In terms of the songwriting traditions at play, indiepop in Japan can be divided into two loose categories. On the one hand you have the stuff that’s basically a Japanese version of jangly overseas bands and which could be defined as part of loose international collective indie/guitar pop consciousness. This category includes self-consciously retro pastiches like Sloppy Joe, as well as younger, less historically rigorous bands like Teen Runnings and pretty much anything on the Dead Funny label — the factor that links them is melody based around “foreign” chord structures. On the other hand, you have music that’s essentially J-Pop using indie arrangements and production. Into this category you find stuff like Soutaisei Riron, The Keys and pretty much any post-Flipper’s Guitar Shibuya-kei type guitar pop — again, the styles can be quite disparate, but the songwriting here generally follows “native” melodic lines.
On the basis of In Fear of Love, For Tracy Hyde are in the latter category. While the chiming reverb and cascading guitar descent of First Regrets are straight out of 80s Manchester or Glasgow, the melody is pure 90s Tokyo of a sort that would have been equally at home in the hands of nouveau-hip singers like Kahimi Karie or dead-centre-of-the-mainstream MOR pop-rock merchants like Presents-era My Little Lover. You can hear it not just in the chord progressions but in the rigidly enforced way every syllable gets its own note, forcing the melody to keep hopping up and down where an overseas band would be far more likely to let a few syllables run along repeating the same note before going on to stretch a single syllable over two or three notes. You can also hear it in the way the closing Waraibanashi (probably unconsciously) apes the melodic tropes of Soutaisei Riron songs like Cinderella and Jigoku Sensei — these are almost certainly not intentional so much as independent manifestations of a songwriting tradition that simply exists outside the Western-dominated international indiepop consensus.
And for a lot of people, that’s what will make In Fear of Love appealing or interesting. It’s an example of a Japanese indie tradition rooted in Japan’s own pop history even while it’s aware of sounds and influences from overseas and this allows it to sit comfortably alongside more mainstream domestic pop, at the same time offering listeners from overseas music possessed of a different sort of structural complexity while retaining many of the sounds and musical signifiers that mark it as part of a familiar genre. In addition to the 80s-influenced guitars (that themselves had roots in the 60s), the naive-sophisticated synth and drum arrangements and cotton-candy shoegaze washes hint at contemporary bedroom indietronica, most notably on the instrumental Saraba Atlantis Tetsudou.
In Fear of Love is also music that really needs to exist at least close to the mainstream in order to make the best sense, because despite its obvious affection for the sounds and textures of indiepop, at its heart it’s a J-Pop record, and insofar as it has any kind of outsider’s voice, it’s the whimsically disaffected voice of the perpetual dreamer, the romantic. Indie kids don’t need to be told to dream — they already do practically nothing else — but out there in radioland, the indie-influenced sounds that adorn For Tracy Hyde’s songs could help define them more clearly from the crowd and give them a real voice.