BLANCO – “A Place For Youthful Days”

I admittedly didn’t know a whole lot about Tokyo’s BLANCO prior to falling in love with their dreamy indie pop track “Paradise” on Ano(t)raks’ DIE IN POP comp from a couple months back.  The uptempo new wave pop track is super dancy and kind of messy, with bouts of tripped out wonky synths.  Today the band released it as the latter half of its new two-song single titled “A Place For Youthful Days”.  The lead track on the single is a slower-paced blurry psych tune called “Isolated City” that’s driven by some delightfully fuzzed-out bass.  Just like in “Paradise” this song has some pretty solid depth thanks to its synth backdrop, though in this case it’s used to create a bit more texture.  The male-female vocal harmonies are really solid, too.  Check it out for yourself at Bandcamp.

And here’s their video for “Paradise”.

The 5th Anniversary of Beatless

July 10th, 2018 marks the 5 year anniversary of Broken Little Sister’s popular shoegaze tribute to the Beatles.  The album, titled Beatless and released under the moniker Meeks, includes ten covers of famous Beatles tracks, but with a dreamy, reverb-drenched twist.

To celebrate the anniversary, Broken Little Sister released three extra tracks that didn’t make the original release.  They’re currently available at the band’s Bandcamp page for whatever you’d like to pay.

Yukla Down – “In Demonstrationem”

Tokyo’s Yukla Down put out their first record material in the form of a three-track demo EP titled “In Demonstrationem”.  The five-piece, whose lineup includes a member apiece from Si,Irene and Civic, offers a throwback 90s UK shoegaze sound that isn’t all that common in the Japanese scene.  It’s pleasantly scuzzy introduction, particularly on the first track, “Torture Me (With Your Kiss)” which sounds both nominally and tonally like something off of Isn’t Anything, but with a turn of the century American emo tinge to it that’s pretty cool.  “If You Only Knew” is another textural ripper of a song with more of a groove carrying along the cascade of harsh guitar noise, while “Borealis” is a chilled-out instrumental featuring droning guitars and a simple bongo-tapped beat.

While I don’t bemoan the lack of aggression in Japanese music nearly as much as I used to, I really appreciate Yukla Down’s noisy contributions.  The quality of the demo, in terms of both sound and composition, is really solid.  The band will be appearing at the July 29th Total Feedback event at Koenji High.  For more information you can follow Yukla Down on Facebook and Twitter.

Browned Butter – “Fall”

A couple months back, Kyoto newcomers Browned Butter released their first recorded material in the form of a single track titled “Fall”.  The song would be more formally introduced via net label Ano(t)raks’ DIE IN POP compilation album.  Just this past month the band released a debut 3-track EP of the same via the same label.

At first listen, the title track follows a pretty standard pattern for Japanese shoegaze with the blaring lead, somewhat subdued guitar backdrop, male-female twin vocals, and the stripped-down verse crescendoing into the bridge.  But while this format can be boring in some cases, Browned Butter’s sound has a really good balance to it.  The male and female vocal parts complement each other really well and sit really well in the mix.  The melodies are catchy and simple.

The album’s second track offers something a little different, playing a bit more like something inspired by “Three Out Change”.  It’s more of a deliberately paced guitar rock track, with those excellent breathy vocal harmonies really shining on top of another simple but fun guitar hook.

“Fever”, the third and final song, might be the best of the bunch.  Again, it’s pretty different from the previous two songs, featuring more of the elements of a shoegaze tune.  The vocals in the verse are chilling and when the song explodes into the chorus they just fit in there brilliantly.  It’s a powerful track.

Though a three-track EP is a pretty small sample, Browned Butter showed some good versatility on their debut.  The songwriting is really solid and the vocals are stunning.  “Fall” is a great start.  Let’s hope they keep it going.

Looprider – Umi

When they released their 2015 debut “My Electric Fantasy”, Tokyo-based rock outfit Looprider displayed some impressive versatility in creating a cohesive record that incorporated sludgy hooks and pop-infused shoegaze.  Released about nine months later, their second record “Ascension” took things in a quite different direction, drawing on hardcore and harsh noise, while steering clear of any pop influence from the first.  Through two albums the band had covered so much ground that predicting where they might go from there was both intriguing and impossible. 

When they released their 2015 debut “My Electric Fantasy”, Tokyo-based rock outfit Looprider displayed some impressive versatility in creating a cohesive record that incorporated sludgy hooks and pop-infused shoegaze.  Released about nine months later, their second record “Ascension” took things in a quite different direction, drawing on hardcore and harsh noise, while steering clear of any pop influence from the first.  Through two albums the band had covered so much ground that predicting where they might go from there was both intriguing and impossible. 

Today, the band put out their third album, “Umi”, which predictably veers in yet another new direction.  Initially promoted by the band as “an epic post rock concerto”, “Umi” goes beyond that.  The album is a single, mostly instrumental 25-minute track that organically flows from start to finish with massive crescendos and lulls.  

The opening 5 minutes, which the band uploaded as an album teaser a few weeks prior to the release, is a solid setup to the rest of the record.  If “My Electric Fantasy” was a showcase of Looprider’s ability to write catchy, hook-driven tunes, and “Ascension” their talent for tonal brutality, “Umi” brings to light the side of the band that expertly crafts intense music using layers and textures.  You get a feel for this in the album’s opening minutes where a number of simple parts are gradually woven together, building up to a dramatic peak where each of those parts explodes to create a beautiful sort of chaos.  At about the four and a half minute mark, the double drums really shine through, too.

Just as any good post rock has it’s big crescendos, a sudden come-down and reminder that you need to breathe is just as impactful.  While, at first listen, there might seem to be a logical track break – after all, it did make for a really nice standalone edit – the nosedive into the second part feels much more significant as a transition without interrupting the flow of the song. 

Over the next few minutes of the album there’s a delicate build-up, again starting very simple and gradually developing with multiple overlapping parts.  The lyrical portion of the album kicks in here, during which the origins of life are almost chanted over the course of another crescendo, this time to an epic bout of droning rock en route to a frenetic, solo-driven flurry.  The balance between calm and uptempo, soft and thunderous, and the organic, unpredictable flow from part to part does well to conjure the image of the album’s central theme: the ocean. 

The closing portion of the album brings everything down to a strong, steady march, before fading out with clean guitars, while the presence of thick, heavy guitars as the backdrop is a reminder of the strength of the album’s concept. 

As a listening experience, “Umi” is quite different from Looprider’s two previous releases.  However, there are familiar elements from the band’s previous two albums that appear throughout – the occasional grooves and “wall of sound” guitar textures found on “My Electric Fantasy” and the crushing noise of “Ascension” – that are brought together in a unique way, further stretching the boundaries of what Looprider are capable of producing.  With the addition of guest musicians to a lineup that’s already proven itself more than capable of generating huge depth in its sound, Looprider have once again succeeded in belting out a behemoth rock album, when few other bands in Japan are seemingly willing to do so. 

Looprider’s album release party will be taking place on Wednesday, March 29th at the band’s own Pop Sabbath event at Shindaita Fever in Tokyo, where they’ll be supported by moja and Japanese shoegaze legends Luminous Orange.  You can pick up a copy of the CD, which one again features some really nice art from Nasutakeo, at the following locations:

The Florist – “Blood Music”

After a stellar debut in 2014, Tokyo’s The Florist have returned with an even better sophomore effort.  With Dark Entries, my third favorite album from two years ago, the band burst onto the scene with its own unique sound.  In a year when the best shoegaze albums were infused with everything from grunge to post rock to indie pop, The Florist drew heavily on 90s American emo to put together a lush, dreamy record.

  Photo:  theflorist.info
Photo: theflorist.info

After a stellar debut in 2014, Tokyo’s The Florist have returned with an even better sophomore effort.  With Dark Entries, my third favorite album from two years ago, the band burst onto the scene with its own unique sound.  In a year when the best shoegaze albums were infused with everything from grunge to post rock to indie pop, The Florist drew heavily on 90s American emo to put together a lush, dreamy record.  Thanks to an addictive signature song in “Middle of Winter” and a strong push from a number of overseas media outlets, The Florist’s debut attracted a large international audience and thus a desire for more music.  This June, The Florist obliged with the release of Blood Music.

The day of the album’s release The Florist simultaneously released videos for co-lead singles “Disintegration” and “Halcyon”.  The former, which kicks off the record, picks up right where the band left off on Dark Entries.  The latter is a bit colder, though the jagged guitar line eventually makes way for the warm, thickly textured sound that fans of The Florist have come to expect.  

While the first half of the album is really solid – “Sadness Like Water Raining Down” is my personal favorite of the first five songs – it’s the portion of the album that comes after the beautiful instrumental interlude, “Untitled”, that really defines this album.  

“Marigold” is a flurry of squalling guitars and drums, the intensity of which balances so incredibly well with the high, harmonized vocals.  This is also the track where those guitar leads showcased on the first album really shine.  The emo influence really shows about halfway through when the bridge kicks in.  The song is a bit harsher than anything they’ve done to this point, but still incorporates familiar elements.  

If “Marigold” was a reintroduction of The Florist’s familiar guitar leads on the new album, “Ghosts” is where they really shine.  If I had to choose one song to make a lead single prior to Blood Music‘s release, it would have been this one.  The galloping first 45 seconds bursts into a blurry mass of guitar, highlighted by a bending lead reminiscent of the one that drove “Middle of Winter” so well.  Guitarist Yosuke Shiina’s ability to craft a gorgeous tone and weave it through each track is what really sets The Florist apart from other shoegaze bands in Japan.  “Ghosts” is the band’s best showcase of that fact to date.

The pace picks up and takes a bit of a danceable turn with two melodic tracks in “Sweet Decadence” and “Weird Dreams”.  At first listen it sort of felt like a poppy palate cleanser after a couple of emotional, harder-hitting songs, but both tracks really grew on me, especially “Weird Dreams” which, if I’m ranking the songs on the record, is right up there with “Ghosts”.  

The light atmosphere of closer “The Last Dance” nicely wraps up an album that, as a whole, tops their debut release.  While Dark Entries may have had higher peaks, Blood Music is a more consistent effort.  It’s a more tonally explorative record that manages to remain cohesive with a very natural flow to it.  As was the case with their debut, Blood Music figures to be on many a “Best of the Year” list when all is said and done.

Blood Music is available on iTunes and Apple Music, and physical copies can be purchased via Japanese Amazon (international shipping is available).

Here is the video for the album’s first single, “Disintegration”:

 

 

Sapporo Shoegazers Edy Two Arc

After a couple years of trying to hunt down their music, I was finally able to get my hands on a release from Sapporo’s Edy Two Arc.  The CD, titled Kurakute, Oto no nai Tokoro (暗くて、音のないところ), is actually an 8-track split, featuring two tracks apiece from four Sapporo bands.

 http://edy-sapporo.jimdo.com/
http://edy-sapporo.jimdo.com/

After a couple years of trying to hunt down their music, I was finally able to get my hands on a release from Sapporo’s Edy Two Arc.  The CD, titled Kurakute, Oto no nai Tokoro (暗くて、音のないところ), is actually an 8-track split, featuring two tracks apiece from four Sapporo bands.  Edy Two Arc, who prior to a sudden name change last month simply went by Edy, lend a dark, heavy shoegaze vibe to a comp that features everything from math-y funk to melancholic pop.  Though the band has been around for a few years, they’ve been largely inaccessible with a limited web presence and live-exclusive releases.  

Edy Two Arc have managed to remain something of a mystery, despite frequently appearing Total Feedback events and opening for Ringo Deathstarr in Hokkaido.  Their songwriting is by no means adventurous, but their sound is very comfortable and should hit the spot for fans of big, billowy shoegaze with a darker vibe.  About five months or so ago, the band posted the two tracks they submitted for the split on Soundcloud.  Check them out below.

Citrus Nowhere – “A Nightmare Before She Sleeps”

By now it’s no longer much of a secret that Tokyo’s Citrus Nowhere are regarded as one to keep an eye on in the Japanese shoegaze scene.

By now it’s no longer much of a secret that Tokyo’s Citrus Nowhere are regarded as one to keep an eye on in the Japanese shoegaze scene.  I wrote as much in my 2016 preview piece at the beginning of the year, and the band’s commitment to not only putting out more material – seemingly the endgame for a lot of promising young bands here – but to gigging and ironing out any remaining wrinkles in their live game has been a really positive sign.  

The band had a bit of a coming out party in the form of a self-titled EP and release party alongside fellow passengers on the raging war wagon that is the new generation of Japanese shoegaze bands, Yukino Chaos.  At the gig, which took place in Nagoya, there was a sense that everything was still being figured out.  It wasn’t super tight, but you got a feel for what they were doing.  I enjoyed the opportunity to see them.  It didn’t feel like a finished product.  To be fair, it was also the band’s fourth ever show.  

This month Citrus Nowhere released its second EP, this one titled A Nightmare Before She Sleeps, as a free download on Bandcamp.  At first listen its hard to ignore the release’s raw production value.  The fuzzed-out guitars dominate the mix while the drums are faint enough in the background to guide you hazily through each song.  There’s a playful poppiness to what’s going on below the layers of noise, and I found the combination more interesting than their previously released work.  

The intro track “Beautiful Lies” is a persistent, free-flowing wash of droning guitars.  It’s a refreshingly unstructured song with a bit of a subtle jangle and light male-female vocal harmonies fluttering around.  There’s some pop there, but it’s subdued for the sake of noise.  

“Blue Enemies” is another that stuck out, perhaps because it’s got a bit of a different vibe from the rest of the EP and it sits right smack in the middle of the five songs.  The beat on this track is infectious and the band does well to create a haunting mood from some trippy textures and subtle falsetto vocals.  

As a stand-alone, Citrus Nowhere’s A Nightmare Before She Sleeps is really enjoyable, but the production will definitely be a turn off for some.  In context though, this EP is a step in the right direction, muddying things up in a scene where too many bands try to keep things super clean.  It’s their willingness to experiment and not shy away from the harsher side of things that makes these guys, in my opinion, such a key member of this new wave of Japanese shoegaze bands.

You can pick up A Nightmare Before She Sleeps, as well as their self-titled EP, on Bandcamp for free.  

 

 

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: