Top 20 Releases of 2015: No.1 – Hikashu – Ikitekoi Chinmoku

Ikitekoi Chinmoku

CD, Makigami Records, 2015

Any Hikashu album would be a contender for album of the year, and it’s only the fact that they come so thick and fast that I haven’t always heard the avant-garde ‘pataphysic rock band’s latest offering in time for compiling these rundowns.

This time round I have, and here it is. I wrote about this album back when it was initially released, and the way its overarching sense of playfulness and fun links together the music that ricochets back and forth between melody and experimentalism continues to elevate it above almost anything else out there. To Hikashu, the tools of pop and the avant-garde are just different elements in the same bag, available for them to reach for at any moment, to achieve a particular effect. At times they seem to have abandoned the idea of composition entirely in favour of this grab-bag of different elements, but they are by now such assured performers that they carry it off with aplomb.

Hikashu: Naruhodo

Frontman Koichi Makigami’s voice remains the group’s most striking and versatile instrument, bouncing back and forth between extraordinary range of sounds, from rich baritone to helium-voiced babble and sandpaper growl. Where his own mouth proves an insufficient tool to achieve the sounds he wants, he is able to draw on a range of other instruments, with theremin and trumpet among the most conventional. He throws it all into the nearly seven-minute Altai Meiso, a virtuoso display of doing everything except pop music and apparently having immense fun doing so.

I keep coming back to the idea of pop music when writing about Hikashu, because no matter how weird they get, the relationship between what they do and pop music is nevertheless ever-present. The moments where more traditional songwriting collides with Hikashu’s more freeform approach are often the most thrilling, with Iroha Moyo recalling a Berlin period Bowie in its mix of jazz-influenced soundscape and tormented, claustrophobic guitar, albeit with a lighter touch and less pervasive sense of portent. Even so, they provide moments of beauty on tracks like Konna Hito, where the band just seem to allow themselves to be pulled where the music takes them, and the more straightforward tracks (this is always a relative term where Hikashu are concerned) like Shizuka na Shaboten provide occasional reminders of what a normal pop song might sound like.

Hikashu are a band whose range continues to grow with every new release, and if anything the pace of their creativity seem to grow faster as they get older. On the basis of Ikitekoi Chinmoku, we should hope they never stop.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Top 20 Releases of 2015: No.1 – Hikashu – Ikitekoi Chinmoku

  1. Jim

    ….. I’m a few days late saying this, but thanks for another round-up with lots of Stuff to hear & to think on. I’ve listened as the posts have come in, and have gone back to check on my first impressions of most things …… at the moment, it doesn’t seem like the richest of years (I’ve scanned a few other Year’s Japan Bests, too).

    No arguments with Hikashu from this corner. By far my favorite of the rest was Mecaniphone (the perhaps least interesting track, “theme”, kept reminding me of something and I haven’t been able to decide what …. Snakefinger’s name popped into my head but I’m not sure why). What did it have that the others lacked? Joy, for one thing … actual songs with contributions from every musician …. life without posturing? Nanka Festa, too.

    There were some others I wanted to like — Yokan System, Sayuu — but couldn’t quite do it, the whole wasn’t as much as the pile o’ parts, maybe?

    What alternatives can I suggest? Not so much, not having heard so much. But ….. Lo-shi’s “Baku” (off-limits to your list) was Excellent, thanks for posting that, probably my number one; what I’ve heard of Tsushimamire’s last album sounds good; “Pick me Up” snapped a string of sorta tepid Perfume singles but of course, no album from that machine.

    Speaking of singles, I’ve been trying to keep up with the torrent of same at SparkPlugged, much dross but some gems; Veltpunch’s “Let it Die” definitely worked for me, how do they fit into your sonic universe?

    Enough. I have food for thought from the list, I await your next discoveries. (Oh — agree totally about Falsettos, brilliant — and how can one drum while bouncing up and down?)

    • If it doesn’t seem like the richest of years, that might be more to do with the sort of stuff I was listening to rather than what was out there. Neither the Make Believe Melodies nor Beehype rundowns had any of the same albums as me, so there’s a whole different world of Japanese music to explore in their lists.

      When you mention “actual songs with contributions from every musician” I think that hits on one feature of this list, which is that a *lot* of it was the work of solo artists (Pika, Lihappiness, Jim O’Rourke, mmm, and SSKHKH really Aiha Higurashi’s solo unit in a lot of ways) and duos (Yokan System, Sayuu, Yolz in the Sky) with very introverted songwriting processes. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it leads to a very focused sort of music, without the sort of buoyancy you get from having a bunch of people all firing ideas back and forth. A big part of the reason DYGL featured so high was because I felt they represented very well a sort of full band sound with a very traditional kind of songwriting.

      Another feature of this lists is the sort of emotional hole that’s left behind by the stuff I released but couldn’t include. If I’d allowed myself to include my own releases, the upper echelons of this countdown would have looked very different. At the very least, we’d be looking at Hakuchi, Looprider and the Small Lights compilation in the top 5, and that’s before I even think about what to do with Lo-shi. The Small Lights compilation especially just had some emotional impact that left everything else feeling quite dry, and the Hakuchi album had an energy nothing else quite touched, while the Looprider album was thoughtful and conscious of itself as a rock album in a way no one else in Japan really does.

      Falsettos released a CD/R EP this year, which qualified for the rundown in theory, but I held back because I know for a fact that they’re planning a full album for this year, possibly drawing on the same recording sessions, and I figured it will be easier to do them justice with a larger body of work on one disc.

      • Jim

        ………… good news re: Falsettos. And I see your point about having to skate around albums that are personally important. (just gave a listen to Hakuchi — how did I miss that first time around?? I like it.)

        I do take a regular look at Make Believe Melodies, but it’s not quite my cup of tea. Even when we like the same artists, Patrick picks the wrong tracks, for me. He seemed a bit offended or frightened by the ambition of Metafive’s “Don’t Move” and then swooned over the simple disco of “Luv U Tokio.” Other way ’round.

        I forgot to mention those two buzz bands with names too long to type (he typed at some length). I got a couple of months out of Gesu ….. but then found meself muttering “where’s the Meat in this Happi Meal?” Great chops, though. As for Suiyoubi …. , something similar applies although their early tracks were better. This album’s hollow. “Ra” is their musical nadir, and not helped by the naffest video made outside of Canada.

        …. and, slightly off-topic, can’t sign off without a loud YES to Sayuri Yanamoto!

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