Ten years after they burst onto the Tokyo indie scene in a flurry of strange time signatures and unclassifiable alt-rock/pop tunesmithery, Nhhmbase have been engaged in a slow but steady crawl towards mainstream acceptance that Ichirin no Hana seems well placed to continue.
A lot of their songs seem designed particularly to showcase Mamoru’s extraordinary vocal range and it’s the need to build everything around that instrument that has defined the band’s sound, allowing him to ditch at least one entire lineup and replace them with little obvious impact on their style. There is nevertheless a clear sense of evolution, and while Ichirin no Hana, as with its predecessor Mizube no Tsudumi from earlier this year, is very much about the vocals, both songs also suggest the band are moving ever further in pushing them to the fore. At the same time, where in the early days, Mamoru’s vocals varied not only in position in the musical scale, but also in texture and inflection, coming in note-perfect stacatto pinpricks and exuberant bursts of energy, the texture here retains a uniform smooth matt finish. The lingering remnants of post-hardcore that still hung around the edges of their early work have also now been pretty much thoroughly eliminated, leaving the music a technically immaculate exercise in octave-leaping jazz-pop nursing a sentimental, sweet bean paste centre. It’s perhaps an inevitable part of the band’s process of growing up, but as someone who remembers a bloodsoaked Mamoru leaving Akihabara Club Goodman in an ambulance after one of the most thrillingly intense performances I’ve ever seen, it’s hard to escape the sensation that they’ve lost something important in their drive towards professionalism.