In this section, I’m taking a look at electronic (or including significant electronic elements) releases that don’t sit easily in the club music or pop fields. I know indietronica is a stupid word, but that’s what this is.
BD1982 – Distance Vision
One of the founders of the Tokyo-based Diskotopia label, BD1982 has been a regular feature in the label’s release lineup over the past ten years, but this 2021 album is really a standout. Still based firmly in electronic music, it nonetheless sketches out shapes and colours that echo shoegaze and krautrock, with the blurred boundaries of the vocals, the distorted washes of sound and the occasional dalliances with motorik rhythms. It recalls the less abrasive Hot on the Heels of Love side of Throbbing Gristle too in places, constructing an icy, crystalline dreamworld from glistening synthetic parts.
Buffalo Daughter – We are the Times
To see any sort of optimistic vision of the future, it seems like we have to look further and further back to the past. With We Are the Times, Buffalo Daughter are a band in the 2020s who sound like a band in the 1990s looking back at the 1970s, and even when the world songs like Global Warming Kills Us All describe is a grim one, the vantage point they’ve staked out allows the music itself to look forward with both the clean lines and smooth textures of still-new technology and the inquisitive playfulness of someone given all sorts of disco, math rock and technopop possibilities to explore.
former_airline – The Air Garden
Following on from his 2020 full length album Postcards From No Man’s Land (that I put out from my Call And Response label and which is excellent), this new EP by instrumental bedroom technopunk-krautgazer Former Airline is in familiar territory, touching on all the motorik beats, noisy urban clatter, hazy ambient textures and spacious dub workouts that those who’ve encountered is work before will recognise right away. It’s expertly assembled and makes for a concise calling card for this prolific artist’s larger body of work.
Her Ghost Friend – Itsuka no onshinre
Released as a farewell collection of loose or unreleased tracks to mark the dissolution of the group, this high-sugar dose of ferociously cute, pastel-coloured technopop is going to be too candy-sweet for some ears, but there’s a wonky charm to some of the arrangements and it’s all done in good humour by an act who know how silly they sound and revel in it.
Jesus Weekend – Rudra no Namida
In their first flurry of action back in the early 2010s, Jesus Weekend were always uncertain whether they were lo-fi indie-guitar songwriters or purveyors of quirky, abstract synth instrumentals, but this new incarnation (which seems to now be the instrumental solo project of former vocalist Seira) embraces the synth fully, turning out a sparse, atmospheric and affecting mini-album of ambient music that isn’t afraid to take eerie and unsettling turns.
Mikado Koko – Maza Gusu / Alice in Cryptoland
Mikado Koko is one of the most interesting artists currently firing out album after album of fractured electronic beats and eccentrically delivered poetry into the eager ears of those listeners who can keep up with her. The first of these two 2021 albums is Maza Gusu, a katakana rendering of “Mother Goose” that sets Japanese readings of the famous children’s stories against sinister synth textures and skittering beats. The second takes Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland as its starting point and relocates the action to the metaverse with the help of Penny Rimbaud and Eve Libertine from Crass. Obviously. Obnoxious as NFTs are, it’s hard to fault Mikado Koko her playful and good humoured enthusiasm for them, having gone as far as creating her own pixellated character Alice Voxel to cheerlead them on one song, and really the whole album is dizzy, kaleidoscopic fun throughout.
Susumu Hirasawa – Beacon
A lot of the attention this album by veteran new wave musician Susumu Hirasawa came from his striking performance at Fuji Rock, which due to its high profile YouTube live broadcast, not to mention the pandemic-necessitated all-Japanese lineup that boosted some eccentric acts to unusually high profile positions in the bill, meant the festival offered a fascinating, in-depth and widely accessible view into the Japanese music scene. Susumu Hirasawa has been farming pretty similar musical ground to this since the later days of his old band P-Model in the late-80s and early 90s, which means he knows what he’s doing as he continues refining his Southeast Asian-flavoured operatic synth-techno toolkit. Less easy is describing exactly what that thing is. There are echoes of No.1 in Heaven-era Sparks, but Hirasawa has made this territory his own over the years and there’s really no one like him.
One response to “2021 Japan music roundup: INDIETRONICA”
Pingback: 2021 Japan music roundup: PERSONAL HIGHLIGHTS | Clear And Refreshing