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”.

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.

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:

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:

The Best Japanese Shoegaze and Dream Pop Releases of 2016

There was a lot of new shoegaze and dream pop coming out of Japan in 2016, and , even more so than in previous years, album releases were way outnumbered by EPs, singles, and mini albums.  As a result I was faced with a couple of problems when putting together my annual “best of the year” list.  The first is that there weren’t ten full-length releases that qualified.

There was a lot of new shoegaze and dream pop coming out of Japan in 2016, and , even more so than in previous years, album releases were way outnumbered by EPs, singles, and mini albums.  As a result I was faced with a couple of problems when putting together my annual “best of the year” list.  The first is that there weren’t ten full-length releases that qualified.  Rather than making a numbered list this time around, I’ve decided to just name my favorite single, EP/mini-album, and album of the year, and then name a few honorable mentions for each category.

It’s a completely different feel from what I’ve put together the last couple years, but it serves the same purpose.  Enjoy, discuss, buy some music.

Note: I’d like to preface this whole list by saying that I’m aware of the new releases from Kinoko Teikoku, My Dead Ishikawa, Qujaku, and others, and I really liked a bunch of them.  Defining genres is tricky, but I decided not to mess with an already blurry line and include the releases that I felt qualified.  The aforementioned did not.


 ★ ☆ ★ Best Single ★ ☆ ★

“Planet Heaven/Perfect Lies” by Juvenile Juvenile

It’s no secret that Juvenile Juvenile is one of my favorite bands in Japan.  Their “Our Great Escape” album topped my 2014 list, and the band came back strong with its first recorded material in 2 years.  The single was produced by The Bilinda Butcher’ Michal Palmer, and further solidified their status as the finest dream pop band in Japan.  It’s also worth noting that Juvenile Juvenile also submitted a really good cover of “I Wish I Was Skinny” for The Blog That Celebrates Itself’s Boo Radleys tribute comp this year.

This was a pretty clear cut winner, but there was some quality in the next group of singles released, headed by Nagoya shoegaze newcomers Softsurf.  Their “Blue Swirl/Beautiful Day” single was a really solid debut.  If I was doing a “liver performances of the year” list, they’d be right at the top along with Juvenile Juvenile for their performances at Daydream Nagoya.  

Saitama’s Collapse was another newcomer to the Japanese shoegaze scene, and they put out a couple of releases in 2016, including their super-gazey “Curse/Drop” single.  More on them later.

Tokyo’s Youthmemory put out perhaps their catchiest track yet on the spring 2016 “April Kisses” release.  One of the more underrated bands in Japan walking the line between shoegaze and jangly indie pop.

Yukino Chaos – a band that’s established itself as a mainstay of the Japanese shoegaze scene, and one of the best young alternative rock acts in Japan – had a busy 2016 that kicked off with the release of its “Hope for the Future” single.  Despite a really positive 2016, the band has unfortunately announced it will be on an indefinite hiatus.


★ ☆ ★ Best EP ★ ☆ ★

“Night Falls” by Magic Love

At this moment, there may not be a better shoegaze band in Japan than Magic Love.  The Tokyo band left us wanting more with its 2014 “Dawn” E.P., and after a couple years they delivered.  On Night Falls, the band showed that they can deliver big walls of sound and more chilled out dream pop, switching back and forth between male and female vocals flawlessly.  “Midnight Baby” has gotten all the love, but “Ghost Novice” was one of the best tracks of the year.  

This one wasn’t as easy to pick, due in large part to the fact that there was so much quality released in EP format this year.  One of the pleasant surprises was that some of the best EP releases of the year were put out by brand new bands.  Collapse made the best singles of the year list, and they also appear on the EP list for their self-titled EP, which was released in February.  The Saitama band, not unlike a number of newcomers to the Japanese shoegaze scene, doesn’t shy away from big wall-ish guitars, citing metal among its genre influences.

Scale is another new band that has made the best EP list, but it’s important to note that since the release of its debut EP “Hidden Blue”, the band has changed its name to Waterblink.  A throwback to the early 2000s shoegaze scene, Scale goes in hard – its founding member also plays in post punk hardcore band Deviation – but also balances things out with some catchy melodies.

Shiga’s Yuragi turned a lot of heads with the release of their debut EP “Bedside” earlier in the year.  Their “Nightlife” EP, which made it in right at the end of 2016, was a massive next step.  The band’s second EP had some of the same pop appeal of the first, but also ventured off in a bit more of a darker, more exploratory direction.  

One band that’s remained a mystery to me over the last couple years is Sapporo, Hokkaido shoegaze outfit Edy Two Arc (formerly known simply as Edy).  Confined primarily to their hometown and Koenji’s HIGH venue, it’s been difficult to access the band from here in Nagoya, but that changed on Christmas Day 2016 with the release of their debut EP “Hide Intention”.  Released via Only Feedback Records, the EP boasts a perfect balance of blaring, fuzzed out guitars and beautiful, subtle vocals.  


★ ☆ ★ Best Album ★ ☆ ★

“Blood Music” by The Florist

Just like Juvenile Juvenile and Magic Love, 2016 saw The Florist release its first material in two years.  The band’s 2014 debut featured a couple of killer singles, but Blood Music is start to finish a more complete album.  In tracks like “Marigold” and “Ghosts” – my personal favorite off the record – Blood Music boasts its own signature tracks, and those weren’t even the album’s singles.  A very emotional eleven-track ride with some excellent guitar work and gorgeous tones.  

Picking the best album of the year was tough, as there were three that I felt strongly qualified.  The debut full length effort from Tokyo-based indie/dream pop outfit For Tracy Hyde was right there at the top.  Film Bleu is the culmination of the band’s hard work and development since it’s inception in 2012.  Featuring a number of tracks previously released on EPs and as demos, Film Bleu showcases some seriously good songwriting in the band’s signature sweet pop style.  “After” is a song of the year candidate.

Veterans of the Japanese shoegaze scene, and one of the best around, Osaka’s Ether Feels released a Greatest Hits album in 2016.  The nine-track record consists of two previously released EPs and three newly recorded songs, including a new version of fan-favorite “Annabelle”.  The melancholy shoegazers continue to pump out heart breaking, nostalgic tunes, with “She’s Wanderlust” highlighting the newest batch of music.  Toward the end of the year, Ether Feels also collaborated on a split EP with Yukino Chaos.

Last year, Plant Cell released a lot of quality tracks, but did so one track at a time and thus didn’t really have any material to qualify for a list of best EPs or albums.  This year, however, the band released a couple of demo EPs as well as a full album titled Flowergaze?, so their inclusion this time around is a no-brainer.  Some of the more beautiful shoegaze you’ll find, Plant Cell’s strength is the ability to weave subtle melodies through dreamy layers of synths and guitars.  “Snow and Luculia” is the recommended track off this one.

The Florist – “Blood Music”

After a stellar debut in 2014, Tokyo’s The Florist have returned with an even better sophomore effort.  With Dark Entries, my third favorite album from two years ago, the band burst onto the scene with its own unique sound.  In a year when the best shoegaze albums were infused with everything from grunge to post rock to indie pop, The Florist drew heavily on 90s American emo to put together a lush, dreamy record.

  Photo:  theflorist.info
Photo: theflorist.info

After a stellar debut in 2014, Tokyo’s The Florist have returned with an even better sophomore effort.  With Dark Entries, my third favorite album from two years ago, the band burst onto the scene with its own unique sound.  In a year when the best shoegaze albums were infused with everything from grunge to post rock to indie pop, The Florist drew heavily on 90s American emo to put together a lush, dreamy record.  Thanks to an addictive signature song in “Middle of Winter” and a strong push from a number of overseas media outlets, The Florist’s debut attracted a large international audience and thus a desire for more music.  This June, The Florist obliged with the release of Blood Music.

The day of the album’s release The Florist simultaneously released videos for co-lead singles “Disintegration” and “Halcyon”.  The former, which kicks off the record, picks up right where the band left off on Dark Entries.  The latter is a bit colder, though the jagged guitar line eventually makes way for the warm, thickly textured sound that fans of The Florist have come to expect.  

While the first half of the album is really solid – “Sadness Like Water Raining Down” is my personal favorite of the first five songs – it’s the portion of the album that comes after the beautiful instrumental interlude, “Untitled”, that really defines this album.  

“Marigold” is a flurry of squalling guitars and drums, the intensity of which balances so incredibly well with the high, harmonized vocals.  This is also the track where those guitar leads showcased on the first album really shine.  The emo influence really shows about halfway through when the bridge kicks in.  The song is a bit harsher than anything they’ve done to this point, but still incorporates familiar elements.  

If “Marigold” was a reintroduction of The Florist’s familiar guitar leads on the new album, “Ghosts” is where they really shine.  If I had to choose one song to make a lead single prior to Blood Music‘s release, it would have been this one.  The galloping first 45 seconds bursts into a blurry mass of guitar, highlighted by a bending lead reminiscent of the one that drove “Middle of Winter” so well.  Guitarist Yosuke Shiina’s ability to craft a gorgeous tone and weave it through each track is what really sets The Florist apart from other shoegaze bands in Japan.  “Ghosts” is the band’s best showcase of that fact to date.

The pace picks up and takes a bit of a danceable turn with two melodic tracks in “Sweet Decadence” and “Weird Dreams”.  At first listen it sort of felt like a poppy palate cleanser after a couple of emotional, harder-hitting songs, but both tracks really grew on me, especially “Weird Dreams” which, if I’m ranking the songs on the record, is right up there with “Ghosts”.  

The light atmosphere of closer “The Last Dance” nicely wraps up an album that, as a whole, tops their debut release.  While Dark Entries may have had higher peaks, Blood Music is a more consistent effort.  It’s a more tonally explorative record that manages to remain cohesive with a very natural flow to it.  As was the case with their debut, Blood Music figures to be on many a “Best of the Year” list when all is said and done.

Blood Music is available on iTunes and Apple Music, and physical copies can be purchased via Japanese Amazon (international shipping is available).

Here is the video for the album’s first single, “Disintegration”:

 

 

Cigarette in your Bed – “Nothing E.P.”

When I came to Japan and started a blog about Japanese shoegaze music, I almost immediately found the Kansai scene to be the most accessible.  I have fond memories of a bunch of bands who were not only really welcoming but also supportive of the blog and zine, especially bands like Lemon’s Chair and Ether Feels.  The Japan Shoegazer Festival in Osaka was a very comfortable spot for me, and thanks to the bands and the community that grew around the event I was able to get to know some great folks and learn a lot about the Japanese shoegaze scene.

 photo from  http://cigaretteinyourbed.com/
photo from http://cigaretteinyourbed.com/

When I came to Japan and started a blog about Japanese shoegaze music, I almost immediately found the Kansai scene to be the most accessible.  I have fond memories of a bunch of bands who were not only really welcoming but also supportive of the blog and zine, especially bands like Lemon’s Chair and Ether Feels.  The Japan Shoegazer Festival in Osaka was a very comfortable spot for me, and thanks to the bands and the community that grew around the event I was able to get to know some great folks and learn a lot about the Japanese shoegaze scene. 

One of the bands who really helped me out was Cigarette in your Bed.  The band split time between Tokyo and Osaka, though around that time they seemingly played a bit more in Osaka.  They were a staple of not only the Japan Shoegazer Festival (in both cities), but the frequently held High Fader Night at Club Vijon in Kitahorie as well. 

In addition to being cool dudes, Cigarette in your Bed’s music resonated with me instantly.  Their style was really unique compared to a lot of what was going on in the Japanese shoegaze scene.  The name conjures the image of a My Bloody Valentine knock-off, but they were far from that.  They were far edgier than their peers, drawing as much influence from grunge and 90s alt rock as they did shoegaze.  Their live show was dynamic and brutally loud.  I’d made it a point to come down to Osaka to see them play whenever I could.

Cigarette in your Bed has come quite a long way since then, releasing their debut full-length Darkness in 2014 via High Fader and playing some big shows, including opening for Astrobrite in 2015, while also starting an event of their own called “THE FUZZ”.  The band’s since moved on from their previous scene and found a new home in the Koenji hard rock scene, but with the release of their new Nothing E.P. they’ve shown a dedication to their core sound.

The EP kicks off with “Nothing”, a track that plays like a straightforward rock song blanketed in quivering shoegaze guitars.  The verses are decent enough, paced by a steady beat and frontman Kazuya Saijo’s simple vocals, but the song really takes off at the explosive chorus.  The repetition of the vocals is pretty similar to “Let Me Out”, giving them an almost instrumental quality that’s secondary to the massive guitar buildup. 

“Ghost” is a three-phase track that cuts from a bendy guitar howl of an intro verse not too different from “Nothing” to an overdrive-heavy rehashing of the same.  The song feels like three different variations of the same basic line, with the first part being more “gazey” and the second a bit more grunge-y with super distorted vocals.  The track winds down in a sort of striped down version of the introduction.  It’s a short track, but interesting enough in that the band basically demonstrates its range while never really changing the parts too much.

Finally, “I Don’t Know” gets away from the intensity of the first few tracks, showing off the dreamier side of what Cigarette in your Bed can do.  The song basically goes back and forth between a sweet-sounding, reverb-soaked verse and a sort of disorienting few measures of a chorus.  The main part is really chilled out and comfy before the guitars spin out for a bit.  One other noticeable part of the song that’s a bit different from their previous work and consistent throughout the EP is the complexity of the basslines.  The band is showing some maturity with their new stuff, and it should sound even better once the production value picks up.

Overall I’ve enjoyed the EP.  It’s just three tracks and they’re pretty simple, but Cigarette in your Bed have always made some really great tracks with a simple approach.  Unfortunately for fans of the band overseas it’s going to be tough to get your hands on this, but if you happen to be in the Tokyo or Osaka areas for one of their gigs it’s totally worth it for the show and the goods. 

There aren’t even any samples of the music online apart from a few brief clips the band has posted on its Twitter account.  You can also buy some merch at their online store and purchase their debut album “Darkness” on Amazon.  Here is a video of a live performance of “I Don’t Know” uploaded by Club Kinoto.  The recorded version is better, but this will at least give you a bit of an idea.  Enjoy!

Citrus Nowhere – “A Nightmare Before She Sleeps”

By now it’s no longer much of a secret that Tokyo’s Citrus Nowhere are regarded as one to keep an eye on in the Japanese shoegaze scene.

By now it’s no longer much of a secret that Tokyo’s Citrus Nowhere are regarded as one to keep an eye on in the Japanese shoegaze scene.  I wrote as much in my 2016 preview piece at the beginning of the year, and the band’s commitment to not only putting out more material – seemingly the endgame for a lot of promising young bands here – but to gigging and ironing out any remaining wrinkles in their live game has been a really positive sign.  

The band had a bit of a coming out party in the form of a self-titled EP and release party alongside fellow passengers on the raging war wagon that is the new generation of Japanese shoegaze bands, Yukino Chaos.  At the gig, which took place in Nagoya, there was a sense that everything was still being figured out.  It wasn’t super tight, but you got a feel for what they were doing.  I enjoyed the opportunity to see them.  It didn’t feel like a finished product.  To be fair, it was also the band’s fourth ever show.  

This month Citrus Nowhere released its second EP, this one titled A Nightmare Before She Sleeps, as a free download on Bandcamp.  At first listen its hard to ignore the release’s raw production value.  The fuzzed-out guitars dominate the mix while the drums are faint enough in the background to guide you hazily through each song.  There’s a playful poppiness to what’s going on below the layers of noise, and I found the combination more interesting than their previously released work.  

The intro track “Beautiful Lies” is a persistent, free-flowing wash of droning guitars.  It’s a refreshingly unstructured song with a bit of a subtle jangle and light male-female vocal harmonies fluttering around.  There’s some pop there, but it’s subdued for the sake of noise.  

“Blue Enemies” is another that stuck out, perhaps because it’s got a bit of a different vibe from the rest of the EP and it sits right smack in the middle of the five songs.  The beat on this track is infectious and the band does well to create a haunting mood from some trippy textures and subtle falsetto vocals.  

As a stand-alone, Citrus Nowhere’s A Nightmare Before She Sleeps is really enjoyable, but the production will definitely be a turn off for some.  In context though, this EP is a step in the right direction, muddying things up in a scene where too many bands try to keep things super clean.  It’s their willingness to experiment and not shy away from the harsher side of things that makes these guys, in my opinion, such a key member of this new wave of Japanese shoegaze bands.

You can pick up A Nightmare Before She Sleeps, as well as their self-titled EP, on Bandcamp for free.  

 

 

Looprider – “Ascension”

It was just last August that I was writing about the debut from Tokyo newcomers Looprider. My Electric Fantasy was a diverse record, with the band exploring any number of sounds from shoegaze to pop to sludgy, grimy, at times doom-y rock.  With their sophomore effort, titled Ascension, released on May 4th via Call and Response Records, Looprider has taken a different and more direct approach to annihilating your eardrums.   

Photo by Matt Schley (http://www.mattschley.com/)

It was just last August that I was writing about the debut from Tokyo newcomers Looprider. My Electric Fantasy was a diverse record, with the band exploring any number of sounds from shoegaze to pop to sludgy, grimy, at times doom-y rock.  With their sophomore effort, titled Ascension, released on May 4th via Call and Response Records, Looprider has taken a different and more direct approach to annihilating your eardrums.  

You get an idea of what to expect when comparing the covers of their two releases, both of which were done by Tokyo-based artist Nasutakeo.  My Electric Fantasy‘s vibrant pink cover art is contrasted pretty starkly by Ascension‘s black and white.  The wide-eyed manga-style character on the cover of the first album appears on the second, however it’s a more tormented version this time with severed arms, a distraught-looking face, and sort of creepily ribboned torso spiraling downward.  By setting the physical CD cases right next to each other, you are presented with one of the themes of Ascension: the violent destruction of pop.

Musically, Ascension is brutally loud.  There are no shoegaze-y pop tracks, nor catchy melodic palate cleansers to be found on the record.  “N.E.C.O.” is a noise track featuring drawn out chords and distorted screams over a backdrop of ambient fuzzy static.  Tonally, it’s a fitting introduction to the album, which picks up the pace starting with the following tracks, “Fantômas”, “Doppelgänger”, and “Science ≠ Evolution”.  There’s a major hardcore influence here and some really nice depth, compliments of a ferocious blur of guitars, overdriven growls, and raging drums.  

“Kaboom!” is six-seconds of blast beat grindcore a la Anal Cunt that leads into probably my favorite section of the album.  “Sekai” keeps the record trucking a blistering pace before slowing down into the chugging title track.  What I really like about “Ascension”, apart from the fact that it’s heavy as hell, is the showcase of my favorite element of Looprider’s sound on this CD.  Everything slows down and that aforementioned depth in the form of persistent feedback and squealing guitars really shines through.  Also it reminds me a little of older Sepultura, which is awesome.  “Mustafar”, presumably named after the volcanic planet on which Obi-Wan Kenobi dismembers a young Anakin Skywalker, scores big points both for its relentlessness as well as the reference – surely no mere coincidence that the album’s release date happened to be Star Wars Day.  Finally, “667” closes everything out with seven-plus minutes of harsh noise.  

Even at its heaviest, My Electric Fantasy was a very clean-cut album, production-wise.  On Ascension things are much more raw and the album feels very organic.  Over the course of nine months, Looprider has shown some tremendous diversity and, impressively, has done so at a consistently high level.  The new record demonstrates a pretty big change in approach and style, but over the course of two releases Looprider has shown an affinity for doing things loudly.  This time around, however, by shedding previous elements of pop in their sound, that loudness is accompanied by an unrestrained aggressiveness resulting in a brutally chaotic and extremely cohesive album.  

The release party for Ascension will be held this weekend, the 7th, at Koenji Niman-Denatsu in Tokyo.  You can purchase the album at the following websites (international shipping is available).  They’ve got some pretty sweet shirts for sale on Bandcamp, as well.

Here’s the video for “Mustafar”.  There are some pretty intense strobe effects, so viewer discretion is advised.