Top 20 Releases of 2015: No.20– Sayuu – Sukamu Left Sukamu Right

sayuu - sukamu left sukamu right

CD, Yellow Label, 2015

Happy music dominated the Japanese indie scene in 2015, from the mild-mannered garbage of city pop at one extreme to the performance-orientated comedy punk and indie-idol detritus that clogged up the other end of the scene. When viewed through this filter, Tokyo was a horrible place to be for a bitter old art-punker/pure-pop vigilante like me. However, the way the indie scene adopted the mainstream entertainment industry’s focus on character and charisma over music also allowed some genuinely music to slip through.

Sayuu are outliers among Tokyo’s “funny” bands in that they skirt clear of outright goofiness and produce music more considered than mere wackiness. Sukamu Left Sukamu Right succeeds by treading a knife-edge of caustic humour, brittle postpunk arrangements and hectoring vocals, all providing the most minimal embroidery to songs that through a mixture of occasional bursts of melody and persistent, finely honed rhythmical dynamics manages to be accessible borderline-pop and retain all its sharp edges.

Songs like Yellow Hate I’ve written about before, with the newer Yametekure running along similar lines. Meanwhile the kazoo-folk of Hako no Uta will be instantly recognisable to anyone familiar with the band’s regular live set.

As with many smartly marketed Japanese underground acts, where they take it from here is a difficult question. It’s all so tightly honed and complete in itself that it suggests few avenues for further development that wouldn’t fatally undermine its finely balanced appeal. The whispered Heiwana no Ka against a backdrop of minimal percussion and xylophone points a possible direction for the duo to explore more sophisticated ideas without losing their sparse charm. Again, the scene’s focus on character over music can work in a band’s favour here, giving them freer rein to change fundamental aspects of their setup as long as the duo retain their dry, poker-faced wit.

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