Category Archives: Reviews

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. 15-11

15. Various Artists – MITOHOS
This compilation, put together by Shigeru Akakura of the band Loolowningen & The Far East Idiots, is subtitled “A Guide to Japanese Galapagaized Music, Volume 1” in reference to the theory that Japan’s relative introversion, culturally and technologically, has led it to develop ecosystems independent from global trends. Arguably, the way the mainstream is so cut off and inaccessible to independent musicians means that indie music here is its own “Galapagoized” ecosystem, and this album seeks to navigate the listener through some of the rhythmically deranged and melodically unpredictable undercurrents of contemporary Japanese underground music. The Loolowningen boys kick off the compilation and, as you might expect, they make for a pretty reliable indicator of the sort of barebones, Beefheart-via-math rock experimentation at the album’s heart. It really is a very comprehensive portrait of this rarely articulated thread of underground music in Japan. In that sense, Mitohos is as much a work of music journalism as it is a piece of art, linkling together artists throughout Japan (from Nessie in Hokkaido to Doit Science in Kumamoto) and presenting them in a way that lets their similarities resonate just as their diversity shines. Essential.


14. Boris – No
Boris are such a well established part of the music landscape of Japan that it’s hard to offer any really new thoughts about them. They always cover an impressive range of territory, from shoegaze-inflected dreamscapes and drone to metal and stoner-influenced heavy sonic menhirs, with a tremendous amount of confidence and ease, and they do so here in a way that is both powerful and concise.

More about this release here.


13. Mikado Koko – The Japanese Rimbaud
An album of early Showa-era poetry readings interwoven with electronic music that draws on the atmosphere of 1990s Warp Records, this album occupies, as James Hadfield points out astutely in his own review, a very similar eerie psychocosmos to Chris Morris’ Blue Jam radio broadcasts. Mikado Koko delivers the poems of Chuya Nakahara (the “Japanese Rimbaud” of the title) in the retro-modern melodramatic flair of Showa-era theatre amid a sparkle and rattle of beats, blips and glitches that are both unpredictable and captivating. She finished the year with another release in the Nekomata EP, so check that out as well.


12. Kiyoaki Iwamoto – Sougi+
The core of this release is a resurrected 1980s EP by an enigmatic 1980s punk-era artist, recorded with minimal drum machine and guitar arrangements and encompassing five quietly intense tunes that teeter infectiously on the border between post-punk and folk. Most striking is the cover of Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart that closes out the Iwamoto solo portion of the album, the original’s glistening pop sheen and raw power wrung back to something harsh, fragile and constantly on the brink of falling apart. The first of the additions is a reworking of Iwamoto’s Love Will Tear Us Apart by Escalator Records-ish Osaka duo Chisako & Junta that provides an interesting expansion on the track that thankfully doesn’t overwhelm Iwamoto’s recording with the duo’s accustomed smooth coffee table vibes. It closes, meanwhile, with an untitled live recording of Iwamoto’s old duo Birei, the synths wavering through the analogue tape like a multiply overdubbed Italian horror VHS, and quite lovely it is.


11. neccc – Yabatopia
Neccc are more an occurrence than a band. The members and guest musicians who populate this EP are an interesting non-alignment pact of post-punk and noise-rock figures, familiar from artists like The Neso, Yokoscum, Manchurian Candidate, Jailbird Y, P-iple and more, and they make for a playful and entertainingly unhinged mental breakdown of a record. Echoes of Pere Ubu, Tuxedomoon, Der Plan and other barebones iconoclasts of the 80s, with a mischievous willingness to push repetition into irritation when it suits them (the 13-minute track that fills side B of the tape but which may not be available on the online edition is an especially wild ride), Yabatopia is an irrepressibly good humoured but utterly uncompromising dadaist art accident pretending to be a punk band.

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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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nessie – salvaged sequence

CD, 5B Records, 2020

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.

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KURUUKREW – no name

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.

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Boris – NO

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.

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NEHANN – TEC

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.

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