Monthly Archives: January 2018

Top 20 Releases of 2017: No.17 – BLONDnewHALF – Clean

blondnewhalf - clean

CD, Dan-Doh Records, 2017

The energy in this new album by Kobe-based garage/postpunk band BLONDnewHALF just doesn’t let up over the course of these sixteen tracks and 44 minutes. From the opening In Order to the closing Nie, it barrels forward driven by frenetic, babbling bass lines and drums that just couldn’t give a fuck, crisscrossed by psychotic slashes of discordant guitar, narrated via a series of unintelligable barks and yaps.

While the energy is relentless, the explosive pace isn’t uniform though, and especially towards the end of the album BLONDnewHALF switch gears, channeling their intensity into the tense krautpunk of Who, the mantric R40 and the scratchy, edgy and wilfully awkward 30nen.

The production on the album is constantly rasping like tortured metal along the recording equipment’s upper limits, like a bus screaming around a speedway track, scraping the crash barriers on every turn and tearing the heads off any waveforms that poke their heads out the windows. Whether you think this is a good thing or bad, it’s nevertheless utterly consistent with the amped-up, bug-eyed, buccaneering way BLONDnewHALF seem to approach everything else about Clean. This album is badass.

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Top 20 Releases of 2017: No.18 – Bossston Cruizing Mania – Idea

bossston cruizing mania - idea

CD, cosmic jackson, 2017

With their first album since 2011’s Loaded, Lowdead, Rawdead, Tokyo-based punk/underground veterans Bossston Cruizing Mania have taken a radical step back to basics with Idea.

Where previously they had traded in a combination of rhythmically complex postpunk and dub, sometimes drawing songs out to ten minutes or more, no track on Idea exceeds three minutes, with arrangements restrained by what seem at first glance to be straightforward punk rock rhythms and chords.

Confusing easy pigeonholing is the role of vocalist Esuhiro Kashima, who continues to rant, Mark E Smith-like, over the music no matter what it’s doing. As a result, even as the music hints at a more conventional structure, it functions more as a backdrop for their poet-savant frontman to deliver his missives – occasionally channeled by the music into something that sounds almost like singing, but nevertheless defiantly shunning anything as obvious as a chorus.

There’s a tension within Idea that feels like a fundamentally weird band trying very hard to make what they think pop music sounds like but only getting it half right. Coupled with the way they are clearly playing deep within their technical abilities, dialing back nearly all of the mathy sensibilities that had characterised earlier albums, there’s a disconcerting sense of a band holding something back.

That’s partly what makes it such an interesting album though. There are already bands in Tokyo like Triplefire who do the snap-tight rhythmical-postpunk-with-rambling-vocals thing about as well as it can be done, but to begin using recognisable chords and dipping their toes cautiously into melody starts to feel like the more radical thing for a band like Bossston Cruizing Mania to do.

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Top 20 Releases of 2017: No.19 – WBSBFK – Open Your Eyes

wbsbfk - open your eyes

CD, Provoke Association, 2017

One of the most interesting developments of 2016 (for this site at least, with all its attendant biases) was the Provoke compilation of young, mostly male postpunk-influenced rock bands. While the compilation itself may not have had a massive impact in the grander scheme of things, it offered a reassuring corrective to Japanese indie’s dreary drift into City Pop Hell. One question it left unanswered at the time was where it could go next.

2017 saw a partial answer to that question with the simultaneous release in November of new albums by two of the Provoke bands, both released through the imprint that had begun with the compilation. Of those releases, Nagoya’s WBSBFK continue most closely in the same vein as the compilation, all spindly, atonal postpunk guitars, jittery rhythms and selfconsciously disaffected vocals.

However, where much of Provoke was drenched in distortion, WBSBFK here are confident enough in their own mastery of Wire-like postpunk dynamics that they seem to feel no need to hide within a tornado of effects. The result is a short album of ten songs in just over twenty minutes that trade in visceral energy for sparseness and sophistication, each song a jagged clockwork machine in monochrome. In an era where feelings are frequently taken as the alpha and omega of cultural import, it’s a special kind of pleasure that can be taken from music that is simply interesting.

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Top 20 Releases of 2017: No.20 – Hanazono Distance – Hachi

hanazono distance - hachi

CD, cat&bonito,  2017

The follow-up to this Shikoku-born, Tokyo-based prog/post-rock trio’s 2016 debut Oni no Hao Team, Hanazono Distance show clear signs of development on Hachi while retaining the same playful balance of experimental rock and breezy, nursery rhyme-like, piano and melodica doodles.

There’s always something fundamentally simple anchoring Hanazono Distance’s songs, providing solid ground for usually the piano to perform some elaborate acrobatics. On Vanilla a single note on a squelchy synth bass plays that role, while on Shanai it’s a toy-soldier march on the drums while the 16-bit Final Fantasy-esque keyboard line descends into meowing distortion.

While the band use vocals on occasion to provide texture for their songs, it’s piano that really sings, with rich-toned synth-bass increasingly acting as a sonic foil to the more organic sounding (although still synthetic) piano melody lines. Within the dynamics of the music, however, it is more often the drums that challenge the piano for control of the listener’s attention, slipping with jazzy complexity through Gyaru and driving Charibu forward with frenetic energy.

While productionwise the recordings don’t pop as much as they perhaps could, the performances are uniformly exceptional and the combination of technical virtuosity and playful imagination Hanazono Distance bring to the table should be enough to recommend them under any circumstances. What makes Hachi an additionally happy experience is that it shows the band aren’t content to tread water, but rather they continue to experiment and explore.

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