Spool – “Spool”

For years now, Tokyo’s Spool has been readying itself for a breakout.  The all-female four-piece, which has become affectionately referred to as “Japan’s Warpaint”, has been a massive draw in its local scene, garnered attention from music fans overseas, and put out a handful of quality releases both in Japan and internationally.  The announcement late last year of its self-titled debut full-length felt like a statement that Spool was ready to establish itself among the elite of the Japanese indie scene.

The Warpaint comparison almost feels lazy, but it makes sense.  The shoegaze tag fits as well as the various comps to bands like The Smashing Pumpkins, Sonic Youth, and My Bloody Valentine, but each only to a certain extent.  On the album Spool pulls a bit from the edgier side of 90s US alternative music as well as the dreamy UK melancholy and fuzzy guitar walls that have the band seated comfortably in the Japanese shoegaze scene.  It’s a total throwback to everything that rules about 90s music.  Spool has really keyed in on that general concept and written exceptional songs around it.

There are some familiar songs on the record, with “Springpool” and fan favorite “Sway, fadeaway” joining the stunningly shoegazey lead single “Be My Valentine” in getting beefed up new versions courtesy of producer and magic love drummer Kazuaki Kondo.  Lead track “nightescape” is a dark, dreamy number turned absolute belter that, along with my personal favorite song on the album, “Let Me Down” really showcases frontwoman Ayumi Kobayashi’s range.  The deep, breathy vocals in the verses on the latter, in particular, are teeming with attitude and there’s something quietly powerful about them as they trade off with the sad, raw chorus line.

Overall, the shoegaze influence on the album is perhaps stronger than expected, highlighted by gloomy, thickly textured tracks like “Winter” and “Morphine”.  “Blooming in the Morning” adds a little dream pop into the mix as well, softening a bit of the album’s edge with some bouncy sweetness.  The closer, “No, thank you”, which is a more cleanly mixed version than the one that appeared on last year’s Total Feedback 2018, wraps up the album with a blistering guitar attack and distorted vocals.

Expectations were high coming into the full length debut, and the band delivered.  Though Spool’s influences are by no means unique in the current Japanese scene, the way in which they are able to put them together and really balance their sound over the course of the record is.  The ability for a band to wear its influences on its sleeve without bottle-necking itself and at the same time maintaining some cohesiveness over the course of an album is something to appreciate.  Spool has done it here.

You can pick up Spool’s self-titled album via Testcard Records’ Bandcamp page (overseas) or domestically from the label’s online store.  It’s also available for streaming on Apple Music, though there are some issues due to another band called Spool having released an album called Spool in 1998.

Below you can find the videos for “Be My Valentine” and “Blooming in the Morning”.

Acidclank – “Apache Sound”

Less than six months after releasing its debut full length, “Addiction”, Osaka’s Acidclank is back with a suddenly released follow up titled Apache Sound.  The album, which was released via indie label Ano(t)raks, is the first recorded material since frontman Yota Mori announced that Acidclank will return to being a solo project after a couple years of operating as a full band.

While the majority of Acidclank’s catalog has been a nod to 90s UK indie music, the new record takes a pretty sudden turn into chilled-out electro pop.  True to Mori’s M.O. as a songwriter, Apache Sound is not a straightforward dive into a specific sound, but an exploration of it providing a lot of different looks.  The title track has a mellow city pop vibe to it, with auto-tuned vocals that make the occasional appearance throughout the album.  There’s some hip-hop and R&B infused pop on “Ghost Record” and “Shy”, respectively, while “Funeral” and “Downtime Acid Jam” are more textural electronic pop instrumentals.  “Dubs” is a warm synth track with a super catchy chorus that feels like it could fit comfortably anywhere in Acidclank’s catalog.

From the blippy, ambient lead track “Riot”, though, Apache Sound is an obvious departure from Acidclank’s previous releases.  That is until you get to the album’s closer, “Addict of Daydreaming”.  Perhaps the track’s title is telling of some personal need to go back to hazy, dreamy shoegaze, but when I got to the song I thought I had accidentally queued up an entirely different album.  To be honest, this song’s inclusion is pretty disrupting to the flow of the overall album.  That being said, though, it also might be the best shoegaze song that Mori has written yet.

You can pick up the new album for free via the link to Ano(t)raks’ Bandcamp page below.

土曜日と人鳥とコーヒー – “Parameer 02”

Kobe’s Doyoubi to Jinchou to Kohi (which very awkwardly roughly translates to “Saturday and Penguin and Coffee”) has been a low key fixture of the Kansai shoegaze scene for the past decade.  The three-piece, which has seen a few different member changes around frontman and founding member Yuki Yoshimura, has released a bunch of material and appeared at some of the Kansai area’s largest shoegaze events.  Their latest, a single titled “Parameer 02” – the follow-up to last year’s “Parameer 01” – features more of the dark post rock sound that the band has stuck to over the years.  The lead track, “Meltdown”, slowly evolves from cleanly picked guitars to an explosion of guitar noise, while Yoshimura’s falsettos eventually escalated to emotional moans.  The recording doesn’t quite belt at the level of the band’s live performances, but this is a signature song from the band.  “Ymir” on the other hand doesn’t waste any time building up, kicking off with a blgtz-esque uptempo hook and some very Shota Tamura-esque screams in the chorus.  It feels quite clear where the inspiration for this track came from.  I like the change of pace here.

You can pick up “Parameer 02” on Bandcamp.

Nuit – “Solitude”

Tokyo shoegaze trio Nuit kicked off the new year with their latest track titled “Solitude”.  The song, which was posted minutes after 2019 officially rang in, features frontman Yasuyuki Ota’s trademark dramatic vocals shrouded in billowing waves of hissing guitar.  The stripped down verse is just there to set up for the explosion into the heartbreaking sway of the chorus.  It’s a very Nuit-sounding song, feeling like something out of the early to mid 2000s.  “Solitude” is the second single, not counting the band’s plant cell cover, that Nuit has released since their 2018 self-titled EP.  Makes you wonder if we’ll see a follow up effort at some point in 2019.

Once Grace Forever – “♭1”

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

 

LUCY’S DRIVE – “pair of sounds”

While all the talk recently has been about the emergence of younger bands in the Japanese scene, 2018 has also been a pretty solid year for comeback releases as well.  Sugar Plant returned with an impressive album before Coaltar of the Deepers put out a long-awaited EP.  But LUCY’S DRIVE – better known as the solo project of ZEPPET STORE bassist Yuichi Nakamura – made perhaps the most dramatic return of the year with TWO new albums this month.  Pair of Sounds marks the bands first proper release since it’s 2007 full-length debut, DEEP SEEKER.  As the name implies, the release was split into a pair of 7-track CDs, unofficially titled “red” and “blue”.

While bits and pieces of Pair of Sounds have been released via limited edition singles over the past couple years, the final product sees all of the material effectively split to create two pretty different vibes.  The red version offers a mellow dream pop feel with a more ethereal backdrop throughout.  The second half is especially dreamy thanks to electronics-driven tracks like “Sometime I Think” and “Ebb Tide”.  The album’s finale “Daybreake” is a really strong gazey pop number.

On the blue version of Pair of Sounds, Nakamura draws on a wide range of 90s UK shoegaze and britpop, from the Loveless-y lead track “Perfect” to the super danceable “Heavy Rain”.  While the red version relies more on softer textures to create its atmosphere, the blue version is much more driven by guitar noise.  “Shining Blue”, the latter’s closer, combines the two styles and could be the best song of the bunch.  LUCY’S DRIVE may not get the love of its late-aughts shoegaze contemporaries, but the quality was there on DEEP SEEKER and eleven years later it might be even higher on Pair of Sounds.

Both versions of Pair of Sounds are available via distro/label Testcard records.  Domestic purchase is available at their site, while international orders can be placed through their Bandcamp page.  LUCY’S DRIVE also contributed a song to the recently released Total Feedback 2018 compilation, which you can also purchase through Testcard.

Below you can listen to the trailers for both red and blue versions of Pair of Sounds.

Hitori Pale – “SPiRAL”

Nagoya’s Hitori Pale flew under even the local radar this summer when the young three-piece released its debut track “SPiRAL” on Soundcloud.  An introductory track, “SPiRAL” is a bit rough around the edges in terms of sound quality, but the song has really grown on me since I first gave it a listen.  Musically, this is another track that feels like it would have held up well in the early 2010s, reminding me a bit of former Osaka shoegaze mainstays EUPHRATES with the dramatic, soaring chorus.  The vocals are the most unique bit, and while I am not the biggest fan of vocals being so present in the mix, there’s something really dramatic about the vibrating melancholic wailing in this track that combines well with the warm, fuzzy textures and gloomy chord progressions to really hit the spot.

AND LORELEI – “And Lorelei 0.2”

I regrettably missed the boat on the 2017 debut LP from Matsumoto, Nagano’s And Lorelei.  In retrospect, it probably would have easily made it into my best of the year list.  I’m only about five months late in discovering the band’s follow up EP, “And Lorelei 0.2”, which is yet another showcase of the band’s ability to write stunningly beautiful songs.  The best shoegaze song is the one that you can get lost in, and that is just the sort of sound AND LORELEI consistently produces.  Whether it’s via the sort of blissed out shoegaze you can hear on “Himitsu”, the slowly-evolving, dreamy haze of “Umarekawaru” or “Abraham”, or the minimalist ambient approach found in “Legi”, “And Lorelei 0.2” is a deeply immersive and emotional listening experience.

Both of AND LORELEI’s releases are currently available on iTunes and Apple Music.  The physical release is also available for purchase domestically via TTOS.  Here is a video for “Himitsu”.

plasmaclub – “14011”

It’s been sort of tough to keep up with all of the solid new shoegaze bands that have popped up in Japan in 2018, and the flurry of new releases from promising young artists over the last few months continues.  It’s especially cool to see new representatives from outside the Tokyo area, as is the case with Hamamatsu’s plasmaclub who just released a debut two-track EP titled “14011”.  Shizuoka prefecture’s largest city hasn’t yielded much in the way of shoegaze since the piqnic went more toward drony psych and post punk and changed its name to qujaku.  On “14011” plasmaclub gives a bit of a nod to early piqnic with a heavily-layered dark, moody brand of shoegaze, and not surprisingly the release was also produced by qujaku guitarist Soushi Mizuno.  The soaring guitar lead over hazy walls of guitar noise on lead track “dress” has the dramatic sound to it that was a lot more prominent in the Japanese scene in the early part of the decade.  It’s a straightforward track that relies on heavy textures and dramatic vocal melodies over simple beats.  “Veil of shine/(save me)” is similar, but a dreamier, wafting sort of track, highlighted by a sad, longing chorus.  Both tracks feel like they would be tremendous live.  Add plasmaclub to the ever-growing list of Japanese shoegaze bands to keep an eye out for.

The EP is currently available at Bandcamp.

Once Grace Forever

While 2018 has seen plenty of new bands introduce themselves with singles and EPs, Once Grace Forever came out of nowhere with a well-assembled 8-track self-titled debut last week.  The Tokyo trio shows a couple different looks on the album, starting off with some deliberately-paced, moody post rock.  On the latter half they pick up the tempo a bit, transitioning to some pretty shoegaze tracks before a chilled-out electronic finale.  The period of the album spanning “Summer”, “∞”, and “Melody” particularly hit the spot, but the entire thing from start to finish is quite impressive, all things considered.  Once Grace Forever decided to forego the requisite “roughly-produced two- to three-track demo” phase and go right to putting together a really nice first release.

You can pick up Once Grace Forever’s debut at Bandcamp.