A few years ago I wrote a column for The Japan Times on the way technology and changing channels of distribution and development for bands were influencing the music they made. I focussed firstly on the way bands were able to grow through online channels, with the example of Jesse Ruins who became very hip very quickly after their song Dream Analysis was picked up by overseas music blogs and how becoming a live band had become a secondary challenge for them. I then looked at bands working through the traditional live circuit, who were first and foremost live acts, picking up fans one by one and building a reputation by word of mouth. As an example of that second route, I chose Otori.
It’s been a source of tremendous satisfaction to me personally this year to see both those bands still in the game, still developing, and producing such top notch albums.
And this long-awaited, long- belated debut album is the culmination of all those years of plugging away. It’s a powerful, tightly wound series of explosions, with not a moment wasted, not a beat, bass pulse, dot or dash of morse code guitar, or squall of earsplitting feedback and distortion out of place. It’s a ferocious, homicidal discord disco: it’s no wave with the dirt and grime of 70s New York replaced with the gleaming, clean surfaces of contemporary Tokyo but all the violence, anger and despair still there, bottled up, concentrated and looking to lash out – at something at least, but at what it doesn’t even know itself.
Hankaishaku can be translated as “anti-interpretation” and one of the things bands hate more than anything is people trying to interpret their work. And yet the very problem of communication, interpretation and connection is something that runs through every song on I Wanna Be Your Noise. Suru Communication is a grinding, mantric expression of the failure of communication itself; in Gakushu and Atarisawaritai the language we use to understand and describe becomes the noise that makes understanding impossible. Meta and Kaitai/Saikochiku scream in isolated confusion and introspection, while the repeated distinction the closing Hanten makes of, “I want to love you / Don’t want to be in love,” suggests a mindset that feels comfortable only in a state of movement and action rather than a state of being. Xxx shuns communication to the degree that it has neither a title nor lyric. What relationships and interactions are, as far as this album is concerned, is noise, both sonic and psychic. It’s an album that openly proclaims that it’s about nothing, but it says it so loud, so often, and with such intensity that that becomes its message.
In this sense, I Wanna Be Your Noise is the twin of Otori’s cosmic opposites Jesse Ruins, whose 2014 album Heartless was itself concerned with isolation, alienation and the limits of communication. Where the fundamentally wired Jesse Ruins explored these problems through the filter of the Web, the brutally physical Otori scream them in your face through raw, electric body pulses of noise.
And that’s another of the most heartening things about the 2014 musical cohort: just how many really good albums there were that were actually either by design or inspiration actually about something. Otori may not have been working to a conscious concept but there was nonetheless a coherent theme of the limits of communication expressed by their album; Jesse Ruins looked at human relationships through the filter of communication technology; Panicsmile expressed a broad theme of how we look at the world through personal reflection; while The Mornings worked through a more abstract, artistic concept in how they approached their art.
The big challenge for Otori now is going to be how they follow this album up. The eight songs on I Wanna Be Your Noise have been five years in coming together, and they have been honed to perfection over that time. Regular faces in the Tokyo alternative scene are so familiar with these songs that they feel as part of the environment as the dog-eared posters clinging to the walls of Higashi-Koenji 20000V or the old backstage passes that wallpaper the dressing room of Shinjuku Motion. There are still places they can take this music where it will be new and fresh, but sooner or later, they’re going to have to start the cycle all over again, and that’s where we’ll see their true mettle.
For now though, I Wanna Be Your Noise is a thrilling, perfectly pitched, devastatingly intense, adrenaline rush that’s both consistent in its quality and coherent as an artistic statement, so Otori deserve to be able to rest on their laurels for a while.