Category Archives: Track

DYGL: All The Time

If there’s a better way to start a new year in Japanese music than with a new song from Tokyo’s best indiepop band, it’s probably not completely legal. For those of us who remain upstanding, law-abiding citizens and members of the public, DYGL have just put out All The Time. It’s another step in the band’s evolution from jangly twee pop pretty boys into a garage rocking, denim- and leather-clad Japanese Strokes, like they’re trying to do a condensed tribute to Lawrence Hayward’s career at ten-times speed.

It’s also cheering evidence of the developing quality of DYGL’s recordings, really capturing the electric energy of their live performances while remaining just on the right side of Pollardian lo-fi. It’s the sort of music that if it hits you when you’re still in your teens, it’ll stay with you for life: the soundtrack to nights jumping around in a circle with your mates as all the confusion of the world seems to burn away in the heat of the strangled but euphoric moment. In fact, even if you catch it late, it’ll remind you of all the songs from your youth that had that exact effect on you anyway so the result will be more or less the same. In any case, All The Time is a welcome reinforcement of DYGL’s status as one of the purest, most jubilant pleasures in the Tokyo music scene.

1 Comment

Filed under Reviews, Track

Asserting ownership of girly culture — The Pats Pats: Girls Talk

Girly culture is an odd thing, sitting at the nexus of old-school social conservatism, the grasping desperation of late-stage consumer capitalism, and punk-influenced DIY subculture. Maoist China went to great lengths to ensure the ubiquity of strong female images in its public art, but as soon as it opened its asshole to anything-goes capitalism, feminine beauty began to be ruthlessly exploited as a lever to open the wallets of consumers. Japan and the West have been at the same game for far longer, albeit coloured by differing regional quirks. The pathological way toy marketing separates out the boys’ stuff into the blue aisle and the girls’ stuff into the pink aisle is occasionally the subject of public debate, but in the end it comes down to the way marketing identifies, exaggerates and exploits the individual characteristics of consumer groups, separating them out, training them to understand and identify with their position in their market sector, and then exploiting that identification to sell them shit.

This is something born purely from the machinations of consumer capitalism, but it finds allies and supporters among those with socially conservative notions of femininity – those (men) who feel threatened by the idea of “aggressive” women. In Japan, hyper-stylised images of feminine cuteness often sit alongside socially conservative attitudes (although not always comfortably so) in the otaku world. In the West, feminist grievances with aggressively gendered marketing, especially to children, are one battleground in the culture wars of which things like Gamergate are also part.

On the surface, it’s easy to take the view that women in the West have more fight in them. In the UK, “a Bic for her” is an inherently ludicrous idea and the object of sarcasm and ridicule, while in Japan it’s hard to imagine any such resistance. That said, somewhere along the line, the idea of a pink ballpoint pen specially for women must have seemed like an idea that would work – at least, there must have been enough evidence from other marketing successes to suggest that it would. In Japan it is perhaps more extreme, but it’s also perhaps not surprising that when society has such prescriptive notions of how girls are supposed to be, and works so hard to ensure that, taken together, submitting to these rules constitutes an attractive lifestyle choice, that girls will embrace them rather than fight them.

Now this may seem like an unnecessarily long preamble for what is essentially one of those “Hey, look at this!” blog posts about a cute music video from a hip new band, but this is the background to where girly culture in Japan sits right now. Girls have been trained to identify in a certain way, and there are powerful social forces that are happy for things to stay that way. Fighting it makes you look like a feminist, which has been successfully coloured as terminally uncool, but at the same time, that doesn’t stop girls from consciously or otherwise asserting ownership over their identity as a group.

Girls Talk by The Pats Pats is steeped in the girliest of girly imagery, the lyrics running through a shopping list of girly activities and interests, reinforcing one stereotype after another, but at the same time celebrating this special time with their girlfriends and strictly no boys allowed. Having entered the consumer pen into which they have been shepherded, there isn’t really anything to stop them shutting the door behind them – thanks for the cute stuff: we’ll call you.

The Pats Pats are thoroughly DIY – the 2nd EP from which Girls Talk is the lead track is a homemade, self-released CD, and like a lot of similarly DIY groups, they have a line of homemade accessories and other goods that they and their friends have designed and made. This process of becoming an active rather than passive participant in the culture, while doing nothing for those girls who dream of an alternative to the pink, the frills and the flowers, still has the (again, conscious or otherwise) effect of turning the pink, frills and flowers into weapons of defence or markers of territory. In economic terms, they have taken control of the means of production, and when boys are allowed, they may enter only with the understanding of who owns the turf.

The song? It’s cute, catchy, fun and pop pop pop.

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews, Track

Death By Raygun: Invention of the Senseless High School Massacre

Two and a half minutes of scuzzed-out garage-surf lo-fi trash, Inventor of the Senseless High School Massacre spends the first minute or so making the most of a melody that only seems to contain two notes, before chucking that in the dustbin as unnecessarily baroque and deciding it’s more fun to just spend the rest of the song making the guitars go squeeee and hissssss and wahhhhhhhchhchchchchhh, and doing that thing with the keyboards that makes them go wibblewibblewibble like songbirds experiencing, well, death by raygun. Oh, and the howling and the shouting. Death By Raygun don’t so much play their instruments as happen to them, and a lot of fun it is too.

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews, Track

Yokan System: A Dream You Never Wake Up From

In advance of their early 2015 European tour, synth duo Yokan System have a new video for the tune A Dream You Never Wake Up From, out from UK label Ample Play Records (that’s Tjinder Singh from Cornershop’s label). It finds the duo reinforcing their identity as purveyors of sometimes brutally minimal synthpop, with a lot of the pop removed and a side order of eerie, electronic psychedelia added, like early Human League via the Cocteau Twins. It’s a short track at two minutes that builds and ebbs away through the addition and subtraction of mantric vocal layers rather than any sort of traditional pop structure, which only adds to its tantalising mystique. With the duo’s other project, the more rock orientated Praha Depart, on a pretty low-key tip lately, Yokan System’s current state of activity and forthcoming album is getting the full attention and focus of two of the finest indie talents in Tokyo right now.

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews, Track

Fat Fox Fanclub: Good Job

If you want to get yourself known in the Tokyo indie scene, you might as well know that these days it has no time for moping. Lately the events with the buzz about them have been all about fun and frolics, and be damned if you take yourself even remotely seriously. As you might expect, this leads to stuff that is irritating and frustrating just as often as it does simple charm and easy thrills. Fat Fox Fanclub are fortunately in the latter camp. Trading in a sort of funky, mutant disco goofiness, Good Job sees the antropomorphic amazons in fine Talking Heads-via-Was Not Was party form. As an Easter egg for Tokyo indie bandspotters, yes, that’s Xiroh from Buddy Girl and Mechanic in the wonderful video (she used to play in the magnificent LoveBuyLove with FFF’s bassist).

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews, Track

Servals: /99

Servals are a relatively new band, formed as a spinoff from Yokohama’s still extant but recently less active Come to my Party and trading in a slightly harder, more driving take on the older band’s Supercar-influenced indietronic pop. /99 is a desultory dream pop disco, drenched in minor chords, with the same melancholy atmosphere of loss and longing, like someone at the moment of realising they are in a dream, desperately trying to stave off the morning. Just five more minutes, it seems to be saying from within the duvet of synth swirls, as the metallic blue-grey of the urban morning seeps through the curtains.

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews, Track

Suiyoubi no Campanella: Mitsuko

As you might hope from a group who named a song on their first album Hikashu, Suiyoubi no Campanella seem to exist permanently at an angle slightly askew from the rest of the music scene in Japan. Other groups whose backing tracks were composed of similarly tastefully produced electronic pop would most likely do something wistful and dreamy with just a hint of weary disaffection over the top, while for groups with similarly charismatic vocal delivery (I’m not going to lie: I get a little thrill whenever vocalist Komuai says the words “call and response”) the default musical setting would these days most likely be something far more gaudy and brash.

So the combination of credibly sophisticated trackmaking and the offhand, offbeat half-rapping of the vocal performance is unusual and demands our further attention. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s still cute — the Abe administration recently introduced prison sentences of up to ten years for any Japanese female-led vocal music that doesn’t meet at least a minimal standard of “Cool Japan”-approved kawaii — but the important thing is that it’s not idol-cute. Beneath the hood it conforms and then some to the standard “girls group” formula of pretty girl out up front and anonymous guys not only hidden at the back but fully locked away in a room somewhere making all the music. This is really only correct, since if there’s one thing worse than some dreary looking dude in a trucker cap directing all the music behind the scenes, it’s a dreary looking dude in a trucker cap up there onstage, pretending to rock out from behind his MacBook. The physical disconnect between the performance and production aspects of the group then mirrors the awkward way the vocals hang over the track, both conceptually in their subtly contrasting styles, and technically in the flat, weirdly close-sounding way the vocals are pasted over the richer, more spacious synth and rhythm backdrop.

If this sounds like a criticism, it isn’t meant to be. With Mitsuko, Suiyoubi no Campanella manage to do two subtly contrasting things at once with the psychic abrasion they work on each other not only leaving both intact but also creating a playful dynamic of its own that lifts the track into becoming more than the sum of its already rather charming parts. 

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews, Track