Category Archives: Features

Top 30 Releases of 2020: No. 5-1

5. tentative four – tentative four
The rush of releases that came out in 2020 as a result of the pandemic brought a lot of rough, unfinished-feeling material that worked more as a statement of defiance than a finished work of art. Coming out just before that panicked environment emerged, this self-titled cassette EP by Tokyo’s Tentative Four nonetheless felt like part of the same sort of torn picturebook creative world, bringing together scuzzy post-punk, chopped and screwed pop distortions and remixes in a way that shares a similar careless disregard for traditional genre as people like the Discipline crew (who share the venue Koiwa Bushbash as a home base with Tentative Four and whose compilation album was reviewed earlier in this rundown), albeit with slightly less stylish gloom and more of the anarchic spirit of early Boredoms. Listening back at the end of the year, it’s an EP that’s rough and viscerally tearing at the sinews of boredom, exploding with promise that makes a virtue of its fragmentation and mocks your expectations at every turn.

More on this release here.


4. Phew – Vertigo KO
Given its origin among recordings made over a period of years and emerging from the sessions surrounding a few different albums, much of the talk around this album by punk-era experimental legend Phew has described it as an album of offcuts. This is understandable, and often a neat way of setting up a narrative twist into the review’s main business of praise (which is kind of what I’m sneakily doing here), but rather than offcuts, the way this album makes most sense is as a consolidation of the journey Phew’s music has taken over the uneasy decade since the tsunami and Fukushima nuclear disaster, reflecting the psychic landscape of the times as she works her way through various approaches (analogue synths, layers of ghostly vocal overdubs, confusion and dislocation, echoes of the post-punk era), moulding them into a singular vision that is both immediate and shrouded in echoes of another place and time. Rather than the fragmented image suggested by the word “offcuts”, Vertigo KO anchors a decade of Phew’s work in one coherent self.

More about this release here.


3. Ai Aso – The Faintest Hint
Acoustic singer-songwriters in the Japanese indie scene rarely register much with me, but this album by Ai Aso — with able and admirably restrained assistance from Sunn O)))’s Stephen O’Malley — is heartbreaking in its simple, sparse beauty. On tracks like Scene (one of two tracks featuring Boris as backing band) it recalls the most understated and minimal moments of Movietone circa The Sand and The Stars, leaving the listener to luxuriate in the moonlit pools of space between subtly distorted notes. A rare and precious record.


2. PUBLICS. – illusion zone
This collision of post-punk, industrial and EBM from Kyoto’s Publics was, like the in some ways similar Ziguezoy EP from earlier in the year, first and foremost an inspiring promise of parties to come, and what a party it promises! At the close of a year in which we lost DAF’s Gabi Delgado Lopez, the emergence of brutal, thumping electric body music like this out of the Japanese underground scene not only has a certain poignance but also an added urgency given the fragility the pandemic has revealed in our music and party infrastructure. It’s also music driven by an unmistakably diseased, dystopian sort of spastic panic, neon green electric splashes of colour and post-human shrieks over a relentless piledriving industrial throb. This is a strange sort of illusion zone, but at least some of us are holding on for it to become a reality.


1. Hanauo – Five Fold Finders For Flower Fish
A time capsule from the past, unearthed fresh and warm as the day it was first made, this long-lost album, recorded at the turn of the millennium and left unreleased for twenty years, emerged just as the sound that it had worn new was starting to become nostalgically fashionable once more and it was a delight. Gentle, warm, twin guitars cast an autumnal sepia glow over the unhurried melodies, carving out easygoing Television and Lou Reed hooks, riding them in softly mantric, repetitive, overlapping grooves. Vocals hang loose, making their presence felt with a close-up sonic intimacy delivered from a cool emotional distance. This mixture of cool warmth, sonic intimacy, and gently psychedelic repetition marks Hanauo as a close Japanese parallel to The Beta Band, touched by the evening glow of Yo La Tengo — all brought together most impressively on the beautiful Low Way. And if it all doesn’t sound ‘90s enough for you yet, there’s a Pavement cover on there.

More on this release here.

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Top 30 Releases of 2020: No. 10-6

10. Barbican Estate – Barbican Estate
This cassette EP was one of the year’s early delights, introducing a band who radiate promise at a time when the future seemed to be closing down rapidly. Barbican Estate released another three excellent new songs over streaming services, but the dark, dramatic psychedelic 4ADream with which they introduced themselves was a powerful statement you can actually own.

More about this release here.


9. nessie – salvaged sequence
Hailing from Sapporo on the northern island of Hokkaido, Nessie are a curious and subtly uneasy band — smooth and clinical in their delivery but fanatically dedicated to upending every possible expectation in their melodies and rhythms. They were featured on the Mitohos compilation featured earlier in this list and definitely fit in with the curious musical Galapagos ecosystem that album sketches out, but their queasy art-pop witchcraft is all of their own.

More about this release here.


8. Nisennenmondai – S1 / S2
Released to raise money for underground music spot Ochiai Soup, these two long tracks add up to an EP formed of the ghostly outlines of rock music, where the band’s minimal structures sketch out the spaces where parties might once have lived. Needless to say this was one of the most 2020 releases of the year.

More about this release here.


7. Eiko Ishibashi – Orbit
Like her frequent collaborators Tatsuhisa Yamamoto and Jim O’Rourke, Eiko Ishibashi filled 2020 with a string of experimental online releases, comprising six albums and album-length works. In that sense, picking just one from this series of undeniably individual yet also semi-permeable entries feels like it diminishes the context in which they arrived. That said, if I was to pick just one, Orbit, which snuck in towards the end of the year, takes the listener on perhaps the most extraordinary journey across the most expansive terrain. Ishibashi is an artist whose singer-songwriter material and experimental work feel increasingly part of the same dreamlike continuum — something she shares with Riki Hidaka (with whom Ishibashi and Jim O’Rourke collaborated this year on another impressively textured soundscape) — and Orbit is perhaps the place where that can be felt most strongly, the music frequently falling within gauzy visibility of the spaces you could imagine her vocals beginning to play.


6. meiteimahi – Aru Bakuhatsuteki na Nani ka
This EP/mini-album from newcomer duo Meiteimahi was one of the year’s most unexpected delights — a raw, tortured but playful and obliquely catchy collection of songs that recalls early Phew (including her Aunt Sally days) and on third track Kubi the insistent clang of This Heat, but nonetheless sounded completely at home in the unreal permanent hangover of 2020 Tokyo. Beginning its course deep in a pit of drunkenness, derangement, squelchy synths and distortion, it gradually emerges into something sweeter, although no less distorted and psychedelic, and with a lingering trail of corruption at the end.

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Top 30 Releases of 2020: No. 20-16

20. Coet Cocoeh – Anthology
Coet Cocoeh (the Coet usually seems to be silent) is the name under which Masami Takashima of avant-pop trio Miu Mau released her solo work prior to 2016’s Fake Night, and while she put out a string of luxuriously smooth singles under her own name over the course of 2020, this collection of her earlier lo-fi work was a particularly striking release. Most of the releases these tracks are drawn from are only available on difficult-to-find CDs or CD-Rs, so this collection, while by no means complete, is a gorgeous collection of sweetly transparent hypnagogic pop.



19. Various Artists – We Need Some DISCIPLINE Here.
This compilation blurs and screams through several genres, but is unified by its curators’ dedication to manic, elegantly scruffy darkness, all of which adds up to a mood that’s harsh, chaotic, sometimes experimental, sometimes brutally on the nose. Taking its name from a Throbbing Gristle reference, it channels metal, grindcore, noise, drone, EBM, no wave and scuzzed-out electronic influences into the raw (although at the same time assiduously style-conscious) disaffected hedonism of an abandoned factory rave in a 1980s B-movie dystopia.


More about this release here.


18. NOISECONCRETE x 3CHI5 – Chiisana Moment
This Nagoya/Aichi duo comprising noise/hardcore sonic terrorist Noiseconcrete and witchy vocalist 3chi5 (also of the excellent Ghilom) established themselves on their first two albums with an atmospheric sound that mixed industrial beats with the spectral vibes of trip-hop. 2020 seems to have seen the sound branch off in different directions, firstly with a ferocious COVID-themed Noiseconcrete solo album, followed by a very interesting Bandcamp release of some of the duo’s more experimental side. This album, released in December in collaboration with the new OOV label, takes the band’s beat-led sonic sorcery down a route that sees their earlier echoes of the Bristol sound flower into a sort of sparse drum’n’bass combined the shimmering synth tones reminiscent of European 1980s minimal wave (hints of Bene Gesserit on the track Bokura Kurage perhaps). A 15-minute live extract closes the album out, but rather than simply appearing as a bonus to flesh out the album length, also serves to link the album back to the duo’s earlier material and flesh out the spaces between the skipping beats, minimal wave synths and sequencers, and lingering industrial throb.


17. Riki Hidaka + Tatsuhisa Yamamoto – decalcomania
Until now rarely the name above the title in the Tokyo experimental music scene, Tatsuhisa Yamamoto chose the locked-down environment of 2020 as his time to take the limelight, releasing eleven or so albums (or album-length releases at least) this year under his own name. With that in mind, it feels a little like missing the bigger story to focus on this collaborative release with guitarist Riki Hidaka here. Nevertheless, the two artists are well matched on Decalcomania, with Hidaka’s sometimes harsh guitar tones subdued in Yamamoto’s mix, brought out to provide raw texture to the submersing synthesiser waves.


16. Gezan – Klue
I’ve always had mixed feelings about Gezan. Starting out bringing a fun, raucous sort of Kansai Zero Sedai sort of theatrical junk with occasional nudity, they gradually became one of the great hopes of Japanese underground music, achieving borderline mainstream popularity with some decidedly pop-leaning efforts, while continuing to use their newfound influence to promote the underground scene around them in a way that so few other bands manage. I was settling into seeing them as something like an underground Asian Kung Fu Generation — audience-friendly but middle-of-the-road (and often frankly inane) pop-rock tunes combined with a genuinely admirable attitude towards the independent music scene — but Klue surprised me by turning out to be a genuinely exciting record on pretty much any level you look at it.

The deep turn into dub and psychedelia brings a richer, multilayered sound from which some truly explosive moments emerge, as well as being (a couple of grating exceptions aside) a far more comfortable background territory for Mahito The People’s anarcho-chipmunk vocals. It’s also a sound that suits on a quite fundamental level the mood and atmosphere of the album’s main muse: the city of Tokyo. And despite their origins in Osaka, it’s the band’s current home of the capital that really feeds this album, running through the veins of its grinding, pulsing rhythms and layers of noise and effects. It’s the primary lyrical focus as well, pulling political concerns from the world scale all the way down to everyday existence in the shadow of the machinery of the status quo, which also by the same nature represents a focus and crucible for the possibility of revolutionary change. Klue is an ambitious and timely album, as well as a striking expression of musical maturity from one of Japan’s most important current bands.

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Top 30 Releases of 2020: No. 25-21

25. kasuppa – the half you left and right
Kasuppa have been around for a while in the local indie scene in their hometown of Kobe and nearby Osaka, but not yet made much of an impact more broadly. This ambitious two-parter would have been a great opportunity for them to spread their wings had fate not intervened, and it remains a strong indie rock stsatement, its sparse, rough-edged appeal given a warm intimacy, with some thanks for that perhaps due to engineer Ryohei Tomomatsu and mixing/mastering engineer Ryo Watanabe (of alt-rock/post-punk veterans Convex Level). The way it was released on two CDs despite fitting easily on one gives it the feel of an old vinyl double-album and emphasises the independent (if related) identities of the “left” and “right” discs. Quite what each disc signifies is open to interpretation, with the “left” side seeming to focus on the blankness left behind by a failed relationship, while the “right” side seems to circle around the feeling of being trapped, not entirely unwillingly, in a relationship that won’t end. A garden of forking paths look at two possible results of a troubled affair? Two sides of the same breakup? In any case, these divergent takes on alienation and disaffection provide subtly different emotional climates for each. While the second disc deploys more fuzz and distortion, it would perhaps have been interesting had the band pushed this duality further by pushing more distinctive sonic approaches to the two discs as well, but their brand of cosy indie rock with art-punk edges is nonetheless an appealing partner on the whole journey.


24. My Society Pissed – Locked Room
There’s a looseness to My Society Pissed that sets them apart from a lot of their Japanese punk contemporaries, pulling them away from hardcore into something more primal and less dogmatic. This 12-inch opens with a distinctive and drawn out, distorted groove before it gives the listener any easy punk thrills, while on tracks like Arms of Solid, there’s a garage-rock bounce to the heartbeat that helps give Locked Room the freshness and freedom from the genre’s own locked rooms that reminds me of those 1970s punk records from before even the punks themselves really knew what punk was.


More about this release here.


23. Loolowningen & The Far East Idiots – Anökumene
Tokyo-based trio Loolowningen & The Far East Idiots trade in rhythmically quirky but melodically accessible music, both experimental and playful, shot through with humour and a philosophical whimsy that occasionally shades into melancholy. Also notable as cheerleaders for other like-minded artists around Japan (via their own Mitoho Sessions events and last year from the related Mitohos compilation), they make something that could be difficult approachable and welcoming.

Read more about this release here.


22. Ryo Okada – outerzone
As the guitarist from psychedelic post-punk trio Extruders, Ryo Okada is responsible for a lot of the sparse, meandering misdirections of the band’s sound, so it’s perhaps natural to expect that, stripped of the formal structures and rhythms of songs, his solo work revels in the space. What he does with that space is craft eerie moonscapes just beyond the reach of daily existence — the disorientating ambient outerzones to the Burroughsian interzones he carves out with the Extruders’ oblique take on rock. Compared with its companion, the (also excellent) Snow Mountain EP that Okada released earlier in the year, Outerzone is sonically deeper and more abstract, less a transmission from behind the veil than a transformative energy that wraps you in its alien psychosphere.


21. Sloppy Joe – Waiting For The Night Begins
It’s impossible to talk about Sloppy Joe without mentioning all the bands they sound like, but they’d never get away with it if the songwriting fundamentals that underscore the jangle and Mozzy hoots weren’t exquisite. They will always be something of a guilty pleasure for me, but the arrival of this unexpected comeback album in the summer of 2020 meant that pleasure landed with extra unrestrained force. Every chime is an immaculate delight.

More on this release here.

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Top 30 Releases of 2020: No. 30-26

2020 was a year in which I both discovered and experienced music primarily from the confines of my home, cut off from the thrill and physicality of the live show and the intangible thread that ties the recording to that experience. I also spent a lot more time and money exploring new releases from overseas this year, which brought their own revelations and frustrations about the strengths and weaknesses of the Japanese music scene. So all that may have added up to me listening to music in slightly different ways last year, while spending most of it locked indoors (live events continued in a limited manner around Tokyo and elsewhere in Japan, but I mostly steered clear, producing a few audience-free shows for live broadcast and curating some home recording projects to raise money for local venues) created its own psychic pull towards both ambient sounds and those that held out the angry promise of parties to come. The slow drip, drip, drip of deaths, some hastened by COVID-19 – Gabi Delgado Lopez, Cristina, Ennio Morricone, Harold Budd, Andy Gill, Tony Allen, among too many others – brought an unintended poignance to some of the new music I heard last year as well.

Meanwhile, Japan embraced online music in a way it had previously been slow to accept, with quiet times in the live scene seeing a lot of Bandcamp releases, either by bands or in the form of compilations put together by struggling venues. Streaming subscription services like Spotify grew too, with some bands seeming to find them a more acceptable partner for the physical releases than Bandcamp, which perhaps has a less professional image to some and threatens to chip into physical sales for others. For what it’s worth, I’m resistant to Spotify’s model of making us all unpaid salespeople, driving listeners to their service, so if you want to find any of this music there, you can search it yourself and enjoy at your leisure, but the only links here are basically going to be Bandcamp or sometimes YouTube. I know it’s annoying, but carrying all these snotty, impotent principles about ownership of music infrastructure is annoying for me too, so live with it as I have to. Ha.

Anyway, on with the countdown.


30. Limited Express (Has Gone?) – The Sound of Silence
Limited Express (Has Gone?) are are by now reliably deranged mainstays of the Japanese punk and underground scene, and this short mini-album or long EP is a welcome check-in with some new material from the band, its breakneck, easily-distracted, chatterbox party-punk coming quite comfortably off the back of their last full-length, 2016’s All Ages. The title of the album comes from the Simon and Garfunkel hit of the same name, which might seem like an odd reference for a frantic punk whirlwind like Limited Express, but they nonetheless tackle the song with a surprisingly straight cover to close the album. Whatever their reason, it hangs poignantly in the midst of the personal isolation and closed venue doors that many in the music scene find themselves dealing with (although Limited Express themelves have been one of the more energetic bands on the circuit in hurling themselves into shows where possible). The song’s lyrics also speak to an undercurrent of political voices that are increasingly unsatisfied with being unheard on a range of issues as the pandemic crisis persists, which may point to interesting times ahead as the music scene in Japan reassembles itself.


29. Ziguezoy – Cherish Your Teeth
Sitting somewhere between European minimal synth letter-jumbles like NDW, EBM etc. and Japanese multicoloured techno candy vomit, Ziguezoy is a theatrical force of nature onstage and an anarchic explosion of megaphone barks, unforgiving mindless beats and anime synth sparkles on record. Cherish Your Teeth revels in cheapness but the broad strokes it daubs these songs in are nonetheless powerful, atmospheric and well balanced, with third track 114,198,239 demonstrating a deceptive subtlety even as the closing Mo-da-finil drags the EP screaming back into defiant DAF territory (Sex Unter Wasser to be specific). More than anything, Cherish Your Teeth is a fierce and gloriously trashy party waiting for us whenever we escape from pandemic times.


28. Takeshi Yamamoto – Gaslight
A more focused effort than his 2019 solo album Somewhere, Gaslight’s ideas radiate out confidently through four long tracks rather than its predecessor’s fragmented collection of ideas. As a result, it loses some of the appeal found in those two-minute ambient quirks but instead, those little ideas now glow and resonate in bolder-strokes as Yamamoto develops each into a richer and more encompassing embrace, still both delicate and simple. There are people doing more elaborate and technically intricate things with ambient and drone in the Japanese underground, but the shimmering warmth of Gaslight appeals precisely because of how plain and unembroidered it is.


27. LLRR – < = >
The six songs of this EP make for a release that’s short and sharp yet never repetitive, intricately and precisely structured yet explosively energetic. With origins that share ex-members with similar bands like Otori and O’Summer Vacation, there’s a familial resemblance in the manic, shrieking art-punk nuggets they produce, and it’s done superbly here. The only problem with < = > is that it’s currently more of a streaming services thing rather than something you can own (update: just found that Japanese download site Ototoy sells it, as does iTunes, so you can at least own a digital version if you hunt it down). Fingers crossed for a physical edition this year though, because this is marvellous.

More about this release here.


26. Forbear – 10songs
Perhaps the sweetest, sharpest and most to-the-point Japanese indie rock album of the year, 10songs rides the line between Bob Mouldesque (Bob Mouldy?) punk-derived fuzzy pop-rock and shoegaze through its run of scuzzy, hook-laden, two-and-a-half-minute nuggets.

More about this release here.

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COVID compilation roundup (Summer 2020)

In the months since the COVID-19 pandemic hit Japan, the situation has been tough for live music venues, with support from the government inconsistent, often poorly publicised, and generally either unavailable or difficult to obtain. As a result, many venues and artist collectives have produced compilations so that fans can contribute to keeping the infrastructure alive, even as the authorities give up on attempting to contain the pandemic. As with many compilations, the music is often scattershot and of variable quality, but this flood of releases is also bringing to light for the first time a lot of music that has been hidden in soundproofed boxes and known only to small word-of-mouth groups, leading to a paradoxical situation where the Japanese music scene is turning inwards into more specifically local- and scene-focused production at the same time that it is also turning much more openly outwards by making such vast quantities of music available online to anyone in the world who wants to explore it. I have personally been involved in a few of rough-and-ready projects of this type, which I have indulged myself by adding at the end of this feature for anyone who gets that far, but there is so much to cover in here that you will be listening for weeks to even dent this undoubtedly incomplete roundup of what’s been going on since this spring.

Navaro Compilation
Put together by the venue Navaro in Kumamoto, this compilation paints a quite extensive and wide-ranging portrait of the music scene in a part of Japan that doesn’t usually get a lot of attention except whenever a natural disaster sweeps through and wrecks everything (as an earthquake did to Navaro’s old location in 2016). The real standouts are the deranged live cuts from experimental rock bands Doit Science and Ishiatamazizo, but the album takes a fascinating trip through the feelgood pop-rock of The Heightz, the stripped down stoner hip-hop of Griner feat Blueprint, the grimy, sparse post-hardcore of Mul-Let-Ct2, the understated sweet-sour melancholy of Neuesanssouci and much more.


O2O2 the eyes behind the eyes
One of the releases picking up a lot of buzz this summer, this compilation seems to have been produced to raise money for a range of venues and stores around Japan — only available on CD directly from the participating businesses. It generally leans in a pop-rock/pop-punk direction but it’s the places where it deviates from that where it becomes most interesting, with Deride’s two raucous, ferocious hardcore tracks and the anarchic disorder of Office Voids’ Hatarakitakunai providing a much needed harsh edge, while Passing Truth Drive’s Dystopia is an interesting closing track, combining a simple, affecting electronic loop with what sound like the vocals of a closing time drunk, evoking a strangely touching combination of sweetness and disintegration.
(CD only – no digital version available.)

soko ni iru 1 / soko ni iru 2
These two compilations were put together by indie hub Give Me Little More in Matsumoto, centred around local acts from Nagano Prefecture but expanding its reach to include artists from around Japan and the world that have a connection with the venue. With these kinds of compilations, it’s always interesting to see what they reveal about the personality of the venue. Big city venues can afford to focus on one particular genre, while those in smaller towns generally need to be more open, but a mood or character often emerges nonetheless. In Give Me Little More’s case, it seems to be an atmosphere of restraint and slightly lonely distance, whether in the quirky bedroom new wave of Oshaberi Art, the fragile balladry of Nicholas Krgovich, the dislocated pop of Tangingugun (Give Me Little More owner Masashiro Nimi’s own band), Yumbo’s curious combination of spoken word and melancholy brass, Daborabo’s found-sound collage or the indiepop of Her Braids’ Forest, with its opening guitar that threatens to turn into The Stone Roses’ Made of Stone but then takes a turn in its own achingly lovely direction. Of the two collections, the first is perhaps the more wide-ranging in tone and the second the more subdued, but the tone across both albums is surprisingly consistent.

Songs For Our Space
This compilation put together by the Rokoh label was made in support of the Save Our Space campaign, which has been lobbying government agencies for support for the music scene since the beginning of the pandemic in Japan and offers its own lens on Tokyo’s impossibly chaotic and diverse underground music scene. Rokoh founders Daiki Kishioka and Seven both appear at different ends of the sonic spectrum, Kishioka in a stripped down acoustic version of his band Strip Joint, and Seven with the thump and hiss of the pragmatically titled Zatsuon Jikken_NoiseExperiment_2_01_live_premix, and this diversity is reflected across the album. This is perhaps a manifestation of the disinterest in genre among a lot of the young musicians in Tokyo right now, as well as the chaotic immediacy of the circumstances under which the album was created. And there’s a strong scent of lockdown about this release, with songs like TYO COVID-19 by Sai (from Ms. Machine) explicitly referencing the situation and Deathro’s contribution revelling in its home recording setup with its aggressively cheap sounding drum machine beat, meaning that just a few months after its release it already has the feeling of a historical document — a blurred snapshot of a music scene reacting in a moment of confusion.

#repartures for huckfinn health and empathy
Released to raise funds for Nagoya live venue Huck Finn, this compilation draws primarily from the Nagoya and Aichi indie and underground scene, with the low-key acoustic balladry of Gofish and the always excellent Yoshito Ishihara sitting alongside the dark or oblique post-punk shapes of The Act We Act and Vodovo. As with the Songs For Our Space compilation, Deathro makes a lo-fi appearance from his bedroom, while Fucker (Less Than TV label boss Jun Taniguchi) closes the album off with his own raw, tortured acoustic effort on an album that happily ricochets between punk, folk and anarchic nonsense with little regard for genre logic but clearly having fun in its own alternative community.

Namba Bears Omnibus “Nihon kaihō”
One of the Japanese underground scene’s most legendary live venues, Namba Bears in Osaka more than any album in this feature brought out the big hitters for this fundraiser compilation. Psych-rock druids Acid Mothers Temple, experimental shamans OOIOO, brevity-loving noisenik Masonna, avant-maniacs Oshiri Penpenz, the analogue glitches of YPY, and current Osaka breakout stars (and seemingly the main organisers this compilation) Gezan all make an appearance. That alone should be enough to demand attention, but a little deeper there are some gems too. KK manga and Yaho, the latter of whom also make an interesting appearance on #repartures, both deal out some truly demented noise-soaked gibbering hardcore. Metamyura Gunupiko aka Nakabayashi Kirara’s Shūchō no Musume is an extraordinary track, kicking off with an intro drawn straight from German EBM legends DAF’s Die Rauber und Die Prinz, it combines synth minimalism with traditional Japanese folk music, taking both down a number of unexpected diversions. There’s a lot going on over these eighteen tracks, and it’s all worth exploring.

From the Heart of Chiba – Anga Support Compilation
Chiba is in the uncomfortable position of being a big city that’s just close enough to Tokyo that a lot of its music culture tends to get absorbed by its larger neighbour to the west. Sen City Records is in part an attempt to create a small centre of musical gravity in Chiba City for local alternative music and occasionally drag some music back across the border, and this live compilation (all songs were recorded at Sen City events) makes for an interesting document of the scene they’re creating there. Tokyo punk and oddball bands like P-iple and Emily Likes Tennis make an appearance, but the core of the album is the Chiba-based acts. This contingent includes a strong core of non-Japanese residents (the straight-up Nick Lowe powerpop of Talent Show in particular stands out) who help bring the album a drunken pub rock atmosphere that plays well with the eccentric punk of Japanese acts like Katakana, who veer between ranting disorder and Jitterin’ Jinn-like ragged J-pop, and the anarchic new wave noise of Bunga Bunga. As a live album, it’s as rough-edged as you might expect and perhaps aimed more at recalling the raucous energy of event nights for those familiar with the scene Sen City have built up around the venue Chiba Anga than providing a polished introduction for casual listeners. As with many of these compilations, however, it is also celebratory in the specificity with which it pulls focus on the goings on in a particular neighbourhood and scene — something made all the more immediate by the live recorded format.

2021survive
One thing that the music scene’s response to the pandemic has brought into focus is which venues have really come to foster loyalty from the artistic communities around them. In Tokyo, venues like Bushbash in Koiwa and Soup in Ochiai have been the focus of a lot of support from artists they have helped support. Hatagaya Forestlimit seems to have a particularly diverse range of fans, and this album, produced over a 24-hour period in May, leans hard on autotune-heavy hip-hop trackmakers, with S亜TOH contributing to most tracks, while Andrew from Trekkie Traxx is perhaps the album’s most high profile contributor. Miru Shinoda x Sai’s Hej Då, meanwhile, provides the album’s sole punkish deviation with its scuzzy on-the-beat electro drive as it encourages someone to “Fuck off, you piece of shit”, offering a welcome souring to the album’s mellow.

Flowers in Concrete -Side Japan-
Ochiai Soup is probably the most essential spot in Tokyo for Japan’s experimental and noise scene, and this June compilation (released side by side with a compilation of international artists) draws from that community, making the album not just a fundraiser but a powerful statement of identity for the venue. There’s a thrilling variety on display here, even within the acts who take more of a pure noise approach — compare the low-end sonic landslide of P.I.G.S. with the liquid analogue squelches of Government Alpha — while tracks by GC Skull Electronics, Kazumoto Endo and Kazuma Kuboto build an unsettling atmosphere in the way they all, in varying ways, take slashes of ragged noise that dissolve into quietly sinister electronic throbs or moans. Endo’s track stands out in particular as a finely wrought, panic-inducing, electrifying album highlight, although Flowers in Concrete -Side Japan- is rich enough that repeat listens will surely shine fresh light on moments throughout the album.

2020,the Battle Continues
This monthly ongoing compilation series put together by the venue Earthdom in Shin-Okubo, Tokyo offers a daunting avalanche of punk, hardcore and noise-rock from an extraordinary array of artists — Volume 1 alone runs to two and a half hours, one third of which it taken up by two collaboration tracks between Sunn O))) and Merzbow — although that also means the series offers a deep and wide insight into the noisy extremities of contemporary Japanese underground rock. While Volume 1 is certainly the longest and features more of the most obviously well known names (Boris, The Genbaku Onanies and Struggle For Pride also make an appearance), each of the three currently existing collections provides a relentless, explosive barrage of earsplitting, brain-melting sonic terror in a spread of subgenres that generally have the root “core” in the name. Dive deep and you’ll start to find crossovers with other compilations in this list, with artists like Fucker and Deathro reappearing here, while Iron Lung’s entry was actually recorded at Nagoya Huck Finn, indicating that despite many of these compilations’ extreme local focus, there are nevertheless creative networks at play that extend throughout the country and which many of these venues play an important role in supporting.

Internal Meeting Compilation
Another Nagoya-based compilation, much of this album, compiled in support of the Venues KD Japon and Daytrip, takes far more of a mainline J-pop/rock approach, especially compared to the punk, folk and experimental anarchy of the same city’s #repartures compilation also covered on this page. This sort of music, which is modelled on the coat tails of more or less mainstream Japanese music (the Rock In Japan/Quruli vision), is a thread that this site rarely takes the time to cover, but which is perhaps inevitably the greater portion of what constitutes Japanese indie. That’s not to say there aren’t alternative ideas going on in a lot of these tracks though, and as the album progresses, so its palette widens with the hyperactive drums, shoegaze-tinted textures and Thom Yorke vocals of Muscle Soul’s Stand Alone, the post-rock sonic towers of Ulm’s Flood of Light or Ophill’s closing am5, the precise, intricate rhythmical interplay of Qulaque’s Kiló and the ultra sparse acoustic approach of Miyafuji Sakae. At its heart, though, Internal Meeting Compilation represents the pop-rock, singer-songwriter middle-ground of Japanese indie rather than its more experimental or progressive fringes, and in that makes for a pretty accurate image board of core playing field of Japanese pop and rock in the 21st century.

Drunk Ambient Moods 1
This is one of of a handful of compilation projects in this feature that I myself had a hand in, having contributed to one of the tracks and the money raised being donated to a campaign I  manage for a trio of small music bars in the Koenji neighbourhood of Tokyo. Pipo Records is defiantly its own thing though — a new Tokyo label, set up partly in opposition to what it sees as the reactionary tendencies of new age ambient, all nonetheless within a broadly ambient framework. To do this, the Pipo approach seems to be to fashion itself as a playground for artists from a variety of backgrounds to explore their own takes on the idea of ambient, and Drunk Ambient Moods 1 takes a slowly winding path through the resulting landscape. The first third of the album takes the form of a largely familiar-feeling pastoral lowland before the distorted sax loops of James Hadfield’s Cancellations (Upsets) brings the first disconcerting jolt, with Juliette Porée’s sinister Avmars setting the album more clearly on a dark course, compounded by the distant storm of guitar thunder that sees out the ominous drone of Looprider’s The Ghost Has Come For Me. By the time the album is moving towards its close, the notion of ambient is more of a ghost that haunts the background of Adam Sampler’s skittering disco beats. The work of musicians (and non-musicians) none of whom operate exclusively in the ambient field, Drunk Ambient Moods 1 staggers on an always slightly off-kilter but ultimately playful journey into ambient anarchy.

883km
This is an album I compiled myself for the venue Utero in Fukuoka, with tracks drawn from Kyushu-based artists that had previously appeared on albums or compilations from my own Call And Response label over the past fifteen years, so I can’t review this in the traditional sense. However, for anyone familiar with the output of Call And Response over the years, I think 883km shows up the extent to which the island of Kyushu has helped to define the label’s identity, staggering between post-punk and post-rock with a kind of playful, childlike anarchy and very little respect for the finer points of genre. Despite having 14 different bands and recordings spanning over a decade, some familiar faces reappear in multiple acts (and at least three musicians are staff members at Utero), which perhaps feeds into a sense of coherence amid the scrappy sensibility of many of the tracks. It also makes for a surprisingly widely drawn sketch of offbeat art-punk in 21st Century Kyushu.


Party in My Heart / Gold Star
These two covers compilations were also produced by me, so once again I make no claim to being able to review them objectively. Made up of home recordings in the early months of the pandemic, they both feature musicians (and non-musicians) from the community around Call And Response Records and a trio of music bars in our local neighbourhood. Like the Sen City compilation (earlier in this feature), these albums feature a strong contingent of Tokyo-based foreign musicians alongside Japanese, reflective of the parallel community that has grown up around Call And Response over the years and also of the way the albums drew not only from the label’s own artists but also friends and fans. Of the two albums, Party in My Heart is the more downbeat, drawing mostly from quite introspective indie acts for its covers, with Tete+Shon’s take on The Postal Service’s This Place is a Prison making a fairly bald statement on locked down life and Filipina artist Mariah Reodica’s cover of Silver Jews’ Random Rules channeling some of the sorrow many of us still felt over the 2019 death of David Berman. Gold Star, meanwhile, comes across as the first collection’s sunnier, sillier sibling with covers drawing from more mainstream, more uptempo sources, although with a similar mix of straight and deviant approaches to the original material.
(Albums can be downloaded for free, along with a variety of other material, from Call And Response’s Help Our Local Music Spots page, which also accepts donations that will be shared between the three spots we are focusing on.)

Call And Response Records · Gold Star

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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.


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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.

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Top 25 Releases of 2019: Extra

There was of course a lot of Japanese music in 2019 that I didn’t listen to or that otherwise got left out of my top 25 rundown. There were a couple of releases in particular that I liked a lot and on another day might have been included, so first up, here’s a look at a couple of my additional favourites.

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CD, Holiday Records, 2019

Bulbs of Passion – Low Life
Tokyo indie rock band Bulbs of Passion have been plugging away in the background of the local scene for the best part of the past decade, with a solid catalogue of songs, although as far as I know the only available recording of them before this new EP was 2016’s The Very Best of Bulbs of Passion. For a band named after a Dinosaur Jr. song, Bulbs of Passion’s music has an unexpectedly light touch, the title track soaring out of the traps, kept aloft by billowing reverb, while Slap bounces along poppily on its off-beat. The closing Hurt, meanwhile nods to The Jesus & Mary Chain’s Just Like Honey before once again being launched skyward, powered by the band’s seemingly endless reserves of giddy enthusiasm.

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Cassette, Instant Tunes, 2019

Yokoscum – Last Month’s Music
An incessant hiss of distortion that may have originated in a guitar, an eerie throbbing electronic pulse, some devotional wailing, metallic hints of a pop melody, occasional gasps of confused desperation. DJ, event organiser and experimental musician Yokoscum’s Last Month’s Music cassette EP is an intriguing little creation, combining lo-fi noise and industrial with vaguely religious sounding mantras and letting the repetitive, insistent nature of both feed each other. The five untitled tracks on this EP are more explorations of an idea than songs exactly, but the results are still interesting and not without a sense of playfulness and fun.


For my own Call And Response label, 2019 was a relatively low-key year, with three new releases (and a fourth that didn’t officially come out until January 2020). As usual, I don’t include releases I helped put out in my own best-of-the-year rundowns because it’s difficult to judge and rank something I was involved in pressing and promoting against other people’s music. Naturally, though, I think all these releases are great, so here’s a quick look at 2019 from Call And Response’s perspective.

First up, there was synth-punk trio Jebiotto’s split 7-inch single with the excellent UK-based post-punk band Treeboy & Arc, which we released in collaboration with British label Come Play With Me. In addition to the record, we also made an extremely silly short sci-fi film featuring the band battling robot doubles created by an evil live venue owner.

In May, we released another international split, this time a CD EP featuring Filipina riot grrrl band The Male Gaze and Tokyo noise-punks P-iPLE (who incidentally share a vocalist with Jebiotto). To promote this EP, we brought The Male Gaze over for an eventful and extremely fun one-week tour.

Then in October, Looprider came out with their fourth album and first full-length release, Ouroboros. From the start, Looprider have been combining shoegaze and noise-rock-influenced effects-pedal textures with metal and doom riffs, employing a wide variety of approaches from one release to the next. This album is perhaps the purest expression of this essence though, barging back and forth between lush, layered towers of textured rock and grinding garage-metal riffery.


2020 has already started off with some good new releases, and some very interesting stuff on the horizon from Panicsmile, Half Sports, Kasuppa, Loolowningen & The Far East Idiots among others. From Call And Response, we’ve just put out another split 7-inch featuring Tokyo post-hardcore band illMilliliter and Hokkaido’s TG.Atlas, with further releases planned. Whether it’s another year before I update this site again or if I somehow manage to keep on top of new releases a bit better remains to be seen. Hopefully, I’ll manage to be better.

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Top 25 Releases of 2019: No. 5-1

Puffyshoes - Flower

Cassette, self-released, 2019

5. Puffyshoes – Flower
Released together with a home made zine, this cassette collection of seven rough-edged 60s girl group-via-Ramones pop tunes (clocking in at a bit over nine minutes, with only the opening Let’s Fall in Love scraping past one and a half minutes in length) is maximum DIY in both its execution and its wider, thematic meta-nostalgia for the already nostalgic sounds of past generations of indie/twee-pop tape-dwellers. Puffyshoes inhabit their fantasy world so completely that it never feels less than completely real, and the devastatingly simple, infectiously catchy, tremblingly fragile pop tunes that make up this EP drive that point home more effectively than I ever could.

Groundcover. - ██████

CD, Less Than TV, 2019

4. Groundcover. – ██████
(Text taken from my personal blog)
Throughout their multiple shifting, contracting and expanding lineups, Groundcover have been one of Tokyo’s most consistently interesting noise-rock bands, combining roots in hardcore and post-Boredoms junk with a drift into expansive sonic territory. ██████ is the culmination of that evolution, retaining the raw riffs and explosive energy that characterised their hardcore days but wedding it to via the rhythmically tight, increasingly dub-influenced sound system band leader Ataraw Mochizuki has built up around him over the years. The result is an album that builds up immense, triumphant, richly layered walls of sound, deployed with impressive control.

OOIOO - Nijimusi

CD/vinyl, Shochy/Thrill Jockey, 2019

3. OOIOO – Nijimusi
Despite having been at it for the best part of the past 25 years, OOIOO remain as inventive and inspired as ever, lurching dementedly from one idea to another, linking the experimental extremes of post-punk and progressive rock with the sort of drunken fluidity that can only really come from total mastery of their oddball craft, with echoes of both Gong and the Raincoats in equal measures colouring this endlessly delightful album. It’s wild, fun, fundamentally dedicated to the unexpected, and overall a powerful and accessible exploration of completely unrestrained musical imagination.

 

Takeshi Yamamoto - Somewhere

Download, self-released, 2019

2. Takeshi Yamamoto – Somewhere
Sometimes it feels like Takeshi Yamamoto is singlehandedly holding the Fukuoka music scene together, playing in what seems to be at least half the bands in the city (Macmanaman, Sea Level, Kelp, Sacoyans and more), not to mention DJing, doing design work for fellow Kyushu scenesters and generally turning out an endless stream of new releases and collaborations. Despite all this, Somewhere is Yamamoto’s first solo release, and it’s gorgeous. Composed mostly of ambient and drone-based soundscapes, it carries a lot of similarities with some of Yamamoto’s work with post rock collective Sea Level, but where Sea Level endlessly circle eclectically around an implied but never quite described centre, Somewhere is far more comfortable in its sonic identity. Between tones and drones that shimmer like silk in the breeze, Yamamoto picks out gentle guitar melodies here, introduces rippling sequencer patterns there, builds rich or even dirty layers competing sounds, or pares them away to sparse near-nothing, water trickling quietly at the edge of hearing.

 

Former Airline - Rewritten Memories by the Future

Cassette, Moss Archive, 2019

1. Former Airline – Rewritten Memories by the Future
(Text taken from my personal blog)
Released as a limited edition cassette in February, Japanese artist Former Airline’s Rewritten Memories by Future is an album born out of a cauldron of 1980s experimental and underground influences but doesn’t remain bound by them. Crash and Learn recalls the claustrophobic rhythms of Liaisons Dangereuses, drawing out and developing the origins of acid house from its chatter of electronic bleeps. Meanwhile, the artist’s love of krautrock and shoegaze – ever present on the album – is expressed most strikingly on the gorgeous closing The Angel Between Two Walls. Through the album, analogue glitches, drones and intrusions of noise act as the cement holding this sonic structure together.

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