The Ambient Sounds of Arptranaus

Tokyo-based singer-songwriter Aya from Fraqsea and the now defunct Shelling has a new ambient project called Arptranaus. Aya’s music has always been characterized by its rich textures, whether used as the thick wash that defined Shelling’s hazy shoegaze sound or the atmosphere behind her solo work as Fraqsea. So it’s no surprise that she’s been able to create some more stunning ethereal tunes under this new name. Over the past few days, Aya has uploaded a series of cryptically named songs, from the light chime-laden “Noouclxz” to the darker, throbbing bass of “Dlivva”. And of course, her breathy vocals are also featured, echoing from deep in the background. Listening to Arptranaus’ music is sort of like listening to a very stripped down version of Shelling and Fraqsea. It’s a more intimate experience with the basic elements that are essential to the deep sounds of those other projects. Turn off the lights and pop your headphones on.

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”.

Introducing Nagoya Supergroup I Like Birds

Looking at their lineup, one might expect newly-formed Nagoya quintet I Like Birds would appear to be a shoegaze supergroup.  The band’s lineup is stacked with veterans of the Nagoya shoegaze scene including Kosuke Tozuka (vocals & guitar, Apple Light), Yukie Kawaguchi (vocals & keys, me in grasshopper/mishca), Naoki Magota (guitar, Apple Light), Yutaka Mukouda (bass, softsurf), and Naoki Sogabe (drums, Tokenai Namae).  As if in premeditated response to any assumptions regarding their sound, I Like Birds introduced itself with a Tweet that started off with the words (roughly translated) “a not-shoegaze band by the Nagoya shoegaze team”.

The band’s first demo, “Bus Stop”, confirms its direction away from the gazey side of things, toward a gentler indie pop sound in the vein of Death Cab or perhaps slightly cleaned up Daisies of the Galaxy-era Eels – the latter is maybe more of a stretch based on where I’m assuming they got their name.  Of the bands represented by the individual members, Apple Light’s sound comes through the strongest.  It’s a pleasant track, with the sort of melancholy that feels just right alongside Tozuka’s voice.  Based on the lineup, the expectations are going to be pretty high from the get-go, but it’s hard to imagine this band not being good.  Give I Like Birds a follow on Twitter and stay tuned for more news and music.

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.

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)

Softsurf – “Blue Swirl/Beautiful Day”

I get really excited any time I hear about a new shoegaze band popping up here in Nagoya.  Though Nagoya is a big city with its own rich music scene, there isn’t a whole lot going on in the way of shoegaze or even the dreamy indie pop that’s been taking over elsewhere. 

I get really excited any time I hear about a new shoegaze band popping up here in Nagoya.  Though Nagoya is a big city with its own rich music scene, there isn’t a whole lot going on in the way of shoegaze or even the dreamy indie pop that’s been taking over elsewhere.  Bands like Tokenai Namae and me in grasshopper are the flag bearers for the genre in the Tokai region, and there’s enough of a fanbase to support it – the 2013 Japan Shoegazer Festival in Nagoya sold out Tsurumai Day Trip – but even here the scene is mostly driven by bands from Japan’s two largest cities.  Occasionally, however, a new band does pop up, as was the case last year with the emergence of Anjo-based Haguki.  This year’s impressive newcomer to the Nagoya shoegaze scene goes by the name Softsurf.

Softsurf started up in January of 2016, and largely went unnoticed until July, when they took part in the Nagoya Shoegazer Expo event in Tsurumai.  Shortly thereafter, their two-track single “Blue Swirl/Beautiful Day”, was released for free.  Under founding member and band leader Kitamura, they underwent some lineup changes before settling in and focusing on gigging more.  Though the band’s members are each influenced by a number of genres and styles, Kitamura’s vision is largely focused on 90s shoegaze.  He does admit, however, that bands like Pink Floyd and the Beach Boys have naturally worked their way into his sound (and in the case of the latter, into the band’s name as well).  

Each track on Softsurf’s single offers something a little different, sound-wise.  “Beautiful Day” is more of a twinkling pop tune that floats along, whereas “Blue Swirl” hits hard with a blend of big guitars and airy synths.  “Blue Swirl” is the track that the band has chosen to push on their Soundcloud page, and based on Kitamura’s stated creative goals, it would seem to be more indicative of the band’s future direction.  “I like psychedelic and ambient songs with aggressive guitars and vocals that feel like they’re floating,” he explains.  “I want to take that and shape it in my own way.”

Reviews of Softsurf’s live performances to this point have been really positive, and the small sample of music made available thus far has been really encouraging.  The band will be taking the stage this coming January at Daydream Nagoya, and beyond that they are determined to have an impact on the shoegaze genre in Japan.  Next up for Softsurf is a slot on the upcoming Daydream Nagoya bill, and hopefully a lot more shows and music.

Have a listen to “Blue Swirl” on Soundcloud:

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.

Juvenile Juvenile – “Perfect Lies”

In the Japanese indie scene, the mingling of indie pop and shoegaze is something that happens pretty frequently.  The former has been riding a steady wave of popularity for a while now, and the latter is oft-misunderstood but nevertheless enjoying an ever-growing resurgence of its own.  These two genres, vague as they may be, are a perfect marriage.  However, like a lot of bands who dabble in shoegaze, there are plenty who scoff at being called a shoegaze band.

In the Japanese indie scene, the mingling of indie pop and shoegaze is something that happens pretty frequently.  The former has been riding a steady wave of popularity for a while now, and the latter is oft-misunderstood but nevertheless enjoying an ever-growing resurgence of its own.  These two genres, vague as they may be, are a perfect marriage.  However, like a lot of bands who dabble in shoegaze, there are plenty who scoff at being called a shoegaze band.  In situations like these, we just slap on the “dream pop” tag and voila, tricky genre debate averted.  Osaka has consistently produced top notch indie pop bands in recent years, so its no surprise that it’s also the home of Japan’s finest dream pop band.  The foursome is as good as anyone at creating jangly pop tunes and drowning them in reverb and hazy background noise.  Their latest mastery of the style has come in the form of a new single titled “Perfect Lies”.  

“Perfect Lies” is one track off the upcoming double A-side 7-inch single – the opposite side is titled “Planet Heaven” – that was announced last week.  It will be the band’s first single release, and first new music since 2014s Our Great Escape album (which, for what it’s worth, topped my best releases of the year list).  The single, which will be released on August 10th in clear blue vinyl via Flake Records, was produced by The Bilinda Butchers’ Michal Palmer and will be accompanied by a bonus CD featuring remixes by Jesse Ruins and Teto 2.  

“Perfect Lies” is a pretty, thickly layered, melancholy track, consistent with the vibes of the ultra-dreamy “Just Like You Do” from Our Great Escape.  The most attractive element of Juvenile Juvenile’s sound is the depth that they create, not only with their big, lushly layered guitars, but with frontman Masami Tsuchiya’s breathy vocals.  What they lack in edge (only mentioned here because of my general affinity for the super loud) they more than make up for in their desire to fill every last square inch of space with sound.  On “Perfect Lies” they do just that, even keeping the leads that normally carry their tunes a bit more subtle.  Juvenile Juvenile is back at it, and I’ll be looking forward to hearing “Planet Heaven” in the near future.

There’s not a whole lot of info on where the single will be available, but be sure to follow the band on Facebook and Twitter for more info.  And if for some reason you haven’t heard their previously released music, you can find it on Juvenile Juvenile’s Bandcamp page.  

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.