kiwi – “Beautiful Back”

While going through the seemingly endless list of new bands who have release material this year, the debut demo single from Tokyo’s “Beautiful Back” really struck me.  It was the first I’d heard of the band, which formed in 2017 and appears to have been quite actively gigging in its home city.  “Beautiful Back” kicks off in a manner typical of gazey guitar pop, driven by a bouncy pop hook over a simple riff.  It’s a pleasant, catchy start, and while the beat remains unchanged as it transitions to the verse, the mood surrounding the song drifts to something sadder.  The vocal tone and melody create a dreamy melancholy pop sound that feels like a throwback to the late Ether Feels.  It’s a simple song, created using a formula that is by no means unique, but the end result is some feel-good nostalgia from yet another talented young Japanese group.

You can hear “Beautiful Back” on Soundcloud.  I also quite like the live version of a song called “Behind the Times” I found on the band’s YouTube channel, so I’ve included that below as well.

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.

figure – “Parakalein”

Figure, the solo project of Tottori-based musician Masanobu Hasebe, provided one of the more pleasant discoveries of the year, a new 6-track release titled “Parakalein”.  The EP, which was released in both digital and cassette formats by Kobe indie label, Sauna Cool, is the first release from figure in four years.  It’s a collection of washed out lo-fi indie pop tunes, spread out in layers over a backbone of snappy electronic drums.  “Parakalein” hits the sweet spot where indie pop and shoegaze combine – something that’s been both popular and perhaps a bit contentious among some bands but undoubtedly successful in the Japanese scene.  While there’s not a bad track on the EP, “True Bosom” is the highlight of the release – a blurry mishmash of jangly melodies, synths, and reverb-drenched blaring guitars.  The six-minute “Mary” is a more uptempo, melodic pop song with an ultra-catchy chorus.  It’s some well-written, charmingly-produced dreamy melancholy from an artist that will hopefully get some more attention from here on out.

You can pick up “Parakalein” via Sauna Cool’s Bandcamp page.  Cassettes are available, but limited to 100 copies.

Acidclank – “Addiction”

When Osaka indie-rock shoegaze band Acidclank popped up in 2015 with its debut album, Inner, the band showed a tremendous versatility in sound. The record essentially felt like a lo-fi exploration of 90s UK indie music, drifting from shoegaze to psych to pop.  On each of the two singles that followed, the band continued to give different looks into its wide range song-writing capabilities.  Acidclank’s latest full-length effort, Addiction, is more of the same, drawing on a variety of influences and styles, but featuring enough consistent elements that it never feels weird or disjointed.

There are some familiar titles in the track list, including a buffed up version of “Clever” from Inner and both of the singles that were released last year.  Just like the first album, Addiction features some very shoegazey tunes, highlighted by “Turning” and the very Loveless-inspired “Sleepwalk”.  On songs like “Wrong” and the aforementioned “Clever” Acidclank delivers some noisy but danceable indie rock, while “Disease” feels like a nod to Death Cab’s Transantlanticism.  Throughout the album, you get a lot of different but high-quality looks, as the band has shown a knack for consistently crafting catchy, well-written songs.  But Addiction really shines when it gets super trippy, particularly on “This Time” and “Overdose”.  The former has a very Dark Side of the Moon vibe to it with a slow-paced, steady groove setting the foundation for layers of spaced out guitars and reverb-soaked vocals.  “Overdose” is pacier, more of a free-form psych track with guitars, atmospheric synths, and harmonized vocals all blanketed over a droning bass line, waxing and waning in intensity.  While the album as a whole is consistently very good, these two tracks are the standouts.

Addiction CD versions can currently be found on Amazon is currently available on most streaming platforms.  You can purchase it via iTunes as well, and an LP version is due out at some point in the next month.  You can also check out some of their earlier work at Bandcamp.

Luby Sparks – “(I’m) Lost in Sadness”

Tokyo’s Luby Sparks is back with its second release of the year, a four-track EP titled “(I’m) Lost in Sadness”.  The EP, which was produced by Yuck’s Max Bloom , is Luby Sparks’ first release since bringing in new vocalist Erika Murphy.  With the band’s sweet melancholy still present, the new music takes a turn toward a more shoegaze sound, something that was hinted at with the release of hazy lead single “Perfect” last week.  “Cherry Red Dress” is a stunning, moody dream pop tune and the title track is an epic seven minutes of layered guitars and well-harmonized twin vocals.  The EP wraps up with a heart-wrenching cover of haunting Mazzy Star number “Look On Down From The Bridge”.  While Luby Sparks’ self-titled debut full length effort from earlier this year is still sitting comfortably at the top of my 2018 release list, “(I’m) Lost in Sadness” hits home in a bit of a different way, showcasing the band’s ability to craft gloomy, nostalgic tunes using tremendous depth and texture.  And while the loss of original Luby Sparks singer Emily was sad news, Murphy has shown she’s a perfect match for what the band does.  These guys continue to show that they can write songs with the best of them with yet another top notch release to their name.

“(I’m) Lost in Sadness” is  available to stream on Apple Music and can be purchased on iTunes or via Amazon (JP).  Below is the video for “Perfect”.

Ulm – “After Dark”

Instrumental post rock/shoegaze four-piece Ulm has spent the last year or so establishing its place in the Nagoya scene thanks to impressive live performances alongside some of the bigger names in shoegaze and shoegaze-adjacent alt rock circles. At the end of July, the band released its first recorded material, an EP titled “After Dark”, which was recorded and mixed by Muscle Soul frontman Tomoaki Taguchi. Over the course of the EP’s three tracks, which span almost twenty-four minutes, Ulm offers a lot of what you’d expect from a post rock album with dreamy lulls crescendoing into huge guitar explosions. In each phase of an Ulm song, there is a wonderful harmony between the two guitar parts, whether it’s clean, mellow arpeggios woven tightly together or heavy, distorted leads soaring alongside one another. The EP’s title track in particular is a good example of what cinematic post rock should sound like, and the transitions between parts are smooth and tight. While a lot of the post rock segment of the Japanese shoegaze scene has gone away in recent years, Ulm have brought some of it back and done so really well.  It’s a good showing from yet another impressive young act from Nagoya.

The CD is currently available at Nagoya’s File-Under Records (which ships internationally). Below is a link to some sample audio from Soundcloud.

concrete twin – “Re:boots”

Tokyo-based shoegaze outfit concrete twin is back with its first release in two years, a two-track EP titled “Re:boots”.  Originally the solo project of Kazuya Okada, concrete twin has remained a consistent but underrated member of the current Tokyo shoegaze scene over the last year or so.  Okada, who also currently performs with better-known Chiba shoegaze band plant cell, has been making music for concrete twin – originally known as Guruwa Vail – since 2008.  In 2017, he recruited members and the band started gigging in the Tokyo area, appearing multiple times at monthly Koenji HIGH shoegaze showcase Total Feedback.  After losing a few members recently, Okada rebooted the lineup with bassist/keyboardist Fumio and drummer Zenn.

“Re:boots” is a bit more subdued in terms of pace than concrete twin’s previous EP release.  “Accelerator” is a swirly, dreamy mess of guitars and sunken, blippy synths.  “Door” is much larger and more chaotic, and I can’t help but think about how much bigger it would sound with real drums.  The vocals on both tracks sit right at that perfect point of being unintelligible but present enough.  While the latter track is a really solid concept, “Accelerator” is a legit gazey dreamscape that is also executed well on the recording.  It’s hard to imagine concrete twin’s sound not being incredible in a live setting.

You can pick up concrete twin’s latest release at the band’s newly created Bandcamp page.  Physical copies of their material are also available at their shows.

Coaltar of the Deepers – “SUMMER GAZER ’92”

Legendary Japanese shoegaze/alternative/metal outfit Coaltar of the Deepers came out of nowhere yesterday at around 7pm with a massive announcement that their first new music in about seven years would be released at midnight.  The news came roughly six months after the band’s core member NARASAKI cryptically Tweeted that he was working on Deepers music again.  The track, titled “SUMMER GAZER ’92”, is the first single off the upcoming “Rabbit E.P.”, which will be out in November.  Both announcements were initially made via NARASAKI’s newly formed label U-desper Records.

The announcement of a new Deepers single a mere five hours prior to its release was pretty jolting considering there was no real reason to believe we’d get any new material from one of Japan’s most well-known and influential cult acts.  NARASAKI has been incredibly active over the years writing and producing for a bunch of different artists while also creating music for various anime.  However, the new  was unsurprisingly well-received, with “SUMMER GAZER ’92” at one point reaching as high as number 2 on the iTunes song charts on the day of its release.

The song itself was initially described by U-desper Records as a (loosely translated) “hot summer tune for summer lovers”,  and with its warm, groovy sound that feels pretty accurate.  “SUMMER GAZER ’92” has something of a mellow, jazzy samba vibe, relying on a dreamy swirl of instrumental and vocal textures and a more subtly developing intensity than the in-your-face chaotic sound that Deepers is perhaps better known for.  Though it might not be what people expect, it’s a really solid return to action for a very important band and a preview of what is easily now the most anticipated Japanese shoegaze release of 2018.

“SUMMER GAZER ’92” is currently available for purchase on iTunes worldwide.  Follow U-desper Records on Twitter for updates regarding the “Rabbit E.P.” release.

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)