Monthly Archives: July 2020

Indiepop roundup (Summer 2020)

Tangingugun – Yasui Jumon
Matsumoto, Nagano-based Tangingugun typically trade in laid-back pop melodies delivered through a hazy filter of psychedelic-tinted guitar distortion, the male-female twin vocal interplay between Saori Nakamura and Masashiro Nimi adding an enriching layer of texture to the sound — sometimes trading lines, others intermingled as harmonies, and on Kiri wa Hagureta slipping easily between the two. While there are moments where things step up to a bouncier tempo, as on second track Koumi-machi, the prevailing atmosphere is one of quietly sophisticated, summery melancholy.

Puffyshoes – I Might Be In Love
I wrote about this EP for the Undrcurrents blog’s Bandcamp roundup in June, singling out the simple economy of Puffyshoes’ songwriting in how they create ultra-short lo-fi pop nuggets by focusing in on the hooks and rarely getting diverted once the point has been made. I Might Be in Love also sees the band playing around with other songwriters’ material, as on their joyously ragged-edged cover of The Strangeloves’ I Want Candy, and it’s testament to Puffyshoes’ own songwriting that they can flit between the two seamlessly.

Sloppy Joe – Waiting For The Night Begins
It feels strange to be writing about Sloppy Joe almost ten years after their first album, With Kisses Four, with the same mixture of irony and giddy joy and with almost the same words, but here I am and here is Waiting For The Night Begins. And really it’s like not a moment had passed, which is to say that from the bat it sounds like the meticulous and loving work of a passionately devoted Smiths tribute band. To leave it at that assessment alone would be more dismissive than Sloppy Joe deserve though, and they wear their jangly 1980s indiepop influences so proudly, their love for the sounds, the tone, the inflections and melodic habits of the era running far deeper than Morrissey and Marr — fans of Aztec Camera, The Pale Fountains, early Orange Juice, The Monochrome Set and plenty more will frequently find themselves in a familiar place. Above all, the craftsmanship underlying these songs and their attention to detail is spellbinding, sweeping the listener up in the band’s obvious love for the music — originality be damned.

Half Sports – Intelligence and Delicious
Intelligence and Delicious is Half Sports’ first album since 2014’s Mild Elevation, although a couple of 7-inches have appeared in the meantime, and the propulsive opening Missing the Piece of my Miseries shows the band still have their peculiar cocktail of energetic melancholy, combining punkish 1970s powerpop with shoegazey scuzz and distortion, with the album taking a turn towards the hazier end of that spectrum on Emperor Soy Sauce and leaning on the rockier end on Isolated Facts.

Morningwhim – Talking to Myself / Smoke From Cigarettes
The first of a couple of new releases by Aichi Prefecture’s Morningwhim, this cassette single is perhaps the more immediately striking of the two, with Talking To Myself in particular pushing all the right bittersweet buttons from its heartache chord changes to the slight rough edges of the vocals’ celestial 4AD harmonies. That’s not to diminish the other side, Smoke From Cigarettes, though, which carries a similar scuzzy, jangly garage-shoegaze energy with just as much assurance. The cover art suggests a lingering influence from Pains of Being Pure at Heart, but from the evidence of this, Morningwhim have plenty to offer in their own right.

Morningwhim – Most Of the Sun Shines
In addition to the wonderful Talking to Myself / Smoke From Cigarettes cassette single, Morningwhim also released this 7-inch this spring, with a cleaner, less fuzz-inflected sound, the title track setting an acoustic guitar groove against a haunting synth string backdrop, while B-side Wandering turns up the jangle and chime. This single makes for more of a low-key introduction to the band than the cassette, but demonstrates that their sweetly melodic guitar pop songwriting talents run deep.

Various Artists – Miles Apart Records presents “Moments”
Drenched in nostalgia for times of which most of the featured musicians are too young to have their own memories, this cassette compilation from Osaka-based Miles Apart Records sits somewhere between indiepop in its classic, jangly, Byrds-influenced British 1980s roots and the more recent smooth, soft-focus synth strain where the indiepop venn diagram crosses over with city pop. At the murkier, more garage-influenced end are the likes of Pale Beach and Superfriends, whose respective entries Deadbeat and Fake Flowers have a reassuringly cheap, indie or alt-rock edge to their own particular brand of nostalgia, while Pictured Resort lie at the other extreme, their song Comfortable bittersweet and bathed in soft neon. An interesting entry is Cairophenomenons’ Spring (Moments ver.), its jangly, reverb-soaked guitar pop base elements employed to ends that play out with the sort of VHS-haunted atmosphere that other bands here use synths to evoke, and in the end, the sharper edges this setup gives them to work with helps to offset the cloying mellow their more synthetic peers often veer into.

Chris Jack – Miles to Go
Based in Oita in Kyushu, Chris Jack has a certain low-key notoriety as the guitarist and vocalist of garage rock band The Routes, but in this solo album he trades in the explicitly retro for a sound better characterised as classic with music in a timeless singer-songwriter tradition that could have been from any decade in the past fifty or more years. There’s a refreshing sense of space and warmth to the recording, aided by understated arrangements that may subtly underscore a phrase with organ here and there but mainly work to give the vocals and guitar lines space to walk their gently affecting paths.

Letters To Annika – Letters To Annika EP
Letters to Annika is the name under which Azusa Suga, better known from Tokyo indie rock band For Tracy Hyde, records solo work from his room, with this EP being mostly born out of the semi-lockdown conditions of pandemic Tokyo. Perhaps because of the speed and lo-fi recording conditions under which most of these songs were written and produced, during those curious weeks in April where the pandemic-led disruption to life was as much an interesting shift in perspective as a source of fear, there’s a lightness to this EP that feels both refreshing and somehow restless. Manifesting not only in the faintly washed out, shoegaze-tinged sound but also in the almost panicked urgency of the cranked-up motorik rhythms of songs like Love Song, Tidal and Wavelength, Letters to Annika mixes its reverb-drenched polaroid indiepop nostalgia with an immediacy or even urgency. Also worth attention is the non-EP single Summercrush, released in July, which makes an interesting companion to Letters to Annika, taking the EP’s fuzz and jangle and bringing in an on-trend wash of almost vaporwavesque VHS synth.

Leave a comment

Filed under Albums, Features, Reviews, Track

Punk roundup (Summer 2020)

With the remarkable increase in new music releases finding their way onto the web since the COVID-19 pandemic cut off or restricted live outlets for bands to get their music out to people, it’s been a struggle to keep on top of it all. Punk bands in particular thrive in a live environment, but there’s been a lot of new releases keeping things alive on the noisy side (including a couple from my own label, which I’m not going to be ashamed about sharing here too). With that in mind, here’s a roundup of some of the releases that from the first half (or two thirds or whatever) of this year.

The MSGS – Ghost
Based in Fukuoka, although with guitar/vocal “Mr. Paal” recently relocated to Korea, The MSGS specialise in three-minute blasts of pop-punk that find a neat balance between clean harmonies with razor-cut guitar buzz and just enough of a rough Get Up Kids edge to retain the natural feeling of a band playing the songs together in a room. This means that while songs like opener September Sky are as effective a shot-in-the-arm of hyper-efficient melodic punk as you’ll find anywhere, when the band ease off the gas and give the songs a bit more space to breathe, there’s a mature pop songwriting heart beating there, with third track Victoria in particular embodying the best of both worlds. (Album will be released on August 19th)

Daiei Spray – Behind the Wall
Raucous, punk rock in a Hüsker Dü vein, Daiei Spray’s Behind the Wall is a deliriously rough buggy ride through ramshackle harmonies, distortional detours and rebel yells, from (at least in part) Tokyo’s always reliable Debauch Mood label (who released the My Society Pissed 12-inch also featured on this page). The lyrics ricochet back and forth between Japanese and English anti-authoritarian sloganeering with a thread of almost self-help positive thinking for the rebel masses, while despite the music’s rough-and-ready delivery, there’s also a willingness on songs like Overdone to play with more complex or unpredictable dynamics.

getageta – EP + 7 songs & Hell
This collection of tracks originally recorded around 2013-2014 seems to represent the complete recorded output of this thrillingly unhinged, band. I already reviewed this album as part of the Undrcurrents blog’s second Bandcamp roundup in June, so have a look over there for more of my thoughts.

My Society Pissed – Stomach
Another release featured in my contribution to the Undrcurrents blog’s second Bandcamp roundup in June, this cassette EP by My Society Pissed helped make April a particularly productive month for the band, with their 12-inch also coming out around the same time. A short but versatile blast of off-kilter punk rock, it’s a powerful introduction to the band.

Born Shit Stirrers – Lester
From song titles like Old Punks Are All Cunts and Fuck My Fucking Life you wouldn’t think it, but Lester is in many ways a cheerier, more lighthearted, more functional version of Born Shit Stirrers than they’ve shown us on any of their previous albums. The short, incoherent punk punches to the face are all present and familiar to anyone who’s encountered the band before (despite the promise of its title, the song Two Minutes Back In Hartlepool doesn’t even make it to 40 seconds), but musically the palette is wider, making room for cheesy rock solos, laid-back interludes and even the treacherous territory of pop in places. This isn’t a retreat from the band’s hardcore principles though, so much as a more effective expression of what the band always were. The machine gun etiquette of Born Shit Stirrers’ rage was always self-mocking, with the band themselves as much the butt of the joke for their whirlwinds of impotent fury as the petty grievances of life that they railed against were. On Lester, the band are still losers and scumbags, but we’re all brought just a little bit more in on the joke — and as a result, maybe it’s a little easier to see the squalid Born Shit Stirrer in ourselves.

Sassya- / VACANT – Sassya- x VACANT split
Harsh post-hardcore abrasions juxtaposing explosions of effects-drenched guitar and panic-wrought vocals with tight, sparse, intricate rhythms define Sassya’s approach on the first two tracks of this split EP. Vacant bring a heavier, riff-driven grind to their two tracks, but nonetheless share some if the same mathematical repetition and angular dynamics with their disc-mates. The result is a brutal and caustic sounding EP with music underscored by intricacy and intelligence.

M.A.Z.E. – Tour Tape 2020
This cassette EP was initially meant to support a split tour with US post-punk/no wave band Warm Bodies, which was cancelled due to the onset of Covid chaos this spring. The EP, made of six one-minute shots of brittle, post-punk-tinged garage recordings, has the muddy, fleeting feel of a moment of live energy captured on tape, and looking back over past releases this “this is us, this is what you get” simplicity seems to be the space that the band feel most comfortable in.

LLRR – < = >
Kansai-based LLRR’s background pulls in connections to bands including Tokyo’s Otori, Kobe’s O’Summer Vacation among others, and listeners familiar with those bands will feel get a sense of where LLRR are coming from immediately from the hyperactive, jittery rhythms and Minami Yokota’s shrill chatter that kick off opening track Shūmatsu no Fool. This EP uses those familiar sharp post-punk slashes, wandering bass lines, effects-enriched guitar textures and unpredictable rhythms to carve its own path between the experimental and downright pop. All of which makes < = > an extremely impressive debut, albeit one currently with no physical release, means to purchase online, or full lineup to play live with. The whole EP is available on subscription services though, for those who have access to them.

My Society Pissed – Locked Room
In addition to their Stomach cassette EP, this April also saw My Society Pissed release this six-song EP which expands on the band’s tortured, deviant take on punk rock. Opening song Circle Dancing sets things up with its relentless, doom-laden bass line and scratchy, discordant guitars, while Volcanic Reaction kicks things into a more frenetic pace, while retaining some of the scratchy, disconcerting internal sonic disorder. Throughout the record, the band walk a line between arty post-punk deviation and a core of raw, Stooges-like 1970s rock’n’roll riffs and thrills.

illMilliliter / TG.Atlas – 900%
The first of a couple of releases that I’ve worked on through my Call And Response label here, so think of this less as a review than as just my own insider’s take. This split EP comes from a similar place to the Sassya-/Vacant split earlier on in this article, with both bands taking a post-hardcore approach, playing with the juxtaposition between intricately constructed arrangements and blasts of harsh guitar noise and distortion. Of the two, Tokyo’s illMillliliter take the more precise and minimal approach, the opening Short Sleeper building a menacing quiet/loud dynamic while Powerpoint is uncompromisingly fast and furious, if no less brutally sharp. Hokkaido band TG.Atlas slash their way across the canvas in a more expressionistic fashion, with a similar consciousness of and willing to play with the spaces inside the music, but less mathematical in how they unleash the storms of sonic violence across it all.

jailbird Y – Secret Code Y
Another release from my own Call And Response label, this single by Jailbird Y was originally recorded while on tour in Taiwan last year (the cover photo is of the entrance to Taipei underground record store Senko Issha) and released as a fundraiser for Tokyo live venue Moonstep. The opening Y War combines hyperactive almost bubblegum new wave delivery with hardcore energy, while the second track, Love Letter (a new recording of a song that the previous lineup of the band recorded for their 2017 Sex Trip EP) comes in darker and more portentous, before the band’s anarchic, frenzied approach to song arrangements takes over and wreaks its customary mayhem.

Comments Off on Punk roundup (Summer 2020)

Filed under Albums, Features, Reviews

Panicsmile – Real Life

Since forming in Fukuoka in the early 1990s, one thing Panicsmile have never seemed is comfortable. Contorting punk via twisted no wave, jazz or Beefheartian experimental deviance, taking frequent sharp turns — sometimes driven by member changes, others by founder Hajime Yoshida exploiting the tensions between existing members’ different creative approaches — Panicsmile’s sound has lurched through the past quarter of a century consistently and creatively in an atmosphere of crisis and thrilling urgency.

Their last album, 2014’s Informed Consent, sounded like the result of the band finding its feet with a new lineup after the end of its longest-lasting iteration (featuring guitarist Jason Shalton and drummer Eiko Ishibashi), stripping back to (post-)punk basics and stating to build and contort anew. Since then, the membership has shifted again, with Tomokazu Ninomiya (formerly of Eastern Youth) and Nobumitsu Nakanishi (of indie rockers Iriko) joining Yoshida and drummer Geru Matsuishi in a newly dispersed lineup, with members spread between Tokyo, Nagoya and Fukuoka. Coming into Real Life, it’s tempting to take that dispersed, dislocated nature of the band’s existence as a lens to look at it through, with the band’s disposition towards jittery guitars, off-kilter rhythms and sudden reversals of direction lending themselves to expressions of fragmentation of disunity. Meanwhile, the title combined with the cover’s negative image of a plummeting rollercoaster hints at a reality that’s at least ambiguous and ungrounded, while the decision to close the album with a song called Wonderland suggests that whatever real life the album may be inhabiting is at least one shot through with some ironies.

At the same time, though, Real Life feels strangely comfortable by the band’s own frenzied standards. The disorientating contortions the music goes through are all shapes we’ve seen Panicsmile go through before in one iteration or another, while for all their physical distance, the current lineup are so assured in their craft that it can’t help but come across in the music. All of which leaves the interesting possibility that, despite never really compromising on their dedication to disconnection and disorder, after nearly thirty years being buffeted by forces both social and psychic, Panicsmile might at least be finally getting used to their own demons.

Leave a comment

Filed under Albums, Reviews

Music From The Mars – Every Day and Every Night


Tokyo’s Music From The Mars have roots going back to the eclectic turn-of-the-century Tokyo alternative scene that produced bands like Boat, Natsumen and Mong Hang (Keitaimo from Mong Hang plays bass in Music From The Mars, Kiyoshi Sakai from Boat plays keyboards, while AxSxE from both Boat and Natsumen produced this new single). There’s still a playful prog-rock interplay between multiple elements, brass-buoyed pastoral frolicking one moment, intricate stop-start rhythmical games the next, harsh slashes of punk guitar another, all coming together in a celebratory fashion at the climax. The way Music From The Mars apply near-mathematical technical mastery to essentially easy listening ends means there’s something distinctly Steely Dan about their whole vibe and they don’t shy away from that at all on Every Day and Every Night.

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews, Track

Noiseconcrete – New world chapter 19 EP


Aichi prefecture’s Noiseconcrete has appeared on this site a few times as one half of the duo Noiseconcrete x 3chi5, setting his abrasive inclinations at the nexus of noise, hardcore and industrial off against vocalist 3chi5’s otherworldly vocal wanderings. On this EP we find him unfettered by the soft/harsh dynamic of his other project and diving straight into the pandemic chaos of 2020 with explosive vigour. There have been a few tracks emerging from the Japanese underground that touch on the COVID-19 crisis, especially as more artists adapt to life making music under the radically changed circumstances the scene and its infrastructure finds itself in, but none tackle it as relentlessly and head-on as this EP, which weaves samples of news reports and political statements blandly announcing the creeping disintegration of normal life with short, intense bursts of apocalyptic machine hardcore and tortured electronic noise. The only track that pushes past 90 seconds or so is 3-mitsu, devoted to Japan’s “three Cs” catchphrase of avoiding closed spaces, crowded spaces and close contact — three rules that essentially shut down the entire punk and hardcore scene, which makes it perhaps telling that it’s the only track that really diverges from a hardcore sonic dynamic, instead building through a menacing crescendo of drone as a cacophony of overlapping voices builds in the background. Released at the beginning of May at the peak of Japan’s initial state of emergency, this EP is an eerie and atmospheric reflection of the creeping panic of the pandemic’s early days, infused with its own dry and occasionally goofy sense of situationist wit.

Leave a comment

Filed under Albums, Reviews

STRAM – All Happy


Among the steady drip-drip of young, well-dressed Japanese bands with a vaguely post-punk aesthetic, Stram are interesting at least for the particular niche of old UK indie sounds they recall. Where a lot of their contemporaries, for better or worse, settle for a sonic universe that doesn’t deviate too far from a sort of eternal imaginary Joy Division, Stram’s debut album (recorded by Ryo Shibuya from Klan Aileen) takes you on an entertainingly camp tour through their glam cabaret, with Yutaro Kaneko’s vocals reaching for the melodramatic whine of Suede’s Brett Anderson on second track What Dream Does Idiot See? and other moments in the album recalling the oddball indie meanderings of bands like Mansun or British Sea Power, the gothic drapery of The Horrors, the circus bounce of half-remembered next big things like The Zutons. All of which makes All Happy a joyously messy album that frequently flirts with questionable taste and a constant uncertainty as to just how seriously the band are taking all this glam camp (glamping?) nonsense — for all the fun they seem to be having, they are also constantly a whisker of self-importance away from turning into Muse. Be that as it may, this album — in all its scuzzy, operatic theatricality — is a gift in gloomy times.

Leave a comment

Filed under Albums, Reviews

kikoenaifuriwoshita – fall into a coma

Hailing from Aomori in northeastern Japan, Kikoenaifuriwoshita trade in a sort of wistfully melodic post-pop, blending electronic elements — a beat here, a loop there — with the organic and acoustic. The instrumental third track Suisō represents the softer edge of that approach, with chiming reverberations of soft rock guitar wandering over a simple programmed beat, incorporating a looping piano after a while, then synth as the band continue to add layers. Around that core approach, the band bring in vocals for the song Dancehall no Ame, a cover of Tokyo-based underground singer-songwriter Kenichi Fumoto, while the closing Hoshi ga Shizumu throws an eerie cast on the group’s prog-tinted musical daydreams, stripping away the easy listening soft focus musical elements and letting the effects-drenched textures rise to the surface.

Leave a comment

Filed under Albums, Reviews

Mai Mao – Three directions


Bassist Shizuo Uchida and guitarist Kyosuke Terada are commonly seen faces in the anarchic Tokyo experimental scene, each of them wandering a jittery yet fluid path between projects and one-off collaborations that trend heavy on the free improvisation. And that’s what you get with Mai Mao, recorded at underground-leaning Tokyo live venue Kagurane in early 2020, just as the pandemic state of emergency was falling over the city. In Three Directions, the duo create, and proceed to explore, a sparse, spacious sonic landscape of glistening, sharp edges, depthless yawning crevasses and uneasy creatures of shadows. The 18-minute track also comes in the form of a video by Yutsuki Suyama, whose liquid drop painting throws another eerie dimension on the music’s ghostly explorations.

Leave a comment

Filed under Albums, Reviews, Track

Nisennenmondai – S1 / S2


Experimental trio Nisennenmondai have spent the first two decades of the 21st century taking an already stripped-down sound made of krautrock motorik and Sonic Youth noise squalls, then paring that back into an immaculately wired one-note (literally) disco, before starting to cut away even the vestigial hints of formal structure that lingered on in the beats. And its somewhere in this process that this new EP finds the band, drums slowly emerging into a spectral scream of effects, like the ghost of one of their tightly wound kraut-disco infusions from years gone by desolately clawing at the veil between that lost party world and 2020’s pandemic-locked half-life. It’s perhaps these faintly detectable reminders of a rock band lingering on within the subtle waves of finely balanced tones that keeps the tension at the heart of Nisennenmondai’s music alive, even as they peel back its layers to reveal the echoes within.

Sales from this release go to help one of Japan’s most well loved experimental music venues, Ochiai Soup in Tokyo.

Leave a comment

Filed under Albums, Reviews