Monthly Archives: February 2014

Top 20 Releases of 2013: No.6 – Lo-shi – Flasque

Flasque

Spice bottle, self-released, 2013

This Japan-besed duo (via France, Tahiti and the UK) was a lesson in expertly crafted, genre-defying experimental yet accessible instrumental music. Yet where work that throws together genres to this extent can often result in work that is disjointed and maundering, Flasque is throughout an elegant and coherent artistic statement shot through with a cocktail of beauty, menace and a distinctly Gallic sense of humour.

幽客 from Lo-shi on Vimeo.

Flasque is at heart a collection of cinematic soundscapes, with reverb-heavy guitar reflecting both a fondness for 80s-style indie guitar music, particularly on closing track Yu-kaku, and what was probably way too much time spent watching Twin Peaks in their youth — a show which is sampled heavily in The Pink Lodge. Underlying the tracks, on the other hand, things suggest a 90s spent immersed in the skittering beats and ambient sonic textures of artists like Orbital, not to mention a strong and deep appreciation of Krautrock (“Kraut’n’bass” is one of the duo’s preferred descriptors for their music, and marginally more useful as a tool than “NudeCouscousTaoistBeatCore”) in the application of loops and repetition, as well as the way synths are used to create a sonic layer that sits between the beats and guitars.

I called Flasque cinematic earlier, and there’s more to that than simply Lo-shi’s frequent use of movie samples. The collaboration of sound and vision is key to how they approach music, with live performances always delivered with a video accompaniment and the duo also having dabbled in live soundtrack performances. Obviously on the recorded version that element isn’t present, but it still informs the content, and the content is compelling.

Piston from Lo-shi on Vimeo.

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Top 20 Releases of 2013: No.7 – Under – Under Demo 20November

Other than that Under seems to be one person and female, I know nothing about this project, but she has spent 2013 releasing material to Bandcamp on a pretty much monthly basis, culminating in this stunningly beautiful five-track demo. The track list is just as mysterious as the artist, the song seemingly having been made by just switching on caps lock and holding down random keys, although it’s curious that an acronym of the titles reads “No Age” — not sure how much it’s worth reading into that. In any case, it serves to focus the listener intently on the music, free of preconceptions or instructions from the author.

2013 saw a growing interest in the Japanese shoegaze scene with a lot of interesting records coming out, but while some people seem to take shoegaze in a watered-down form, treating it as just another kind of retro indie music, and others see it as a way of adding sonic depth and contrast to post-hardcore or metal-influenced music, the low-key, psychedelic, spectral roots of the genre — its Galaxie 500s, its Cocteau Twins — often get lost. My twin touchstones when dealing with music like that are always Flying Saucer Attack and Movietone, and Under Demo 20November sits right in the middle between those two acts. It sounds as if it was recorded on a portable cassette deck at the bottom of a well, and infiltrates you in waves of rural psychedelic drone like the sun rising over the Avebury stones on a misty winter morning.

Heavily effected human voices seem to be used as underlying texture on tracks like NNNNNN and GGGGGG, but AAAAAAA and the closing EEEEEE are the only tracks that could easily be called “songs” and while the lyrics remain indistinct, the vocals are a powerful and heartbreakingly affecting instrument to deliver their melancholic folk melodies. It feels like an act of sheer reductive barbarism to assess a collection as shot through with fragile beauty as this using as blunt an instrument as a ranking, but let it at least be said that this was one of the finest things I heard last year and is all the more precious for having found me out of what seems like nowhere.

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Top 20 Releases of 2013: No.8 – ZZZ’s – Magnetica

Despite having a wrongly placed apostrophe in their band name, the ZZZ’s continue to grow in stature, developing their scratchy, clanging no wave sound in more complex artistic directions. Vocals are a far less integral part of Magnetica than of the previous year’s Prescription, but then tracks like DNA and Busy Bee makes the guitars sing in ever more creative ways. The arrangements too offer more diversity, with Drippin’ starting a dance-punk track with call and response vocals interspersed with almost industrial noise, and (A Man Looks Into) the Hole containing both gothic and dub elements. It’s all expertly put together and produced in the scuzziest good taste by Jonathan Kreinik, whose Boombox Magnetica studio gives the EP its title, and helped establish the ZZZ’s as the hippest thing in contemporary Japanese postpunk in 2013.

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