 has seen a lot of the heavyweights of the Japanese shoegaze scene releasing new material (with a few more to come before the end of the year) some new and lesser known acts have also emerged.  One such group is Chiba prefecture’s Plant Cell who managed to quietly release a ton of music via their Bandcamp and Soundcloud pages this year.  The alt-rock/shoegaze newcomers formed in January as a two-piece consisting of frontman Sato and bassist Li.  Over the past 9 or so months Plant Cell has put out a steady flow of material including some pretty neat covers – they’ve done some Ringo Deathstarr, Slowdive, and quite a bit of Spiral Life, among others.  

The guitars are at the forefront of what Plant Cell does, which is fitting for a band whose members previously worked together at a guitar manufacturer.  It sounds like a bit of an obvious quality when talking about shoegaze, but Plant Cell takes much more of a Western approach than many of its fellow countrymen by burying the vocals and using them to supplement the overall textural of the music – primarily the big billowy guitars.  It’s a nice change of pace from the pop-heavy climate of the Japanese shoegaze scene.  I think fans of bands like magic love will be able to appreciate what these guys do based on the overall theme of the music.  

With the additions of Mori on backing vocals and keys and Oshima on guitars, the band is getting set to make its live debut at the end of the month, with periodic live performances being one of the plans going forward.  One would think that at the rate Plant Cell has been pumping out music a proper release would be a possibility in the near future, though at this moment Sato says that isn’t something that’s in the works.  With a very productive first year just about wrapped up for Plant Cell they’ve at very least established themselves as one to keep an eye on from here on out.

You can check out their body of work to date on Soundcloud and Bandcamp (the former has quite a bit more music and all of the covers).  A lot of their stuff is currently available for free download.  You can also give them a follow on Facebook.  

Cruyff in the Bedroom – “Laurelei”

Another weekend, another barrage of events and new releases in what has been a remarkably busy 2015 for shoegaze in Japan.  The big news this past weekend was the annual Japan Shoegazer Festival, which was held in Tokyo on Sunday the 5th.  Perhaps a bit lost in the hype of the fest was a somewhat low-key release from the proclaimed “Japanese King of Shoegazer” Cruyff in the Bedroom, who put out their new EP Laurelei at a Tokyo release event which also featured genre-benders CQ, noisy alt rock outfit Kaimy Plants, and local up-and-comers Yukino Chaos.  

Another weekend, another barrage of events and new releases in what has been a remarkably busy 2015 for shoegaze in Japan.  The big news this past weekend was the annual Japan Shoegazer Festival, which was held in Tokyo on Sunday the 5th.  Perhaps a bit lost in the hype of the fest was a somewhat low-key release from the proclaimed “Japanese King of Shoegazer” Cruyff in the Bedroom, who put out their new EP Laurelei at a Tokyo release event which also featured genre-benders CQ, noisy alt rock outfit Kaimy Plants, and local up-and-comers Yukino Chaos.  

The EP features two original songs:  the title track “Laurelei” and “She is a Low”, plus a remix of each song by Broken Little Sister and Clubbers, respectively.  “Laurelei” kicks off with a bit of dreamy melancholy, with frontman Yusuke Hata weaving a sad-sounding vocal melody through a mass of swirling guitars.  There’s a nice groove to the bass, and the drums are tight and powerful as ever.  By the end of the song none of that matters though because the whole thing is enveloped in guitar noise deep down from within which Hata continues to croon on.  Essentially, it’s everything there is to love about Cruyff’s music.  

“She is a Low” is a bit more hook-driven and pacy, and not quite the immersive noise-fest of the track it follows, but it’s by no means tame.  It’s a simple track that’s chock full of screeching feedback and a chorus that will stick to your brain.  “Laurelei” melodically tugs at the heart strings, while “She is a Low” sort of just steals your car and drives it really fast and doesn’t care, showcasing in a little over seven and a half minutes just a bit of what Cruyff in the Bedroom is capable of.  As a bonus, you get to hear what the lovechild of Cruyff and fellow Tokyo shoegazers broken little sister would sound like.  Not to be ignored is a weird kind of trip-hop remix by Clubbers that took me a few listens to get into.  It’s nothing like the other three tracks, but is actually pretty cool once you get used to it.

For right now, the EP is only available at live venues – words that are no doubt nails on a chalkboard to the band’s overseas fans.  They’ve announced a bunch of tour dates in the coming months, with Yukino Chaos tabbed to support them on their way.  Definitely a must-see for fans in Japan.  

In the meantime you can hear a world premiere of “Laurelei” this weekend on DKFM‘s famed New Track’s Weekend, and one or both of the tracks will certainly be on next Wednesday’s Muso Asia.   As always follow the band on Twitter  and the Only Feedback site for further developments.  

Cattle – “Somehow Hear Songs”

One of the biggest knocks on the current crop of up-and-coming shoegaze bands in Japan is a lack of the “loudness” that is requisite to the genre.  A lot of bands are tending toward the indie-pop side of things at the expense of balls-out explosive volume.  To be fair, I really do like this current generation of Japanese shoegaze bands, and they do the jangly pop thing really well, but personally I prefer my pop music drowned mercilessly in reverb and noise.  Upstart shoegaze outfit Cattle have found that perfect balance between playful cuteness and relentless tonal aggression and the result is a very solid debut EP.

 Cattle (L to R):  Naoya Hinuma, Saori, Nomeko, Shuta Kokubun (photo from Facebook)
Cattle (L to R):  Naoya Hinuma, Saori, Nomeko, Shuta Kokubun (photo from Facebook)

One of the biggest knocks on the current crop of up-and-coming shoegaze bands in Japan is a lack of the “loudness” that is requisite to the genre.  A lot of bands are tending toward the indie-pop side of things at the expense of balls-out explosive volume.  To be fair, I really do like this current generation of Japanese shoegaze bands, and they do the jangly pop thing really well, but personally I prefer my pop music drowned mercilessly in reverb and noise.  Upstart shoegaze outfit Cattle have found that perfect balance between playful cuteness and relentless tonal aggression and the result is a very solid debut EP.

Technically Somehow Hear Songs, isn’t the first material the band has released – they put out a demo single and a split within a two month span last year – but neither really did justice to their live performance.  In fact, I really liked the demos until I saw them play live and actually realized what the band was capable of.  I wasn’t the only one apparently, as shortly thereafter it was announced that they would release their first proper EP and that it would be produced by none other than Makoto Gomi.  Not a bad guy to have overseeing a recording process, having plied his trade with the likes of Zeppet Store and Sphere among others.  His own experience with beautifully loud music and Cattle’s potential to create some of their own made for a pretty good pairing in the studio.

Somehow Hear Songs wastes no time getting to the point, as the intro and partial-title-track “Somehow Hear” starts off straight away with the sugary sweet vocal melodies of singer/keyboardist Saori and the blistering guitar attack from word go.  The guitar noise never actually ends, though you really feel the intensity during the extremely catchy choruses throughout.  The male and female twin vocals that are so very much a staple of Japanese shoegaze are there, though rather than running alongside each other, Saori’s vocals feature more prominently in the mix, while those of male counterpart Naoya Hinuma are a bit washed out and distant.  Effective balance is a big part of what makes this EP unique in the current landscape of Japanese shoegaze.

You can grab a physical copy of Somehow Hear Songs on July 8th, though for the time being Jigsaw Records has released it digitally on Bandcamp.  The CD is currently available for pre-order in Japan via most major music retailers and sites.  For folks in the US you can pre-order straight from Jigsaw Records.  

Here’s a preview of the EP.  Give the band a follow on Facebook and Twitter and visit their homepage here:  http://cattle-jp.wix.com/cattle

Introducing Osaka Netlabel Thru The Flowers

One of the big stories last year was the emergence of kiiro records, a Tokyo-based netlabel that put out a TON of releases including three shoegaze comps that grabbed a lot of Internet attention.  This wasn’t a brand new concept by any means, but it was new to the Japanese shoegaze scene, helping expose some of the country’s local talent to an international audience.  Furthermore all of the label’s releases are available for free download, which has pretty much welcomed a foreign audience with open arms while encouraging a curious national listener base to hop aboard the shoegaze wagon.

One of the big stories last year was the emergence of kiiro records, a Tokyo-based netlabel that put out a TON of releases including three shoegaze comps that grabbed a lot of Internet attention.  This wasn’t a brand new concept by any means, but it was new to the Japanese shoegaze scene, helping expose some of the country’s local talent to an international audience.  Furthermore all of the label’s releases are available for free download, which has pretty much welcomed a foreign audience with open arms while encouraging a curious national listener base to hop aboard the shoegaze wagon.

Osaka’s answer to kiiro records is the newly formed Thru The Flowers, which was founded by a man simply known as Bobby from  Boyfriend’s Dead.  Bobby also runs an event of the same name that often showcases some of Osaka’s local shoegaze talent.  Though he has a reputation throughout Japan, the Thru The Flowers label appears to be Kansai-centric, and with Tokyo hogging the majority of the Japanese shoegaze scene this is a breath of fresh air.  

The label formed earlier this year and it’s maiden release was, not surprisingly, Boyfriend’s Dead’s self-titeld EP in mid-March.  In the two months since, Thru The Flowers has put out Honey Mustard Sauce’s ultra-cute shoegaze EP FREEZER (one of my personal favorites of the year so far), and the first recorded material from Dinosaur Party – a two-track EP called ベランダ/風車 (Veranda/fu-sha).  

Though Osaka is home to High Fader Records and does share the annual Japan Shoegazer Festival with Tokyo (and occasionally a third city), the shoegaze scene hasn’t progressed much over the years.  Free releases are great, but Thru The Flowers’ real task will be establishing a strong community of shoegaze artists in Osaka that can be at the core of a scene that will continue to grow.  There’s so much more good music outside of Tokyo, and labels like this one can really help get it out there.

To download Thru The Flowers’ releases and keep an eye out for future releases check out the label’s Bandcamp page:  https://thrutheflowers.bandcamp.com/