Foreign musicians based in Tokyo exist in a peculiar sort of half-world. Not having done their time in the university band circles, dead Tuesday nights at pay-to-play live venues, and local music scene event ladder, they often appear disorientatingly context-free and difficult to pin down musically to musicians who have grown up in the local scene, which makes them hard to book. There’s also often a lingering suspicion that they might just up and leave at a moment’s notice, which can make organisers reluctant to invest the time in the gradual process of introducing them to and helping integrate them into the scene.
Perhaps partly as a result of this, a little micro-scene of bands based around a core of foreign musicians has built up, often playing at foreign-owned bars, to a more generally party-friendly crowd than the often gloomy but more dedicatedly music-orientated fans that populate the alternative scene. It’s a strange little bit of segregation and it’s hard to know whether it’s just a setup that’s grown up to everyone’s benefit (or at least to no one’s loss) out of different people wanting different things, just as how mod, punk, technopop etc. have all gravitated into their own exclusive scenes, or if it contains embedded in it a problem.
All this is really just to point out what a rarity a musician Matt Guay is in the Tokyo music scene in that through his band The Oversleep Excuse and now Glow And The Forest he’s managed to work himself over the years into a position in the Tokyo alternative scene where he’s seen just as a musician rather than as an American musician.
Pheromone Chemicals is Glow And The Forest’s second release and continues in a similar vein to their self-titled 2010 debut, both albums featuring nine tracks worth of falsetto-voiced jangly guitar rock delivered by a stripped-down power trio setup and with the emphasis on melodies and whimsical lyrics.
The opening one-two of the driving Suspension Bridge, with its heart-surge chorus, followed by the short, simple and lyrically fragile Banker is a powerful intro to the album, with the latter’s final line leaving the listener hanging poignantly in midair. Sometimes, however, Guay’s lyrics bring him to awkward places, and the line “Your smile makes me take my clothes off,” delivered with with a heart full of passion and earnestness might leave some wondering quite how seriously he means to be taken.
The third song, Monster, more or less establishes the range that Pheromone Chemicals is going to cover, with a more middling pace and a dynamic built around lulls and spine tingling climaxes, and it also sets the album’s outlier in terms of length, coming in at a bit over four minutes. For the most part, Glow And The Forest’s songs are admirably restrained, preferring to hover around two and a half minutes, which as any 1960s pop songwriter would have told you is how long songs should be.
Closing track Aliens performs the neat trick of bringing the whole album together in one song, combining poignance with propulsive, percussive guitar and a powerful sense of ebb and flow. With a low-key opening, it picks up pace and flowers into something poppier and more uptempo, whilst retaining a sense of when to switch a chord change one beat out of the rhythm or simply change and start playing what sounds like a completely different song altogether. It’s the album’s most complex song, but in many ways the most rewarding and a fitting closing track.