When m’colleague Ryotaro Aoki and I were putting together our Quit Your Band! zine back in 2013, we developed a deliberately over-elaborate rating system for album reviews, marking them as an X on an inverted triangle that included Black Sabbath at the top-left, Stereolab at the top-right and latecomer 90s grunge wannabes Bush at the bottom. The semi-serious idea was that all good music can be placed on a scale somewhere between the raw, idiotic rock racket of some idealised, imaginary Sabbaff and the poised intellectualism of some extreme parody of the ‘Lab (and with the subsidiary point that who cares what rubbish music sounds like). It was a silly idea and one that we had a lot of fun taking way too far, but analysing music within such an abstract, arbitrary framework was interesting in how it forced you to look at it in ways that wouldn’t necessarily be obvious.
The reason I bring this up here is because Luminous Orange sit like a sort of indie rock Schrödinger’s Cat simultaneously at both extremes of the “Sabbath Scale”, with Soar, Kiss the Moon the quantum box that holds them. On one hand, it’s all ba ba ba this and la la la that – everything in the most tasteful way possible – but on the other it’s all ear-shredding guitars tearing strips out of each other.
Obviously in terms of the sound itself, Luminous Orange have more in common with Stereolab. One reference point that insists its way to the fore is the combination of densely layered, distorted guitars and breezy jazz-pop of Stereolab circa Transient Random-Noise Bursts with Announcements. There’s far less emphasis on Neu! pastiche extended motorik krautrock workouts on Soar, Kiss the Moon, though, with Luminous Orange instead bringing in an almost hardcore brutality to some parts that bring a far earthier kind of grit to the likes of Nightwalking. It’s not just in the guitars, which are nonetheless beautifully captured on record by Luminous Orange’s Rie Takeuchi and engineer/mixer Yui Kimijima (and this is not just one of the best albums of the year in terms of the songs: the production is very much an equal partner in its terrific-ness), but in the drums, which retain a power and energy even on relatively poppy tracks like the gorgeous Kissing the Moon.
Luminous Orange still have a reputation as a bit of a shoegaze band (or solo project, really), and their 2002 album Drop You Vivid Colours is perhaps still the best Japanese shoegaze album ever made, but they’ve mostly transcended that by this point. Those influences still inform an important part of their sound though, and especially on the blissed-out closing Slaughterhouse, with its wall of distorted guitars and Cocteau Twins-esque melody feels like a love letter from a teenage crush who has only grown more beautiful with the years.