Convex Level are still a band I know very little about. They’ve been around on and off for years but their releases have been sporadic, they’re friends with Extruders, one of the smartest and best bands currently operating in Japan, all of whom have cameos in Convex Level’s 2013 video Traffic, their web site is cool looking but nigh unnavigable, and they have a surprisingly cheerful stage manner given the sometimes brooding nature of their music. Where things become less ambiguous is in what Donotcl reveals about just how good they are.
On Donotcl Convex Level stake a convincing claim as a sort of Japanese Talking Heads, navigating a path through new wave, pop and art rock that is is diverse in its songwriting as it is consistent in its quality. From the tight, often thoroughly funky bass to the ringing reverb of the guitars, there’s a terrific sense of space (Donotcl shares a recording studio and engineer with Luminous Orange, whose Soar, Kiss the Moon is another standout in terms of audio production on this list). That sense of space extends not only to the sound within the recordings, but also to the way the band feel comfortable letting them breathe, drawing them out through expansive instrumental passages while retaining a focussed structural integrity, exemplified by songs like Dice and Slider, the latter of which is Convex Level’s Marquee Moon, clocking in at eleven minutes without ever losing sight of the song at its core.Human Receiver, live at Akihabara Club Goodman
At the other end of the spectrum, Maria is a straight-up new wave pop tune with all the fun and fizz of early XTC, while Human Receiver is all Gang of Four-esque rhythmic jitters before blossoming into an anthemic rock chorus. The English language That’s Always Fantasy takes the band’s obvious weakness for lighters-aloft stadium rock to its greatest extreme, seeming to stray dangerously into aspirational ad-speak platitudes like “You can become what you want to be,” although the lyric as a whole is ambiguous enough that it might be saying the exact opposite.Ashy Sleep, live at Akihabara Club Goodman
What runs through all of Donotcl is a pitch-perfect balance of pop accessibility and arty experimentation, with the gorgeous, funky and intricate Ashy Sleep – an instant classic and possibly this site’s favourite song of the year – representing that balance best. At over an hour in length, this collection of thirteen songs is easily the longest album in this top twenty countdown, but Convex Level nonetheless make every moment count.
[The songs Ashy Sleep and State of Things are available to download for free from the band’s web site]