Category Archives: Guardian new music blog

Guardian Song of the Week: Hysteric Picnic, “Cult Pop”

This week’s pickup for The Guardian’s music from around the world guest blogging series is a frantic rocker from an up-and-coming new-wave duo.

Hysteric Picnic are a two-piece new wave band who channel the sounds of 80s new-wave acts. Formed in 2011 by vocalist Sou Ouchi and guitarist Shigeki Yamashita, the drum-machine backed duo return with a new EP entitled Cult Pops, scheduled for release from Call and Response Records in early December.

The lead track, “Cult Pop”, is a frantic, forward-charging new wave rocker, complete with pulsing bass lines, industrial noises, handclaps, a deep feeling of dystopian isolation. Oouchi’s eerie, yet playful vocals sound like a more new-wave Jello Biafra, tumbling across the reverb-laden guitars and pre-programmed, repetitive drums. The overall sound is very much in the vein of 80s new-wave bands, however there is something distinctly unique about Hysteric Picnic that set them apart from other Joy Division facsimiles, whether it be the quirkiness of Ouchi’s vocals, the unconventional guitar riffs, or just how simple and catchy the melodies are. “Cult Pop” also shows off that the band aren’t all about the atmospheric doom and gloom of the industrial world, but that they can also rock out pretty good.

The track is as lo-fi as everything else the band has done, but it’s sonic traits are obviously a part of their aesthetic and charm. Past tracks with references to Nick Cave and Krautrock should assure anyone with doubts that the band very much know what they are doing.

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Guardian Song of the Week: Pop-Office, “Good Morning”

This week’s pickup for The Guardian’s music from around the world guest blogging series is a beautifully crafted slice of old-school indie rock from Nagoya.

Discussion of Japanese music tends to automatically gravitate towards the twin fringes of avant-garde experimentalism and day-glo, candy-coloured pop excess and it’s natural that when looking for music from a country, the artists that stand out are the ones that seem to exhibit something distinct and unique about that place. Pop-Office, on the other hand, are a solid indie rock band like what they used to make in the 90s, and Good Morning, taken from the group’s new album Portraits in Sea, is an instantly familiar example of the form, the fuzzy guitars growling at you from the get-go like Yo La Tengo’s Sugarcube and vocalist Ryuhei Shimada’s melancholy baritone vocals revealing echoes of Pop-Office’s roots in Joy Division-influenced postpunk.

For all the undoubted similarities with 1990s US alt-rock, this is also a song with roots in Japan’s own indie culture. Pop-Office hail from a generation of kids who grew up in the late 90s and early 2000s when the ultra-sophisticated but also clinical and style-obsessed Shibuya-kei movement was coming to a close and guitar bands like Number Girl and Supercar were taking imagination of Japanese youth by the scruff of the neck, and Supercar’s epic shoegaze debut album, 1998’s Three Out Change, is clearly a bible for Pop-Office, with the rough guitar textures, desultory vocals and wistful melody in particular recalling early single Cream Soda.

There are hints, especially in the shifting drum patterns, of a band equally comfortable exploring more progressive musical territory, but at heart Good Morning is the sort of straightforward indie rock that supports itself not on pushing back boundaries but on a core of solid musicianship and melodic songwriting. Pop-Office demonstrate a skill in tweaking those notes of familiarity at the back of your mind, which is something it’s rare to find done well in a music scene where the best and most interesting material is more often the music that pushes the hyperactive extremes than that which satisfies the simpler, more nostalgic rock needs.

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Guardian Song of the Week: Umez, “Rainbow”

This week’s pickup for The Guardian’s music from around the world guest blogging series is a song from a noise-pop duo formed in London, who are now based in Tokyo.


Umez: Rainbow

Umez are a noise-pop Japanese duo consisting of vocalist/bassist Sachiko Fukuda and guitarist Koichi “Niiyan” Niizato. Originally formed in London in 2012, the group have since moved back to Japan, and have recently become active in Tokyo.

The pair’s music has just as much duality as their stage presence: Fukuda, hardly moves as she sings simple, but catchy melodies, while Niiyan wears a gas mask and goes all out, climbing on top of equipment and letting his guitar wail. Their music ranges from catchy, shoegaze-influenced pop to disgusting, chaotic, walls of noise. Many times they have both elements present in their songs.

“Rainbow” is featured on their compilation, “International Pop Underground Sounds (Sickness of a Fourteen Year Old Girl) Vol. 1,” which was released in September. The compilation is released from Fukuda’s label, 14 Years Records, and features artists from around the world, such as Brutes from the U.K., and a solo track from Taigen Kawabe of Bo Ningen. “Rainbow” is a fine example of the duality found of Umez, with the lo-fi beats and Niyan’s soaring guitars, fronted by Fukuda’s calm vocals. The breakdown in the middle featuring a playful keyboard part, bookended by the main guitar riff and vocal melody. Not all their tracks sound like this of course, but it’s a good taste of the band condensed into a three minute pop song.

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Guardian Song of the Week: Sayuu, “Yellow Hate”

This week’s track for The Guardian’s music from around the world guest blogging series is a wonderfully eccentric nugget from Tokyo’s favourite new indie duo Sayuu.Sayuu: Yellow Hate

Confusing and delighting Tokyo indie audiences in pretty much equal measure this year, Sayuu are a decidedly offbeat duo with a distinctive line in deadpan postpunk eccentrica. With the stripped-down lineup necessitating a similarly minimalist approach to songwriting, the duo create spiky, catchy little songs that are both shamelessly childish and disarmingly intelligent, taunting you with the possibility that it might mean something, but never letting the mask slip enough to admit one way or the other.

Yellow Hate does pretty much what it says on the tin, working its way through a litany of hated yellow things, the grinding repetition punctuated by percussive stabs of guitar that break up the otherwise relentless, rhythmical loop that the song torments you with. Credit should also go to Sayuu here for reviving that most beloved of visual artforms, the music video that literally depicts what the song lyrics are describing.

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Guardian Song of the Week: Perfume, “1mm”

This week’s pickup for The Guardian’s music from around the world guest blogging series is a song from a trio of women who have become household names in Japan.

Perfume: 1mm

One of the biggest acts in pop in Japan, this trio from Hiroshima – consisting of Ayano “Nocchi” Omoto, Yuka “Kashiyuka” Kashino, and Ayaka “A-Chan” Nishiwaki – have captured the hearts of idol fans, anime otaku, and hardcore music fans alike. They released their fourth album, Level 3, earlier this month, with the lead track, “1mm”.

Perfume’s appeal lies not only in the looks and moves of the women themselves (as proven at this year’s Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in France), but also the talents of their producer, Yasutaka Nakata. Responsible for other Japanese pop acts such as Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, and his own group, Capsule, Nakata is what makes Perfume special. The group is produced exclusively by Nakata, who is solely responsible for the writing, recording, mixing, and mastering of their records. “1mm” is a fine example of his sound; candy-pop melodies, distorted synths, and auto-tuned vocals, all of which have become ingrained into Perfume’s futuristic image.

“1mm” is one of the more chilled-out tracks on Level 3 – the album itself is an eclectic mix of sing-song-y pop songs with aggressive electro. It’s certainly not your typical J-pop album, with some sections leaving you wondering how Nakata manages to get away with such madness. It’s precisely this eagerness to push boundaries that makes Perfume one of the most compelling groups in modern J-pop.

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Guardian Song of the Week: Miu Mau, “Monochrome”

This week’s pickup for The Guardian’s music from around the world guest blogging series is a local gem from the western-Japan musical hotspot of Fukuoka.Miu Mau: Monochrome

Partly due to the domination of the music press by (mostly Tokyo-based) record labels and partly due to the high costs and low returns of touring domestically, even in this supposed digital age, information about music from other cities in Japan can still be hard to come by for fans. As a result, regional scenes based around certain clubs and live venues still hold a strong influence over local indie culture, and there often remain noticeable cultural differences from place to place.

Traditionally Fukuoka has had a reputation as a town for fierce, energetic bands, from the “mentai-rock” generation of the 70s (a pretty close Japanese parallel to the contemporaneous pub rock movement in the UK) to the punk and alternative boom of the late 90s and early 2000s. While drummer Miwako Matsuda and guitarist Hiromi Kajiwara have impeccable punk/alternative credentials (as members of garage-punk duo Masadayomasa and postpunk noiseniks Hyacca respectively), Miu Mau fly in the face of their local musical heritage, group leader Masami Takashima taking a deliberately minimal, and melodic approach to songwriting, and employing a poised, carefully constructed art-pop aesthetic, which makes them a rare and special creature in their hometown.

Typically, Miu Mau songs are built around the tension between Takashima’s chunky synths and Kajiwara’s spindly, wandering, reverb-heavy guitar lines, something still present on “Monochrome” but with the tension dialled down a notch, the keyboard pushed into the background and taking on a more organic, 60s-influenced hue, while the guitar takes the lead. As with many bands in Japan, the lyrics slip back and forth between English and Japanese, spinning their desultory tale of urban ennui, while the melody is haunting, an atmosphere accentuated by the repetitive, looping guitar and synth lines. If you can get your hands on the forthcoming single, there’s an equally splendid double A-side called “Spring” that’s well worth seeking out.

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Guardian Song of the Week: Melt-Banana, “The Hive”

This week’s pickup for The Guardian’s music from around the world guest blogging series is the triumphant comeback of one of the premier acts in the Japanese underground.


Melt-Banana: The Hive

Any connoisseur of Japanese underground music will be familiar with Melt-Banana. Going 20 years strong, they have managed to gather a cult-following around the world, thanks to touring Europe and the States relentlessly, with luminaries such as Mike Patton, John Peel, and Tool as part of their legion of loyal fans.

The band triumphantly return this week with Fetch, their eighth studio album. Now touring as a duo, they’ve come a long way from their Steve Albini-produced, tinnitus-inducing cacophony of their early days, with now a heavy emphasis on electronics and danceable beats (and still just as loud as ever).

“The Hive” is the lead track from Fetch, and has everything you would expect from a Melt-Banana track, and then some. Guitarist Agata’s sounds seem to be beamed down from space, the line between guitar riffs and samples becoming more blurred than ever – music pundits claiming the guitar to be dead should take a few notes. Vocalist Yako provides the searing track with a poppy, sing-along melody, until delivering the goods with the meticulous precision she’s become known for.

Fetch is a culmination of a band who has been through everything – from a constantly rotating roster of drummers, running over deer while on tour in America, and earthquakes and nuclear melt-downs. Don’t let the slimmed down line-up fool you; this is the tightest, most daring the band has ever been.

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Guardian Song of the Week: Puffyshoes, “Goodbye to You”

This week’s pickup for The Guardian’s music from around the world guest blogging series is from a much-loved duo who are leaving us with so much unfulfilled potential.Puffyshoes: Goodbye to You

The joy you get listening to Puffyshoes is always tinged with an edge of frustration at all the could’ve beens in their career. For all their fiercely lo-fi ethos, their songwriting has an undeniable power to make people swoon, lovestruck, and yet they’ve never quite been able to capitalise on the goodwill their charm and sweet, sweet tunes have brought them in the Tokyo indie scene through which they have for the past few years drifted like ghosts. The announcement that their newly released cassette album will be their last gives an extra bite to the 60s girl group melancholy of songs like Goodbye to You.

A lot of bands (the Vivian Girls have obvious parallels here) use the aesthetics of lo-fi and indie fanzine culture, and as mainstream pop music becomes ever more corporatised and alien, the appeal of something more wilfully down-to-earth in its production values and tunesmithery is obvious, but with Puffyshoes, you get the sense that it goes deeper: that the band exists as a kind of window into a faintly dysfunctional private world, like the “Fourth World” of Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme in Peter Jackson’s “Heavenly Creatures”. In that sense, the goodbye that the duo bid in this song could be read as both a heartwrenching farewell to each other, and to a future that they deserved but never seemed to really want.

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Guardian Song of the Week: BiS-Kaidan “Suki SukiDaisuki”

British newspaper The Guardian is starting a bloggers’ network introducing new music from around the world weekly. Ian and Ryotaro already do the “Quit Your Band!” Japanese indie zine together in addition to their pop culture blogging exploits, and they have teamed up to push Japan’s corner in this new project. Ryotaro has taken the lead with this first post, revisiting BiS-Kaidan’s ‘Suki Suki Daisuki’:BiS-Kaidan:

Suki Suki Daisuki Japan is currently in an “idol” boom, and they’re seemingly creating groups catering to every type of subculture imaginable. In the midst of it all is BiS. Branding themselves as the “anti-idol”, they’re the group tailor-made for fans of 80s hardcore punk, Einstürzende Neubauten, and David Lynch films. Here,
with Japanese noise rock legends Hijokaidan, they’re covering “Suki Suki Daisuki”, a song originally by 80s new wave icon Jun Togawa.

The track is another example of BiS’s recurring juxtaposition between underground aesthetics and a cute, “school girl” idol image. While the song choice and collaborator give BiS a lot of underground cred, the song loses the original’s subversive punk feminist message when an “idol group” sings it. Listening to the two back to back is a good look into how subculture — and society — in Japan has changed in the last 20 years.
Jun Togawa: Suki Suki Daisuki

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