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.

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:

Kinoko Teikoku – “Ai no Yukue”

Well, it’s finally arrived.  The new Kinoko Teikoku album – the second since signing their major label deal with EMI – is here, and fans finally get to find out if the band is continuing on their major label J-pop trajectory or veering back toward the noisy alt rock we fell in love with years ago.  While “Neko to Allergy” had listeners resigned to the former, there were a couple of encouraging signs leading up to “Ai no Yukue” that there might be a little more balance this time around.

Well, it’s finally arrived.  The new Kinoko Teikoku album – the second since signing their major label deal with EMI – is here, and fans finally get to find out if the band is continuing on their major label J-pop trajectory or veering back toward the noisy alt rock we fell in love with years ago.  While “Neko to Allergy” had listeners resigned to the former, there were a couple of encouraging signs leading up to “Ai no Yukue” that there might be a little more balance this time around.  There was the impressive lead single, “Crybaby”, a new version of a track from one of their earlier demo EPs, and a brief but impressive glimpse at the album’s title track in the trailer for a new Japanese film.  Small sample it may have been, but it was enough to get doubters interested again.

I’ll be honest.  I expected to have a lot to say about this album, but I really don’t.  It’s really good.  It’s not mind-blowing, and it’s certainly not a shoegaze album (some people will have stopped reading at this point).  Let’s be real, though.  Kinoko Teikoku is a handful of releases removed from that sound.  Their final release from UK Project’s Daizawa label, Fake World Wonderland, was the first step toward creative control of the band shifting toward those who favor clean pop tracks to harsh roaring guitars.  Well that was two years ago, so it should come as no surprise that Ai no Yukue as a whole is a pop record.  But what’s different this time is that they seem to have been willing to meet fans of the old stuff halfway.  

The title track is a really good start to the album.  It has it all:  a gloomy intro, an explosive lead-driven hook, and reverb soaked vocals.  It never quite takes off as massively as it feels like it will at times, but that’s sort of a theme for this release.  The album’s closer and lead single, “Crybaby” is similar, though a bit more toward the pop end of the spectrum.  These are the two best songs on the album, and each showcases an enjoyable balance between the old and the new.  

Not far behind them in terms of quality is “Moon Walk”.  Kinoko Teikoku haven’t completely strayed from the melancholy sound that works so perfectly with Chiaki Sato’s gorgeous vocals, but when they’ve gone that route recently it’s been far too clean for my taste.  “Moon Walk” muddies it up a little bit, specifically in the chorus, and about halfway in fades into a nice tripped out portion through to the finale.  

One big surprise when the album’s tracklist was first published was the inclusion of “Azemichi de”, which first appeared on the band’s second demo EP “Yoru ga Aketara”.  As expected we basically get a cleaner version of the original.  Some of the edge in the chorus has been toned down a bit, but otherwise it’s very similar.  

The rest of the album is fine.  “Natsu no Kage”, as I mentioned in my previous review, is a Fishmans-esque dubgaze track, while “Last Dance” and “Ame-agari” are both really catchy pop tunes.  “Shi ga futari wo wakatsu made” is the only track I couldn’t really get into on the album.  These songs are the ones that fans hoping for the old Kinoko Teikoku may scoff at, though percentage-wise it’s a lot less than in recent memory.  

I think Ai no Yukue has a lot of really good stuff going on.  I like feeling like A-chan is being given more creative freedom, whether or not that’s actually true.  We know that Kinoko Teikoku are far removed from their days as one of Japan’s finest alt rock bands, and dwelling on the fact that we’re not going to get another Uzu ni Naru is sort of pointless.  But the band taking a step back and mixing in a bit of the old stuff with the new is welcome, and the result is a positive one.  We get a very solid pop record with a little bit of the grit and emotion that made us fall in love with the band in the first place.  For whatever my opinion is worth, Ai no Yukue was a success.