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.

S A W A G I – “Forget-Me-Not”

Nagoya newcomers SAWAGI have arrived, bringing their dark blackgaze sound to a local scene that had already boasted a tonally diverse shoegaze scene.  The band formally announced its formation just last month, one day after releasing a two-track demo EP titled “Forget-Me-Not”.  The EP is very much a demo with some somewhat distracting programmed drums and the sort of mixing you’d expect from a demo, but there is some real promise here.  The EP’s title track crescendo’s nicely from an unexceptional verse to a lush, heavy chorus.  While the clean guitar strums over the chorus are sort of off-putting, the mix of the massive guitar wall, tinny screams, and a soaring guitar lead work tremendously well together.  The other track, “Zephyranthes”, is more of a speedy, proggy black metal track.  It’s unspectacular – those drums just get sillier sounding at a higher tempo – but I like the consistency of the vocals over the two tracks.  Considering the EP was composed and produced by one person and released the day the band officially formed, the flaws can be overlooked.  There’s enough to pique my interest here.  Also, this studio clip the band posted on Twitter is really promising (props for the Mayhem shirt, too):

 


SAWAGI is getting ready to make its live debut next month at the YURAGI LANDS release show at Nagoya’s Tsurumai Daytrip.  You can pick up their EP for whatever you’d like to pay on Bandcamp:

Foilverb & Sourin – “The End of Whitenote”

Japanese chiptune producer Foilverb has teamed up with shoegaze unit Sourin – perhaps better known as the solo project of monocism’s Tomoya Matsuura – to put out an interesting new collaborative EP titled The End of Whitenote.  With Foilverb’s tendency toward darker, somewhat cinematic chiptune tracks shrouded in non-8-bit instruments and Sourin’s shoegaze backed by chaotic electronic drums and synths, the pairing is a very logical one and the result feels right.  The End of Whitenote is unsurprisingly dark and dramatic, perhaps more along the lines of chiptune post rock than the familiar chipgaze standard of The Depreciation Guild.  Intro track “Funeral Song” is as good a blend of chiptune and shoegaze as there is, with the 8-bit blips sitting comfortably under the blanket of guitar noise and echoing falsetto vocals without getting too distracting.  The mix is solid.

You can pick up the EP via Foilverb’s Bandcamp page.  Check out Sourin as well (the first album is spectacular).

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.

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.

The Return of Whisper Voice Riot

Roughly two years after unexpectedly disbanding, Osaka’s talented young shoegaze band Whisper Voice Riot recently announced out of nowhere that they’re starting it back up.  Despite having emerged as one of the really impressive young bands in the Japanese shoegaze scene, the then teen-aged Whisper Voice Riot decided to call it quits in 2016, with two of its members going on to form indie rock outfit Mississippi Khaki Hair almost immediately after.  

Roughly two years after unexpectedly disbanding, Osaka’s talented young shoegaze band Whisper Voice Riot recently announced out of nowhere that they’re starting it back up.  Despite having emerged as one of the really impressive young bands in the Japanese shoegaze scene, the then teen-aged Whisper Voice Riot decided to call it quits in 2016, with two of its members going on to form indie rock outfit Mississippi Khaki Hair almost immediately after.  

It surprised a lot of people when, on January 24th, WVR and MKH frontman Taito Kimura randomly posted “we’re back” with a link to Whisper Voice Riot’s sound cloud page and some photos of the defunct band.  The response was overwhelmingly positive, which doesn’t seem at all surprising given the band’s reputation prior to breaking up.  However, Taito and WVR guitarist/MKH bassist Usui didn’t intend to make that announcement that the time.

“Usui and I had been talking about wanting to start up WVR again for a while,” Taito explained. “I posted ‘we’re back’ on Twitter to mean ‘at some point we’ll be back’, and everyone mistook it as ‘we’re starting the band back up soon’.  The response exceeded our expectations.”  Believing it to be some kind of “fate”, Taito and Usui had to find members.  They brought back former WVR bassist, Shibata, and added a two new members to round out the band’s new lineup.  

When I talked to Taito after the breakup, he stated that he was simply no longer satisfied with Whisper Voice Riot.  Talking to him recently he clarified that the pace of the band was too slow, and there were some personal issues.  “We were a band that started in high school and broke up while we were teenagers.  A few of the problems were inevitable.”  When asked about what changed over the last two years, Taito responded, “I got the urge to be in a band that is personal and is active at a slower pace.  So I started WVR back up.”

While he mentioned that Whisper Voice Riot is here to stay for as long as possible, Taito also plans to keep Mississippi Khaki Hair going at the same time.  “I’m an egotist, so if I want to quit, I’ll quit.”  For now at least it seems that fans of both bands won’t have to worry about any more sudden breakups in the near future.

Since announcing its return, Whisper Voice Riot had its first gig on April 30th.  Things have been relatively quiet otherwise, perhaps just due to the slow pace that Taito has come to embrace.  Whisper Voice Riot seems very near and dear to his heart, and after talking to him I get the feeling that he never intended to let it go forever.  His current approach to and goals for the band seem much more laid back than before.  “I just want to write good songs.  My dream is to be singing songs I wrote as a teenager, even when I’m old.”

Here’s a link to their first EP “Before the Morning Cleaves Our Night” on Soundcloud: