Tag Archives: Afrirampo

Top 20 Releases of 2015: Afterword

With the end of this latest countdown of the past year’s top Japanese music, it’s worth drawing attention to what other writers did for their own rundowns. The other main English language sites that go deep enough to put these kinds of extensive lists together are Make Believe Melodies and Beehype. Neither list had anything in common with mine, and precious little in common with each other, which just goes to show how diverse the indie scene in Japan is. In any case, both lists are worth checking out in order to get a different perspective on what Japanese indie (and a bit of pop – Patrick at MBM remains inexplicably attached to E-Girls) music has to offer.

Make Believe Melodies: Best Japanese Albums of 2015
30-21
20-11
10-1

Beehype: Best of 2015 – Japan

As I said before embarking on this latest countdown, the fact that my own label’s releases were disqualified had a big influence on the makeup of this list. It’s always an issue, but it was a bigger one than usual this time round since we released so many albums and EPs featuring so many of our favourite bands in 2015.

Looking forward into the rest of 2016, I’ll be dealing with a similar situation next time round, with a lot of new Call And Response releases already in the pipeline. Looprider’s debut only came out six months ago, but they already have a second album recorded and ready to go this spring, and a third album written. Lo-shi have already recorded their third album and first CD release, with the album currently being mixed with a view to a summer release. Mechaniphone, whose first EP came in at No.4 in my best of 2015 countdown, have a new EP ready to go, which I’ll be helping them put out in a limited release very soon. Other bands in the wider Call And Response family have new material at varying stages of completion, including Han Han Art, Sharkk, Trinitron and Tropical Death.

More broadly, I’m (maybe hopefully) picking up vibes that indiepop may have peaked and that the cool kids are ready for something a bit more discordant. If there is even the faintest possibility of a postpunk/no wave revival, I’ll be doing everything I can to jolly it along and then report on it as if it’s some spontaneous thing I just discovered.

Basically, my theory is that the indie hipster cred Hysteric Picnic/Burgh have been building up over the past couple of years has now reached such a level that young, cool kids want to hang out with them and be in bands like them. There has always been a seam of arty, angular Japanese underground music scraping away metalically beneath the surface of the music scene, and the emergence of younger bands like Deviation and Ms. Machine, as well as the welcome return of the still ludicrously young and inspired Nakigao Twintail, suggests that at least in some limited sense Japanese skronk might be getting a shot of young blood.

Any look at stuff to look forward to should probably begin with Afrirampo’s spring reunion tour, followed by an appearance at the Taico Club festival in June. Whether any new recordings will emerge is still uncertain, and I’m not sure if that would even be a good idea at this stage. Pika already has a new album titled Sun Ra New, in collaboration with Yuji Katsui and Yoshihide Otomo, and quite what role Afrirampo could play in her ever-evolving musical explorations I don’t clearly see.

New releases I’ll be looking out for include Kyoto bubblegum hardcore/postpunk band O’Summer Vacation’s new 7 Minutes Order, which I’ve already heard and is awesome, and hopefully a full album by my favourite band in Tokyo right now, the wonderful Falsettos.

I’ll also be embarking soon on the second stage of my travels to every prefecture of Japan to research its indie music scene. Following my return to Tokyo, my long-promised book on the Japanese indie music scene is now back from the editor and pencilled in for a summer release, so keep your eyes open for more on that.

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Top 20 Releases of 2015: No.14– Pika – Ryu no Sumika

Ryu no Sumika

CD, Telegraph Records, 2015

Another album that strictly speaking should have been on last year’s list was (the now at least temporarily reformed) Afrirampo drummer Pika’s Ryu no Sumika solo album, which sneaked out in December but only came to my attention a couple of months later. An eclectic collection of folk, psychedelia, avant-garde anti-music, wonky pop and spacerock, it was a charming record, if a little difficult-to-pin-down. At the time, I noted the apparently festival-ready nature of some of the songs, remarking that on the album it was the darker moments like Sen, in collaboration with Nanao Tavito, that made the album stand out.

In the summer, I encountered Pika again at Fuji Rock, where she was performing on a small stage as Moon Mama, with a backing band drawn from some of the long list of collaborators on this album. Experienced from a grassy bank, under the afternoon sun, the music from this album took on a fresh texture, its sunnier moments opening up to the sky and the darker corners peering in from the depths of the forest that surrounded us. OK, so only a couple of hundred people got to see that hidden festival highlight, but what it helped reveal of Ryu no Sumika is still there in the album for anyone to find – an exhuberant explosion of creative talent from not only its nominal star but also the raft of supremely talented performers with whom she collaborates.

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Pika: Ryu no Sumika

Ryu no Sumika

CD, Telegraph Records, 2015

Stepping out from behind the drumkit of one of the most celebrated and distinctive Japanese underground bands of the past fifteen years brings with it plenty of baggage and no small amount of expectation, but at the same time no particular agreement on what exactly that expectation is for. After the breakup of the magnificent avant-garage duo Afrirampo, Pika kept herself busy through participating in numerous other people’s projects, including a stint with Acid Mothers Temple and multiple one-off collaborations, all the while quietly developing her own material as a singer-songwriter. On Ryu no Sumika many of those collaborators return the favour, with eighteen different musicians adding their stamp to this record, ensuring that while Pika’s own songwriting and quite affecting vocals run through the album, there is also a broad palette of creative influences colouring the sound and arrangements.

The eight-and-a-half-minute title track is a writhing, serpentine psychedelic track that slowly uncoils through Hiromichi Sakamoto’s cello into a laser-guided streak of lo-fi spacerock before exploding in a clatter of drums. In its melancholy and brooding portent it’s also a slightly misleading introduction to the album, which quickly switches gears to the breezy, steel drum-tinged folk-pop of Mermaid, albeit while retaining a propensity to diverge into kosmische sound collages at a moment’s notice.Ryu no Sumika (video edit)

Of course quirky, whimsical, acoustic folk-pop has never been in particularly short supply in Japan, so how Pika distinguishes herself on this album will a long way toward revealing what she means beyond the good will she carries with her from her old band. The first and most obvious thing she does is stretch nearly everything out to around the seven-minute mark, which might set off warning flags. Perhaps thanks in part to a well-chosen series of collaborations, these arrangements generally make a good account of themselves though, filling out the often sparse melodies with sonic texture and as the album progresses weaving in threads of darkness. Reason is gifted an expansive, flowing jazz-edged rhythm by drummer Tatsuhisa Yamamoto and pianist Eiko Ishibashi, while Sen, a duet with Nanao Tavito, is a standout moment towards the album’s close, with a menacing hiss of feedback and ambient atmospherics building up into a wall of noise as the song edges toward its climax, and the overlapping vocal collage of Nagi no Tsuki ~ Akaine ~ (featuring Pika’s former Afrirampo bandmate Mayumi “Oni” Saeki) is notable as the album’s one unambiguously avant-garde moment.

As songs like Utau Hito, Onnanoko Yura Yura and the anthemic closing Shiawase no Kashi provides ample testimony, Pika can write an effective 70s-style folk-pop tune in a festival singalong sort of way, but it’s the moments of darkness that exist in the cracks that are where Ryu no Sumika gains a particular, peculiar character of its own.

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