Top 20 Releases of 2012: No.15 – New House – Burning Ship Fractal

Burning Ship Fractal

CD, Second Royal, 2012

Based in Tokyo but associated closely with Kyoto’s eclectic Second Royal label, New House are leading lights in a generation of Japanese indie music that takes its cues just as much from the club scene as it does from rock, a fact evidenced by the members’ regular turns at DJ events in and around Tokyo and the central role electronic beats, samples and effects take in their music.

There are obvious similarities to Animal Collective in New House’s preference for electronic bleeps, spacey atmospheric effects, and rolling rhythms with a little swing on the off beat, and this could perhaps be a big problem if there were a whole, vast scene of bands in Japan who all sounded like Animal Collective. There aren’t though, so complaining about the resemblance in this case seems a bit petty.

It’s also a lazy way to analyse New House’s music, because their approach to songwriting marks them out as an unusual band in the Japanese music scene. Their melodies follow none of the standard J-Pop melodic clichés, and neither do they follow the big-on-emotion-but-low-on-melody alt-rock pattern of impassioned dying-cat yowling. Instead, New House’s songs channel folkish melodies and harmonies that betray an influence of Sublime Frequencies’ series of southeast Asian pop and folk music compilations.

The most obvious standout track and the one that captures the core essence of Burning Ship Fractal, is Small World, which made its first appearance in a slightly different form on Second Royal Records’ 2011 Vol.6 sampler, and the band return to similar themes in both subsequent tracks, Cold Water and Soft Sea. There’s more to the band than that though, with Empty Shop (Plug Up The Hole) an intriguing diversion into a sort of yodeling electropicalia and Lost slipping and sliding through a series of distorted, cut-up beats. Given the wider canvas of a full album to play with, they also demonstrate a talent for ambient electronic instrumental tracks in the mould of Eno circa Another Green World, particular on Collage of Season.

There’s something ramshackle and chaotic in how Burning Ship Fractal all falls together (and sometimes seems on the verge of falling apart), which some might find offputting, but its an undeniably imaginative album with an approach to songwriting and a mixture of sounds that combine electronics with an atmosphere that feels like it could have been drawn right out of a mosquito-ridden riverboat ride through a Thai jungle.

(Full disclosure: A new song by New House, Nature Blessings, appeared on my own label Call And Response Records’ 2012 “Dancing After 1AM” compilation album.)

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