Tag Archives: Atlanta Girl

Top 20 Releases of 2015: No.6 – Batman Winks – All Babies Sleeping

All Babies Sleeping

CD, self-released, 2015

In the indie world, band names are often fluid things as musicians’ ever shifting senses of their own identities find themselves at odds with a name they came up with in a fit of giggles, desperation or naïveté. Hysteric Picnic recently became Burgh, De Nada became DYGL, then Leather, then DYGL again, and Sanm recently became Cairo. Batman Winks used to be called Atlanta Girl. It’s a pretty standard process early on in a band’s career, but for those of us interested in the path along which these young bands choose to develop, the way these changing band names reflect the musical identities of the bands involved makes them worth a bit of attention.

Burgh reflects almost a retreat from identity, behind a band name that’s deliberately obscure and dry of meaning. DYGL’s case probably reflects the band’s own pursuit of a more rock’n’roll direction, away from the image of clean-cut indie pinup boys (and possibly a way of differentiating themselves from the same members’ smoother-edged work as Ykiki Beat) – and their return to the name DYGL I think shows more that the power of their music itself had made a name change unnecessary rather than any compromise on their part.

The name Cairo sounds like a city pop band and reflects the band’s own shift from jangly guitar pop towards more washed-out synth-based indiepop. Batman Winks, on the other hand, feels like the same journey in the opposite direction. When I first heard Atlanta Girl, the name instantly conjured up a sound similar to what a band like Cairo now actually does for real. The reality of the scrappy Atlanta Girl demo was something much weirder and felt completely at odds with the wishy-washy indie-twee sentimentality implied by the name. The change to the more obtuse Batman Winks then felt far more appropriate and satisfying, not least because it includes the classic combination of a comicbook reference and a verb in the indicative mood (this is always a cool thing – ask The Teardrop Explodes).

I’ve already written about All Babies Sleeping’s music in some detail, so rather than repeating myself here, check out my review from a year ago – everything in there still stands. I

Batman Winks’ music is often compared to Ariel Pink, which makes sense, and I’ve seen references to Psychic TV as well, which I’ll grant them too. I’m going to add another, less direct one in here and say there’s something of Robert Pollard in Batman Winks’ Naoya Takukawa. While the music and influences are coming from very different places, they are both prolific songwriters beloved by an indie scene they don’t quite fit into, who combine a lo-fi DIY aesthetic with an instinctive need to fuck up anything to smooth or “creamy” in their music.

You can hear it in the noise and disjointed rhythms of Celebration, the backing vocal squeaks of Blind But The Brightest Light and the album’s faintly out-of-tune title track. And yet behind it all the songwriting fundamentals are really strong, with the closing Strange Love a minor Tokyo indie anthem.

All Babies Sleeping was only the first of two albums Batman Winks released in 2015, with the second, Gud Pops, following in the autumn and also containing a strong collection of tunes. The band have already moved on from most of the material on this album (although the new material retains the same off-kilter, lo-fi approach to pop songwriting), but the year that has passed since then brings with it a bit of extra perspective on All Babies Sleeping, and the fact that this album still retains the capacity to surprise and delight suggests a strength at its core that only time has been able to reveal.

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Batman Winks: All Babies Sleeping

All Babies Sleeping

CD, self-released, 2015

If you spend a lot of time in the Tokyo indie scene, you’ll maybe have noticed that the limited range of stuff I cover here falls loosely into two categories. On the one hand, you have “Chuo Line bands”, who loosely trend more punk, more experimental, a more male audience, more likely to play in places like Koenji and Shinjuku, and more in a tradition that goes back to the 70s psychedelic and rock underground. On the other, we have “Setagaya bands”, who generally lean more indie, more pop, more international, a more female audience, more likely to play in places like Shimo-Kitazawa and Shibuya, and more in a tradition that includes 90s Shibuya-kei and neo-acoustic. These two worlds often overlap musically, but the fans and associated culture less so.

By the above definition, Batman Winks are roughly in the category of Setagaya bands. While strictly speaking the project of one guy, the live band draws on members who play or have played in melodic indiepop bands like DYGL and Groves, they collaborate with indietronic mellow disco princess Aya from Gloomy, and tend to play in a circle of bands, venues and events that marks them as decidedly Setagaya-type.

This may seem like pointless fussing over labels, but it matters. If Batman Winks were a Chuo Line band, the most striking point about them would be how pop they are, with an easy way with a melody and a pop hook running through the album in a way that would mark them out as a strange and rare fish in that more experimental and abrasive context. And the tunes on All Babies Sleeping are consistently top-drawer, from the frantic, bouncy, high pitched Smurfsong of Littlefag, through the murky, drowned melody of Celebration and Blind But the Brightest Light, to the soaring “ra-ra-ra-ra”s of the magnificent closing Strange Love.Blind But the Brightest Light

But in the context of their own background, the most striking thing about Batman Winks, and what marks them out from their particular crowd is how wild and experimental they are. The album opens with Intro, all chirping electronic wibbles and chirps, and droning, fuzz-soaked krautrock, like a condensed version of Yo La Tengo’s Spec Bebop, and the band constantly undermines and taunts its carefully constructed pop melodies with willfully out-of-tune vocals, sarcastic, Zappa-esque backing vocals, buzzsaw guitars that dive in from leftfield, and indecipherable distortion.

All of this is delivered with a mixture of shambling, lo-fi amateurishness and raw, swaggering confidence. On Strange Love, Batman Winks share with DYGL (Batman Winks’ song Nobody To Get Into My Car may very well be a self-pitying riposte to DYGL’s Let’s Get Into My Car) a yobbishly exuberant vocal delivery that stands in stark contrast to both the sissy mumbling that still characterises most Japanese indiepop and the tormented atonal yelling that prevails in the punk/alternative (Chuo Line) scene. In fact, what it reminds me of more than anything is the insistent, insurgent insouciance of The Stranglers’ 1979 hit Duchess in its combination of classic pop craftsmanship and punkish couldn’t-give-a-fuckery.

One of the most common touchstones for people describing Batman Winks is typically Ariel Pink, and there’s definitely something there. There’s also something of the anti-pop of 13/Think Tank-era Blur, but most importantly there’s absolutely nothing like it happening in Japan right now, and whatever you say, there is no doubt that Batman Winks are happening.

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Atlanta Girl: Atlanta Girl EP

Atlanta Girl EP

CD, self-released, 2013

I get a lot of CD/Rs handed to me by bands when I’m out around town, and usually it only takes a few seconds to place the kind of thing they’re doing. Sometimes though, a young band shows up doing something completely off the wall, as if even they themselves haven’t got a clue what they’re doing. Sometimes it doesn’t quite work, but it’s nearly always interesting, giving the listener the sense of the band groping their way towards their own sound in real time rather than emerging fully-formed and familiar. Jesus Weekend, who I reviewed last week, are a bit like that, and so are Atlanta Girl.

This EP starts out sounding like fairly straightforward indiepop, albeit at the fuzzier, more lo-fi end, but then the vocals come in like a drunkard awakening from slumber, perhaps on a park bench or railway platform somewhere, fending off the attentions of strangers with a mixture of self pity and half-hearted flapping limbs. In the background all sorts of weird noises start coming through.Atlanta Girl are only getting started though, and second track South Carolina comes in from another angle entirely, all drum machine, discordant synths, and sudden squalls of noise. It’s fascinating and, like the odder moments of Mummer-era XTC, at its core still fundamentally pop.

Peeling back the layers, you get the impression that Atlanta Girl are basically an indiepop band in that Beach Boys/C86/Flipper’s Guitar tradition, and the melodies could probably be polished up into some quite delightful, shimmering guitar pop, but then again, why waste something so wonderfully, thrillingly strange by filing off all its weird, knobbly edges like that? If anything, it would be more interesting to see them exploring the Zappa-esque fringes of avant-pop in the other direction.

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