Released on Tjinder Singh’s UK-based Ample Play label, this album by a Japanese duo probably better known in Tokyo as two thirds of the sporatically active postpunk-influenced art rock band Praha Depart is something of a spectral presence in the Japanese music scene.
There are enough similarities to The Knife’s early work to make the comparison valid beyond the simple fact of the two duos’ boy-girl synthpop dynamics. Yokan System temper that glacial edge though, delivering their music from behind a misty, lo-fi veil, the vocals and synths both adding ambiguity to the sound with a layer of sonic whispers just beneath the music’s surface, while Mai Yano’s vocals lean more towards Cocteau Twins-esque 4AD etherea than Karin Dreijer Andersson’s tormented Kate Bush-like yowl.
In the songwriting, Yokan System are poppy while skirting clear of outright pop songwriting, building their tracks from hooks, drum and sequencer loops and repetitive, mantric vocals in a way that betrays some of Yano and Kameya’s postpunk and krautrock-influenced roots.
Hanging somewhere between dance music and ambient, without ever really committing to be pop music either leaves Yokan System in an odd place in terms of pinning down their sound. The title track’s cascading guitar evokes something of Kyoto-based Japanese chillwave pioneers Hotel Mexico’s breakout international track Its Twinkle, while the propulsive dreampop of the opening Kyo Kyo Ra kicks off the album powerfully. Each track contains within it the seed of something the band seem intent on never quite delivering, drifting dreamlike from one little sonic world to the next without ever resolving the puzzle of the last – like whispered promises that never fully reveal themselves, the promise of the unknown contains within its mystery a beauty of its own.