V/A: World Awake

World Awake

Download, Ano(t)racks, 2013

Net labels are something the indie scene (in Japan at least) is still in the process of coming to grips with. In many ways, a net label has more in common with music aggregator blogs that simply introduce new music, functioning primarily as a taste curator rather than participating actively in its creation, and with the financial investment the label makes next to zero, the relationship between label and artist is fundamentally different. However, the boundaries are more blurred than that, and on the basis of this compilation, Ano(t)racks are certainly putting some excellent new music out there.

One of the advantages net labels have is that because money isn’t the same issue that it was, they can afford to take a more relaxed and eclectic approach to the artists they select, with less of the ruthless honing and focusing in on specific types of artist and cultivating specific audiences in real, physical live spaces. The Web allows them to float more freely and catch their audience more passively. Still, the online environment naturally acts as a kind of filter in itself, and where punk labels thrive in the alcohol-fuelled, claustrophobic intensity of small live spaces, the audience for a net label is more likely to be found surfing the web, semi-conscious at 2AM, so it’s natural that the sort of music a label like Ano(t)racks gravitates towards is suited to that listening environment.

Ano(t)racks are a self proclaimed twee pop label, and there’s nothing much on this compilation to dispute that, with the exception of Buddy Girl and Mechanic’s vampish, defiantly lo-fi Fanaticalia. Built around a riff that Patrick over at Make Believe Melodies rightly identifies as having been stolen wholesale from The Kinks’ You Really Got Me (to be honest, something that iconic barely counts as stealing now; like the chord sequence from Hang on Sloopy, it’s surely public domain by now) it makes occasional diversions into Rolling Stones territory but fundamentally, like much of Buddy Girl and Mechanic’s self-titled debut album, released earlier this year and sure to be one of Japan’s albums of the year come December, its closest cousin in terms of construction is Can, with the way the music slips and slides over the disorientating rhythm and the emphasis on trancelike repetition.

Eschewing the lo-fi approach and emerging as genuinely lovely indie rock songs as well as highlights of the album are The Fin.’s Floating in the Air and Come to my Party’s Paraffin Lover. I can sense a distant echo of Frozen Years by British pub rock legends The Rumour in the former somewhere, but more than that, it’s simply a pure rush of sentimental, timeless guitar pop comfort food. The latter also provides some tunespotting opportunities for new wave geeks, with the main melody reminiscent of Echo and The Bunnymen’s Bring on the Dancing Horses, although sonically it has a lot in common with Japanese turn-of-the-millennium alternative rock, in particular Supercar (and particularly the song Aoharu Youth), with its mixture of shoegaze, synths and electronic beats. Ghostlight’s Koi no You na Uso also harks back to the turn of the millennium like a more laid back, lo-fi take on Quruli’s C’mon C’mon.

There are more low-key, acoustic numbers such as the gorgeous Coastline by Genki Sakuradani and the quirky, banjo-based 1940s cabaret jazz of Annie the Clumsy’s Gold Crescent Moon, as well as the beach pop of Superfriends’ How True My Love Was and the decidedly Lennonesque blues of Slow Beach’s closing Surfin’ Day and there’s really not a duff tune among the eight tracks on offer.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “V/A: World Awake

  1. (Had to look up ‘twee pop’ and ‘duff’). My 14-year-old is completely charmed by these tracks, and I agree with her. I get a definite retro vibe from the wash of reverb in the vocal of ‘Floating in Air’, a sort of early Neil Sedaka sound (also pretty twee in his day).
    For some reason, I’m bumping into a lot of 2-chord songs these days. Daft Punk’s ‘Game of Love’ vamps over just two chords (VERY effectively), and Floating in Air gets by with just 2. Actually, “Floating in Air” is even less, barely goo1 and 1/2 chords–the upper notes stay the same, while dropping the bass a minor 3rd changes it from a Major 7th chord to a Minor 7/9. The vocal is so good, the repetition doesn’t wear it out for me. (Just checked Neil Sedaka’s old “Breakin’ Up Is Hard To Do”–the sound is so similar my daughter thinks it’s the same singer). Coastline starts with precisely the same harmonic trick–upper notes static, bass drops a third–but then goes on to a couple of other chords. This harmonic move definitely fits the twee mood: what starts as a simple triad becomes a more complex minor 7th, which has a softened, sentimental feel in these contexts. The folk-rock band America practically lived on Major and Minor 7th chords, as did many other folk rockers and soft-pop bands. The up-front strings are a fantastic touch here, elevating the sound towards George Martin-ish production a la ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and his other pop sound experiments. Then Track 6 takes the same principle even further, changing the bass under the guitar ostinato for two, then 3, 4, 5 chords. Depending on how the bass moves, this effectively adds complexity and tension to the harmony, as the upper notes have more and more distant relations to the bass. It’s tricky to use over the span of more than one song. These kinds of static upper harmonies are very easy to write, and attractive at first listen, but the composer has to work hard to make it work in more than just one way. I’m not going to say it’s a lazy technique, but….yeah, it kind of is. Since we’re on a compilation album, no danger of that here. Great sounds, thanks for posting!

  2. Paraffin Lover is a great song, and I believe this is the best “compilation” ano(t)racks has come out with so far, i miss The Vanities though :). I love Ghostlight’s 恋のような嘘 as well. I have great expectations for BUDDY GIRL and MECHANIC in the near future. I feel like Fanaticalia could have been featured in GOAT’s album “World Music” and been the trop track of the entire album :D. BUDDY GIRL and MECHANIC’s debut is still one of my favourite for 2013, I wish them the best of luck, they’re awesome!

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