softsurf – “Into the Dream”

In July of 2016, the Nagoya Shoegazer Expo was held at KD Japon and Daytrip, two venues in Nagoya’s Tsurumai area that have more or less been the stage for the emergence of the local shoegaze scene over the last few years.

In July of 2016, the Nagoya Shoegazer Expo was held at KD Japon and Daytrip, two venues in Nagoya’s Tsurumai area that have more or less been the stage for the emergence of the local shoegaze scene over the last few years.  To be honest, it wasn’t much of a shoegaze event at all, but more of an alternative rock showcase curated by a fan of the genre.  With the exception of mishca and Aysula, many of Nagoya’s more established shoegaze representatives were conspicuously absent from the lineup.  Little-known local newcomer softsurf was buried on the bill, scheduled to take the stage at 3:30 in the afternoon at the Monday event.  

It’s been a hell of a year since that event for softsurf.  They put out a 2-track demo single and absolutely packed the house at our Daydream event in Nagoya.  They stepped up their gigging schedule and earlier this year supported NIGHTS’ Jenna Fournier on her Japan tour.  They established themselves as one of the brightest new acts in Japan, and boast one of the best live shows I’ve seen in a long time.  And today softsurf has released its debut EP, “Into the Dream”.

I’m not the biggest fan of band comparisons, and I don’t really use them a whole lot when writing reviews.  But in softsurf’s case, given the overall tone of the Japanese shoegaze scene, it’s hard not to at least mention similarities to Slowdive – something that hasn’t really been done since Pastel Blue called it quits years ago.  You find a whole lot of Ride, Pale Saints, and My Bloody Valentine influence in Japan, but softsurf goes agains the grain, opting to bury melodies deep within hazy, billowy guitars.  You get a sense of it from the single they released, but the depth of softsurf’s sound absolutely blows you away when you see them on stage.  It’s impossible for a recording to capture the intensity and fill space like a live performance, but “Into the Dream” is as good a representation as one could hope for.  

Both of the tracks released on softsurf’s first demo, “Blue Swirl” and “Beautiful Day” appear on the EP in much more beefed-up forms.  There’s not much to be said that I haven’t already mentioned in previous reviews, other than the fact that the quality is, expectedly, much-improved.  The remaining three tracks are all new.  “Another Garden” is a sweet, whimsical dream pop track that follows more of the Japanese shoegaze model with its more prominent melodies.  It’s one of the catchier tunes on “Into the Dream”, injecting a bit more bounce into an EP that is otherwise based around texture-building.  

For me, the real strength of “Into the Dream” lies in the other two new tracks.  “Rainy Moon” sits smack in the middle of the five track EP and starts off with a gentle, lulling verse, crescendoing at points, but not quite fully taking off.  That is until about halfway through when the song explodes into a mass of big swirling guitars.  Frontwoman Yuki Udono’s vocals really shine on “Rainy Moon”, going from sweet and soft to powerful, matching each phase of the song.  It’s an intense track, and also my personal favorite in any softsurf live set.

If the first four tracks don’t sell you on the Slowdive comp, the finale, “Dawn of the Sun”, most definitely will.  There isn’t much in the way of subtle developments in this song, as it kicks right off with big screaming guitars.  There’s a heavy “When the Sun Hits” vibe, the way the song takes off and carries you through a thick atmosphere of layered guitars and reverb-soaked male-female twin vocals.  It’s not the most original of their tracks, but it’s a beast of a song that you just sort of get lost in.

There’s a good reason this was my most anticipated release of the year, and softsurf, with the help of some fine production work, delivered.  Softsurf has announced itself as one of Japan’s finest shoegaze bands, coming a long way since last year’s Nagoya Shoegaze Expo.  You can see them live at this year’s Daydream events in Kyoto, Nagoya, and Tokyo.  And folks interested in buying “Into the Dream” can do so via Nagoya’s File Under Records (see the link and directions below).

File Under Records (Nagoya):  http://www.fileunderrecords.com/?pid=120872924

Directions for overseas customers:  Send an e-mail with the name of the title you would like to purchase to file-under.rec@nifty.com.  After confirming the total with shipping, payment can be made via PayPal.  

“Into the Dream” trailer:

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.

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

[Hong Kong] Thud’s Debut EP “Floret” (6/30)

Late last year, Thud was a little-known band from Hong Kong whose single “Lime” had drawn intrigue from just about every shoegaze fan who came across it on social media.  On the back of their first single, the band’s popularity had continued to grow and with it the demand for more music.  A second track “Venture” was released, which was an encouraging sign that perhaps a proper release was in the works.  Fast forward to June and the exciting news that they will, in fact, be releasing an EP.

Late last year, Thud was a little-known band from Hong Kong whose single “Lime” had drawn intrigue from just about every shoegaze fan who came across it on social media.  On the back of their first single, the band’s popularity had continued to grow and with it the demand for more music.  Early this year a second track “Venture” was released, which was an encouraging sign that perhaps a proper release was in the works.  Fast forward to June and the exciting news that they will, in fact, be releasing an EP.

去年末、当時あまり知られていなかった香港のバンドThudはSNSで紹介された初シングル「Lime」によって賞賛を受け始めた。曲がリリースされてからどんどん人気が出て、新曲の需要も高まった。今年の始めにセカンドシングル「Venture」がリリースされたことによりアルバムが制作中かではないかと期待が高まった。そして6月、ついにThudがEPをリリースすると発表された。

Floret will be the maiden release for both Thud and Hong Kong-based label Records For Children.  The EP will feature four tracks from the quartet, whose sound features an extremely appealing marriage of ‘classic’ shoegaze guitar textures and blanketed atmospheric synths.  Shades of Slowdive and M83 – whose influence becomes especially apparent on the charmingly woozy “Venture” – can be heard throughout Floret, and though comparisons can be made to any number of influential shoegaze/dream pop outfits, Thud’s debut is an imaginative display of a sound that they’ve uniquely constructed as their own.  The whirring instrumental blend is entrancing, the rhythm and synth pop melodies danceable from start to finish, and the breathy female vocals are a thing of beauty.  Simply put, it’s a fantastic EP with no discernible flaws, that should be among the year’s best when all is said and done.  As an added bonus, the fifth track on the CD is a chilled out remix of “Lime” done by Max Bloom of Yuck, for whom Thud opened in Hong Kong this year.  

FloretはThudと香港インディレーベルRecords For Childrenにとって初のアルバムリリースとなっている。4曲が収録され、彼らの90年代シューゲイザーを代表するようなギターテキスチャーと多層のシンセサイザーで作られた雰囲気のある組み合わせをショーケースする作品である。Slowdiveの影響が伺え、気持ちよく渦を巻くような「Venture」ではM83の影響も感じられるが、他のバンドと比べるのは公平ではない。Thudのデビューは非常に想像力のある独特のサウンドの展示である。ギターとシンセの相性がぴったりで、リズムとシンセポップ的なメロディでダンス向きの特徴もあり、かすかなボーカルは本当に美しい。簡単に言うと、欠点のない素晴らしいEPである。更に、5曲目にはThudが今年香港のライブでサポートしたYuckのMax Bloomが手がけたリミックスバージョンの「Lime」も入っている。

In addition to a digital release, physical CDs will go on sale at the EP Release Show in Hong Kong on June 30th.  To follow news and updates regarding this release and future releases follow Thud and Records for Children on Facebook.  

このEPは6月30日にデジタルリリースされ、当日行われるリリースパーティではCDも販売されるそうである。今後の情報はThudとRecords For Childrenのフェイスブックで発表されますので、是非フォローして下さい。

Here is a preview of the EP via Thud’s Soundcloud page:

[Japan] Aysula – “Release Me”

I took a trip to Sakae for some Saturday afternoon wandering around and stopped off on the way at Nagoya’s famed File Under Records where a copy of the debut from local shoegaze outfit Aysula was waiting for me.  I’d caught them last year at the Japan Shoegazer Festival in Nagoya and their abundance of what many Japanese shoegaze bands lack – a face blasting amount of guitar noise by way of their ridiculously loaded pedalboards – was one of the more impressive aspects of the evening.  At the time there was only a little of their music available at the time, and most of that was the series of live videos on Youtube I’ve come to be accustomed to.

In June, however, the band released their debut effort titled, in an almost beckoning way, Release Me.  I popped the CD in as soon as I got home and, while this is based on a mere couple listens through, it’s phenomenal.  It’s got the shoegaze guitar noise that distinguished them at the JSF event, and on the recording the somewhat whiny, moody vocals really stand out a lot moreso than on Tsurumai Daytrip’s PA (understandably).  The album has a really dark feel throughout.  That guitar sound produced by the more than 70 pedals in their arsenal is all I need.  Tracks like “Sphere” and “Remark” stuck out from their live performances, but “Lay Down Your Feathers”, the closest thing to a pure shoegaze track on the album, is the early favorite.

It’s a really impressive debut, and an important one for the city as Nagoya has started to produce its share of talent as the shoegaze scene in Japan continues to grow more and more.  The band has also been announced as a participant in the Osaka leg of this fall’s Japan Shoegazer Festival.  You can give them a follow on Facebook or Twitter and be sure to check out their homepage as well for info on how to purchase their CD.  There are some “trailers” available on Aysula’s Soundcloud page as well.

[Spain] Sexores’ Debut Full Length “Historias de Frío”


Hailing from Quito, Ecuador, but currently based in Barcelona, Spain, Sexores have released their long-awaited debut full-length album Historias de Frio.  Though the album has been finished for some time, it has finally made it to the Internet and can be purchased at Sexores’ Bandcamp page.  It’s a gorgeous 8-track effort showcasing Sexores’ dreamy shoegaze sound with big noisy textures, warm synths, and stunning vocals.  Give the title track a listen and prepare to get hooked:

Cigarette in your Bed Announce Debut Album

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Tokyo’s Cigarette in your Bed have announced that their debut full-length album “Darkness” will be released this coming May via High Fader Records (Lemon’s Chair, Sugardrop, Yellow Loveless).  The trio, who frequently feature at the Japan Shoegazer Festival have been gigging regularly since the new year in addition to working on their upcoming release.  In March they will be taking the stage at Lemon’s Chair’s record release show at Tokyo’s Koenji High.

Cigarette in your Bed are a treat live, always putting on a powerful and entertaining show en route to establishing themselves as one of Japan’s more impressive shoegaze acts.  To date they have released a handful of EPs which are made available at gigs.  Until now, it’s been difficult to hear their music online outside of recorded live footage, so the upcoming album should be much anticipated for fans of Japanese shoegaze music.