No.5 – Former Airline – 2011 or so…
Former Airline may have taken his name from a B-side by British postpunk band Wire, but his music is in a broader tradition of experimental rock music that runs from artists like the Silver Apples, through Eno and krautrock, into postpunk, EBM, industrial and beyond. He has been putting out DIY cassettes and suchlike for a while now and 2011 or so… is a collection of material spanning several years. It opens with the musique concréte noise collage Portrait of a City, but gradually dissolves into less sonically uncompromising but no less exciting and interesting territory, with cheap rhythm boxes merging with hazy, ambient synth drones taking over by the time An Incident at the Terminal Beach comes around, while later tracks increasingly incorporate distorted, washes of shoegaze guitar. Taken together, 2011 or so… is an intriguing and quite beautiful musical glimpse into the mind of a mad scientist.
No.4 – The Doodless – Capture
This wonderful CD-R EP dropped into my lap out of what seemed like nowhere at a show early in the year and Doodless (with the double “s”, not to be confused with the more famous Japanese indie band Doodles) instantly became one of my favourite bands. A lot of other people in the music scene I recommended them to felt the same way, so of course what the band did was immediately stop all their activities and fail to capitalise on any momentum they might have got. What that means, however, is that this unashamedly lo-fi collection of off-kilter garage-punk postpunk whimsy is going to be something you and a very small group of others can claim as your own forever now. It’ll be something where you can meet someone and they mention “this Japanese band Doodless with a double-s” and you can say, “Oh, my God, you’re my friend for life!” and move in together and buy a labrador. Read my original review here.
(NOTE: The band’s Bandcamp page has Capture down as a 2017 release, but I suspect that’s a case of New Year forgetfulness, as their Twitter account announced it in January 2018.)
No.3 – Luby Sparks – Luby Sparks
Sounding like it was transmitted directly from mid-90s Britain, there’s always a temptation to dismiss something like Luby Sparks as retro, but if you did, you’d be missing out on some of the most exuberantly lovelorn pop of the year. Read my full review here.Luby Sparks – Thursday
No.2 – The Noup – Flaming Psychic Heads
More a short, sweet mini-album accompanied by an unrelated single than an album outright, Flaming Psychic Heads is a fantastic and long-awaited debut album from Okayana noise-rock trio The Noup. Combining postpunk, post-hardcore and krautrock, the mini-album section is a fierce, driving set embellished with expansive guitar excursions onto almost spacerock territory, most notably on second track Utopia. The band are able to harness and rein in the ferocious energy at their core with thrilling restraint on the electric Monochrome Dead, but when they unleash it, as on the closing Impotents Anaaki, it’s explosive. An additional CD features Geodesic, a percussion-heavy ten-minute track that features echoes of drummer Takafumi Okada’s work with Kansai rhythm collective Goat, with the guitars taking on a sparser role. It’s an interesting track in its own right and a welcome addition to the album, although different enough from the five initial tracks that it’s easy to see why the band might have felt the need to include it as a separate item.The Noup – Impotents Anaaki (single version)
No.1 – Eiko Ishibashi – The Dream My Bones Dream
Images of railway lines run through multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter Eiko Ishibashi’s beautiful, multilayered The Dream My Bones Dream, providing the album with a skeleton of sorts, as well as functioning as the means by which the listener is transported back through a series of faded photographs of unremembered memories. The spectre of Japan’s wartime occupation of parts of China hangs over Iron Veil, a half-imagined memory from Ishibashi’s father’s youth in the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo, but the patchwork of fragmented secondhand memories and dreams mostly takes more abstract shapes, with the album split about half and half between wispy vocal and richly textured instrumental tracks. Echoes of Ishibashi’s experimental work with Merzbow and Jim O’Rourke, there’s a collage-like structure to the way layers of sound intertwine, drifting in and out of focus, and at times Ishibashi seems to treat her own voice as just another of these ghostly elements, her own identity being lost in the series of scattered images flitting by the train window, but the The Dream My Bones Dream has a distinct personality of its own, melancholy but determined, and the journey it takes you on is a thing of extraordinary beauty.