Sapporo’s Nessie specialise in pastel-sweet avant-pop with a scientific devotion to finding pleasure spots outside the expected. They give you a quietly determined manifesto of what to expect in the opening Kugutsu, with no note ever landing where you expect it, no shift or melodic phrase falling into a familiar shape, the vocals barely on the human side of vocaloid, the faintest hint of melancholy sentiment permeating the emotionless matt plastic of the immaculate delivery. There’s something disconcerting in the way the delivery and production approach with the soft, edgeless tones of background smooth jazz, while the vocal and instrumental arrangements dance around each other disorientating and dreamlike, notes avoiding the music’s underlying chords, different rhythms overlapping, guitar solos spiralling through the middle, free from the distortion pedal mania that afflicts many of Nessie’s math rock contemporaries but discordant and sending you spinning off balance nonetheless. But while these seven songs never come close to doing anything as vulgar as the familiar, they do so in a way that is nonetheless hypnotic, with a precision and perfectionism that hints at something between Steely Dan and Stereolab at the peak of their Sound Dust softness. It comes with an otherworldliness that is all their own though, insinuating itself with a soothing, accessible demeanour, from a Lynchian alternate dimension where pop music is just done differently to here.
Monthly Archives: November 2020
Of all the music released this year in support of Japanese live venues, the venue that has been at the centre of perhaps more (and more interesting) new material than any other is subterranean experimental hotspot Soup in the Tokyo suburb of Ochiai. Their twin Flowers in Concrete compilations were both intriguing and endlessly strange, while individual band releases have included a hypnotic and ghostly new EP by the wonderful Nisennenmondai. Inevitably, most of the material they have released, as with most of the new releases out of Japan this year, have been live recordings and offcuts, and that’s the case with this new, untitled track by noise-rock maniacs Kuruucrew. Originally recorded as a demo for their self-titled 2016 album but newly mixed for release in 2020, this seven-and-a-half-minute track channels the same combination of intensity and metronomic precision in the rhythm, with harsh infusions of anarchic skronk, looping guitar trances and cosmic howls. For all its orphaned status, it’s a powerful and welcome new release from one of Japan’s most exciting bands.
I’ve for a long time felt that Japanese indie and underground music relies too much on a handful of highly-regarded artists from the 1980s and ’90s, and Boris number among those old legends propping up the country’s rock reputation. Boris stand out among their contemporaries in how, for all their broad experimental explorations, still retain the tight focus that enables them to produce singular standout albums like No. From the slow, heavy, crunching metallic footsteps of Genesis to the rat-a-tat hardcore rhythms of Fundamental Error, via the shoegaze-inflected celestial noise that rings through HxCxHxC -Perforation Line-, there’s a rich tapestry of scuzzed-out sounds that Boris are able to turn on a sixpence and charge headlong into with complete mastery. What makes Boris such an extraordinary band, though, is also their ability to pull a variety of these threads together seamlessly — something they do thrillingly on the album’s climactic Loveless, a densely packed six and a half minutes of raucous energy, anchored by the monumental stomp of towering shamanic gods. It’s testament to the ease with which Boris mix and transition between textures that they are able to drift from this moment of colossal guitar torment into the soft dreamscape of the confusingly titled closing Interlude without ever losing the sense that these extremes are natural parts of the same landscape.
With its simple, bouncing, forward-driving rhythm, reverb-heavy guitar chimes and repetitive vocal melody, Nehann’s TEC comes on with some slick, vaguely post-punk-influenced early-2000s indie rock vibes — perhaps a hint of Interpol. And if that’s all there was to it, TEC would be a decent enough track, albeit with a touch of wannabe-ism to it. There’s something else going on too though. With the vocals riding the song’s repetitive groove and not really deviating into anything as elaborate as a chorus, the dynamics of the song are instead broken up by targeted wailing, twirling guitar solo assaults, like teenage boys living out their Luna Sea rawk fantasies. B-side Ending Song, meanwhile, takes a more downbeat turn but still walks a line between stylish indie rock respectability and something more outright melodramatic, on this track recalling the theatrics of Dog Man Star-era Suede or perhaps their Japanese mirror Buck Tick. In this way, Nehann share some similarities with Tokyo contemporaries Stram, who also in their own way combine dark, early 2000s NME-esque, vaguely post-punk tendencies with something a bit more hysterical and glam. In bringing an emotional flourish into music that can easily get wrapped up in an icy sense of its own cool, bands like Nehann may have found the key to unlocking a new audience for music that had in the past often preferred to hold itself aloof.