If you spend a lot of time in the Tokyo indie scene, you’ll maybe have noticed that the limited range of stuff I cover here falls loosely into two categories. On the one hand, you have “Chuo Line bands”, who loosely trend more punk, more experimental, a more male audience, more likely to play in places like Koenji and Shinjuku, and more in a tradition that goes back to the 70s psychedelic and rock underground. On the other, we have “Setagaya bands”, who generally lean more indie, more pop, more international, a more female audience, more likely to play in places like Shimo-Kitazawa and Shibuya, and more in a tradition that includes 90s Shibuya-kei and neo-acoustic. These two worlds often overlap musically, but the fans and associated culture less so.
By the above definition, Batman Winks are roughly in the category of Setagaya bands. While strictly speaking the project of one guy, the live band draws on members who play or have played in melodic indiepop bands like DYGL and Groves, they collaborate with indietronic mellow disco princess Aya from Gloomy, and tend to play in a circle of bands, venues and events that marks them as decidedly Setagaya-type.
This may seem like pointless fussing over labels, but it matters. If Batman Winks were a Chuo Line band, the most striking point about them would be how pop they are, with an easy way with a melody and a pop hook running through the album in a way that would mark them out as a strange and rare fish in that more experimental and abrasive context. And the tunes on All Babies Sleeping are consistently top-drawer, from the frantic, bouncy, high pitched Smurfsong of Littlefag, through the murky, drowned melody of Celebration and Blind But the Brightest Light, to the soaring “ra-ra-ra-ra”s of the magnificent closing Strange Love.Blind But the Brightest Light
But in the context of their own background, the most striking thing about Batman Winks, and what marks them out from their particular crowd is how wild and experimental they are. The album opens with Intro, all chirping electronic wibbles and chirps, and droning, fuzz-soaked krautrock, like a condensed version of Yo La Tengo’s Spec Bebop, and the band constantly undermines and taunts its carefully constructed pop melodies with willfully out-of-tune vocals, sarcastic, Zappa-esque backing vocals, buzzsaw guitars that dive in from leftfield, and indecipherable distortion.
All of this is delivered with a mixture of shambling, lo-fi amateurishness and raw, swaggering confidence. On Strange Love, Batman Winks share with DYGL (Batman Winks’ song Nobody To Get Into My Car may very well be a self-pitying riposte to DYGL’s Let’s Get Into My Car) a yobbishly exuberant vocal delivery that stands in stark contrast to both the sissy mumbling that still characterises most Japanese indiepop and the tormented atonal yelling that prevails in the punk/alternative (Chuo Line) scene. In fact, what it reminds me of more than anything is the insistent, insurgent insouciance of The Stranglers’ 1979 hit Duchess in its combination of classic pop craftsmanship and punkish couldn’t-give-a-fuckery.
One of the most common touchstones for people describing Batman Winks is typically Ariel Pink, and there’s definitely something there. There’s also something of the anti-pop of 13/Think Tank-era Blur, but most importantly there’s absolutely nothing like it happening in Japan right now, and whatever you say, there is no doubt that Batman Winks are happening.