It’s a constant source of wonder to me the way so many Japanese indiepop bands seem to spend hours ensuring the reverb on their guitars is just so in order to create the scientifically optimum level of Cure/Smiths/Close Lobsters style jangle and then when it comes to recording and mixing the vocals, they suddenly discover that of all the bands they could be mimicking, Sonic Flower Groove-era Primal Scream (the second-worst period of this utterly horrible band, and largely because of the shuddering craptitude of the worst vocalist in British indie history, Bobby Gillespie) is the pinnacle of their aspiration.
I dig Boyish and there is a lot to love about them on this new EP. On title track The Hidden Secrets, they fashion a neat energy rush out of the little pause between each loop of the main guitar riff and on Quarrel, the xylophone that dances over the top of the guitars seems to be saying, “Want some jangle on top of your jangle? You got it!” while the repetitive chorus burns itself into your ears and the abrupt halt that closes the song is an enjoyably snotty way to end. Closing number, Crazy For You is the weakest of the collection, and it’s no coincidence that it’s the once that sees Boyish aping Primal Scream the most, with the vocals smeared blandly across the otherwise solid track, nailed down to no clear melody and expressing no particular character or personality.
I realise that this, more than many other things, is a matter of taste (I really do dislike Primal Scream a lot, and Bobby Gillespie in particular I can’t stand), and there is a certain sort of person who finds this sort of emotionally drained vocal style the peak of washed-out beauty. I also don’t want this to seem like I’m gunning after Boyish in particular, since they’re a band I very much like. It’s a general point about the mixing of vocals in Japanese indie records that I’ve touched on before when discussing Nagoya’s The Moments and which some people have mentioned as a criticism of Friends/Teen Runnings (I don’t strictly agree as far as Teen Runnings are concerned, since their music has a more abrasive, punk edge, but it was enough that they themselves decided to remix their album and clean up the vocals) but it really does seem to me that these bands are all missing a trick by neglecting the musical opportunities offered by such an important instrument as the vocals.
(More on this over at Make Believe Melodies)