Tag Archives: Bossston Cruizing Mania

Top 20 Releases of 2017: No.18 – Bossston Cruizing Mania – Idea

bossston cruizing mania - idea

CD, cosmic jackson, 2017

With their first album since 2011’s Loaded, Lowdead, Rawdead, Tokyo-based punk/underground veterans Bossston Cruizing Mania have taken a radical step back to basics with Idea.

Where previously they had traded in a combination of rhythmically complex postpunk and dub, sometimes drawing songs out to ten minutes or more, no track on Idea exceeds three minutes, with arrangements restrained by what seem at first glance to be straightforward punk rock rhythms and chords.

Confusing easy pigeonholing is the role of vocalist Esuhiro Kashima, who continues to rant, Mark E Smith-like, over the music no matter what it’s doing. As a result, even as the music hints at a more conventional structure, it functions more as a backdrop for their poet-savant frontman to deliver his missives – occasionally channeled by the music into something that sounds almost like singing, but nevertheless defiantly shunning anything as obvious as a chorus.

There’s a tension within Idea that feels like a fundamentally weird band trying very hard to make what they think pop music sounds like but only getting it half right. Coupled with the way they are clearly playing deep within their technical abilities, dialing back nearly all of the mathy sensibilities that had characterised earlier albums, there’s a disconcerting sense of a band holding something back.

That’s partly what makes it such an interesting album though. There are already bands in Tokyo like Triplefire who do the snap-tight rhythmical-postpunk-with-rambling-vocals thing about as well as it can be done, but to begin using recognisable chords and dipping their toes cautiously into melody starts to feel like the more radical thing for a band like Bossston Cruizing Mania to do.

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Strange Boutique (August 2014)

Seiko Oomori is a good contender for the breakout star of the year, and she’s someone who is worth paying attention to for a lot of reasons. She seems like the sort of person who would crankily dismiss any attempt to draw any meaning out of what she is and does, but that needn’t stop us.

For a start, nothing happens in a vacuum, and when you’re a musician from one sort of background (weirdo Koenji avant-folk shrieking stuff) and you appropriate imagery and sonic affectations from another (idol music), you’re playing a game with meanings no matter how hard you protest that “I just like the clothes and enjoy the music!” For a start, one question is “Why?” Indie and idol music never used to cross paths, so why has it suddenly become so easy?

Well, one reason is money, or more specifically marketing. There’s a widespread disaffection with J-Pop, and idol culture, by marketing based on character rather than music, offers an easy way to market alternatives to the bland mainstream. Oomori’s music has been a vehicle for a lot of different indie musicians, with Lailailai Team having backed her in the past, and her current band The Pink Tokarev generously stacked with musicians from the Tokyo indie scene’s current “funny bands” mini-boom. Much as she may protest her position as a discrete entity just following her muse, Seiko Oomori is also the poster girl for the fixation a significant part of the Japanese indie scene has with idol culture.

Still though, she’s not really an idol. It’s not her background, and her music is still singer-songwriter music dressed in the production tropes of idol music. She presents an unhinged image in her videos, she rants and raves at her fans via her blog, and at a recent festival she crowdsurfed up to one of the audience members and snogged him in front of the whole crowd, purportedly as revenge for the infidelities of her significant other. So is this subversion of idol music then?

The word “subversive” gets tossed around too easily with too little thought for what it actually means, so that’s what I discussed in my August (I like to think in both senses of the word) column for The Japan Times. Have a read of it here, because I’m not going to summarise the whole argument again.

Done that? Good, because the rest of this post assumes you’re familiar with what it discusses.

OK, so just a few days after my article was published, Oomori was in the news again after an interview she did published on music web site Natalie led to her making a few troubling remarks about feminism. The interviewer suggested that in contrast to the male-manipulated world of most idol music, by taking control of her own work she could be a role model for women and girls in the music scene. Her reaction was to flatly reject this and defensively disassociate herself from feminism in any way, even to the point of denying that discrimination exists.

Now this is patently bullshit as should be obvious to anyone with a basic familiarity with Japanese society, but in the context of my column it made more sense. Oomori isn’t interested in society and wants no part of it. She’s been able to do what she wants, and even thinking about the context of that (Why does she want to do those things? Would it have been as easy for her if she had wanted to do something less easily marketable?) is an imposition. Her attitude is basically, “I’m not going to play.”

And that’s an attitude that you see in a lot of the more popular indie acts now: a focus on the details at the expense of the narrative. You see it in the willfully blank, repetitive, comedic nonsense-poetry of Triple Fire, in the goofy, good-humoured, bedsit manchild schtick of Guessband (possibly not coincidentally one of the recruiting sources of Pink Tokarev members), and in the brash, anarchic, cosplay techno performance nudity of Nature Danger Gang. These acts might all be coming from different places, cosmically speaking, but their appeal has coalesced around a very similar kind of audience (primarily in the Shinjuku area and let’s face it, probably a reader of Trash Up! magazine). Where the previous underground generation bands who are now elder statesmen of the scene — groups like Panicsmile, Bossston Cruizing Mania, Groundcover. — tend to evoke a sense of individual details as invariably bound up with some wider world (Panicsmile’s excellent recent album Informed Consent encapsulates a lot of this even in just its title), a large part of what appeals to audiences now is in picking up on and identifying with details that resonate with the minutiae of fans’ lives without alluding to any wider context — or just simply absorbing yourself in funny nonsense.

This is the point where people usually chime in with “But what’s wrong with that? Why should everything have to mean something all the time? Why can’t stuff just be fun?” (Admit it, you actually had that thought somewhere a couple of paragraphs back, didn’t you?) Well, firstly I’m not sure that right and wrong has anything to do with this; it’s first and foremost an observation of how a noticeable section of the music scene seems to behave, although I shan’t pretend it doesn’t make me uncomfortable. But to respond to this string of hypothetical questions on their own terms, I could perhaps say that of course stuff doesn’t need to mean something all the time, but I’d point out that in the greater music ecosystem, stuff that’s not about anything and just wants to have fun has never in my lifetime been an endangered species to begin with. It’s the stuff that does grapple with the world for meaning that is in short supply and the indie and underground scenes have traditionally been the place you’d go to find that stuff. To get that answer, you’d need to look at the wider context though, and as we’ve seen, a lot of people just don’t want to do that.

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Top 20 albums/EPs of 2011 (numbers 11-20)

It’s taken me a while to get round to posting this, partly because there were a few CDs I heard only towards the end of the year and I needed time to digest them, partly because I’m lazy, and partly because I spend so much time out at gigs that I don’t really listen to as many CDs as I thought I did. This is by no means meant to be a definitive list of what’s good in Japan — there were loads of albums this year that I didn’t hear — think of it more as a critically compiled list of what passed through my hearing range last year. I’ve included a few pop albums where I thought what was going on was particularly interesting, but despite my frequent writings on J-pop and K-pop over the last year or so, I don’t think there are many mainstream pop groups in Japan whose actual albums I rate. Kara’s album was appalling, perhaps even more so than AKB48, who at least have never shown any capacity to make music of even the most infinitesimal quality, the T-ara album was great for the first four tracks but sucked after that, Perfume’s album was half a good album but half meh, The Kyary Pamyupamyu mini-album was good and only just missed out. The Sakanaction album was good too, but again, I couldn’t quite justify to myself counting it as a particular favourite. It’s a personal list and therefore subject to all my usual biases and musical prejudices.

I’ve counted both EPs, albums and mini-albums in here since defining the boundaries between them can be difficult at the best of times and Japanese underground bands make it impossible (Pq’s Hausdorff has ten tracks and comes in at eight minutes, another CD in the list has three songs at double that length, and so on). Obviously I’ve not included albums from Call And Response Records since I run the label, so Zibanchinka’s (excellent, natch) Hatsubai Chushi has to sit this one out.

I’ll post the top ten when I get back from Kyushu on Monday, but here’s the countdown from numbers 20 to 11:

20. Kobayashi Dorori: Yarukoto Yattara Kaette yo

Notable for the way the group released this EP with an accompanying erotic manga drawn by the guitarist, Kobayashi Dorori strike an appealing balance between an undoubted tendency towards pop culture geekery that occasionally manifests itself through eccentric lyrical diversions and poker-faced erotic imagery, spiky, Gang of Four-influenced postpunk guitar, and melodies that sometimes nod towards the girly punk-pop of Chatmonchy and their ilk (apologies, but there are practically no decent recordings of them on YouTube or elsewhere on the Web) without compromising the songs’ essentially stripped down natures. The delivery is so dry that it’s hard to tell how serious they’re being throughout most of it (my guess: not very) but that only adds another layer of intrigue to a band that’s already ambiguous on plenty of levels.

19. Siamese Cats: Gum

First up, I’m not usually a fan of these kinds of melodic Japanese indie rock bands. I tend to find them simultaneously not poppy enough to make good, shameless bubblegum pop fun and not aggressive and experimental enough to satisfy on a more harsh and physical level. Nevertheless, this debut mini-album by Tokyo’s Siamese Cats genuinely did impress me with its sometimes Dylanesque melodies, freewheeling approach to rhythm patterns and occasional diversions into the outlying foothills of psychedelia.

18. 2NE1: Nolza/2nd Mini-Album

Yes, they’re a Korean group, but they had an official Japanese release this year (that differed from the Korean version only through the omission of Park Bom vocal showcase Don’t Cry, which was a ballad and therefore doesn’t count) and in any case, Korean music is promoted and sold as an adjunct to J-Pop rather than as “foreign music” (check which floor the K-Pop is displayed on in Shinjuku or Shibuya Tower Records). This mini-album would have made it onto the list thanks to the bonkers Dutch-electro-Bollyhouse-whatever of I Am the Best alone, although Hate You is a fine piece of synthpop in its own right and even annoyingly earnest pop-rock singalongs like Ugly have either an arresting lyrical bite or some interesting synth bleeps and bloops or both. The acoustic guitar-led Lonely is complete crap, but let’s just pretend that never happened.

17. Miila and The Geeks: New Age

Miila and The Geeks’ first full album had a struggle on its hands extending their sparse guitar/drums/sax sound over fourteen tracks and keeping it interesting, but they make a little go a long way, building each song around a single idea and then clinging to it for the whole two minute running time before moving onto the next one. This, along with the minimal, repetitive lyrics, means that while the sound is deliberately scuzzy and uncompromising, there’s always a easily graspable hook to snare the listener. It’s also hugely indebted to bands like Teenage Jesus and The Jerks, and the problem with this kind of music is that when it so obviously harks back to the postpunk era, it sets itself up for potentially unflattering comparisons with genuinely the revolutionary bands of the past. So yeah, while New Age is no Pink Flag and vocalist Moe’s playful, apolitical lyrics lack any of Lydia Lunch’s politically charged rage and gravitas (she has a lot of fun running through the alphabet on Alphabed but it’s hard to imagine her singing lines like “Suburban wealth and middle class wellbeing / All it did was strip my feelings” or “I woke up bleeding / You are my razor”), musically it stands up pretty well on its own, and certainly among those at the forefront of the group’s peers.

CD, Self-released

16. Pop Office: I Was Killed Here

I’ve written about this here and haven’t much to add. Pop Office do the 80s new wave revival thing that is the stock in trade of bands like Lillies and Remains and Plasticzooms, but they never sound like they’re trying to be anything other than themselves. I like.

 

CD, Self-released

15. Pq: Hausdorff

With ten songs in eight minutes, this self-released CD/R album by Tokyo experimental collective Pq typically dives straight into a song, rattles through a dozen New-York-no-wave-meets-late-Canterbury-scene-psych-punk-with-mumbling musical non sequiturs in the space of about 42 seconds, pauses for a second, and then does it again. On one level, it’s a jangling jumble of disconnected sounds, and yet… and yet… And yet step back and it’s gloriously coherent, sprightly, sparkling with fun and humour. This is what experimental music should be.

CD, Take a Shower Records

14. Bossston Cruizing Mania: Loaded, Lowdead, Rawdead

I’ve written extensively about this album too, so again there’s not much to add. Bossston Cruizing Mania are fierce, aggressive, cynical, funky, occasionally self-indulgent but often devastatingly effective. They make messy, lo-fi postpunk not in tribute to their idols but out of having absorbed, played and lived loud, dirty, uncompromising music for most of their adult lives. This is real, baby.

CD, Contemode

13. capsule: World of Fantasy

Fans are divided over this album, but the critics are wrong. World of Fantasy was fabulous at the time, coming in a blast of club-ready, hedonistic fun just as post-quake Tokyo was looking for escapism, and after nearly a year, it’s still a gloriously stupid, often comically silly record. Nakata told me last year that he’s able to get away with more complex, multilayered ideas with capsule than his work with Perfume which he said needed to have one big idea. Now this may be true as far as his remit goes, but the fact is that World of Fantasy was his big dumb blast of riffs and catchy-yet-meaningless slogans, while JPN was all fiddly (although often interesting) production, and many of the songs’ melodies meandered aimlessly, idly and vainly looking for the big chorus or catchy hook that they needed.

CD, White Lily Records

12. Sloppy Joe: With Kisses Four

Another one that I reviewed last year. Utterly unoriginal, but so shameless about it that it gets a big balls-of-steel award for bravado. Also Still Be a Little Roof is possibly the indiepop song of the year.

CD, Self-released

11. Buddy Girl and Mechanic: 4 Songs Demo

Another self-released CD that did the rounds of the Tokyo indie scene last year. I’m not sure if it was ever even made available on sale or if it was just a promo, but it’s really quite lovely. Brooding, ambient, Lynchian Kraut-blues, with breathy, almost whispered vocals. Opening track Satan’s Son sounds like early Spiritualized or some of Jason Pierce’s material with Spacemen 3, but its when they dive into Can territory, as on the skittering, repetitive, motorik UltraWitchCraftyFab and the abstract funk of Fenix Drops that it really takes off.

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Bossston Cruizing Mania: Loaded, Lowdead, Rawdead

CD, Take a Shower records, 2011

This review first appeared in Japanese on Goblin.mu

No one could accuse Tokyo alternative/postpunk band Bossston Cruizing Mania of being wastefully prolific. “Loaded, Lowdead, Rawdead” emerges more than seven years after their third album, 2004’s “Comic/Saisei/Cynicism”, and coming up to twenty years since the band formed in the 1990s. Nevertheless, as lynchpins of the Tokyo underground live music scene they have been a constant fixture, so whatever you do, don’t call it a comeback.

Bossston Cruizing Mania share something in common with jazz/progressive/hip hop/alternative duo Uhnellys, with Esuhiro Kashima’s lyrics forming rambling narratives that snake in and out of the music. However, while Uhnellys’ Kim prefers the snappy, cinematic cut, cut, cut of a Martin Scorsese movie, the stories Kashima tells are more abstract and discursive, taking in topics as diverse as YouTube, socialism and Super Mario Brothers and employing a looser delivery, like a Japanese version of Mark E. Smith.

Kanpekina Kakurega

There are also similarities with Shutoku Mukai’s early Zazen Boys-era spoken word rants, although given that Bossston Cruizing Mania pre-date both Zazen Boys and Number Girl, it’s likely that any influence that there might be flowed from Kashima to Mukai rather than the other way round. In fact, rather than Mukai, it’s another late-90s Fukuoka scene figure, Panicsmile’s Hajime Yoshida, who exerts a more direct influence on “Loaded, Lowdead, Rawdead”.

Yoshida produced the album, and it was his band’s arrival in Tokyo that together with Bossston Cruizing Mania formed the core af a particular corner of the Tokyo music scene that emerged in the late 1990s and influenced a generation of bands, mostly centred around Akihabara Club Goodman (where first Yoshida and now Kashima have driven the booking policy) and latterly around Disk Union’s Take A Shower Records. Without Bossston Cruizing Mania and Panicsmile, bands like Tacobonds (also produced by Yoshida), The Mornings and more would probably not exist in their present form.

This is music that combines the sonic sensibility of British postpunk, U.S. no wave and 90s alternative rock with a mindset that forms part of a distinct Japanese rock lineage going back through 80s weirdos like Aburadako to the disenchanted post-hippy 1970s underground scene that eventually melded with the nascent punk scene. There are parallels with Pere Ubu, particularly in the first half of the album, for example the repetitive minimalism of “Low Down”, there are echoes of the postpunk dub of Jah Wobble and Public Image Limited on “Who is Next” and “Citibank”, as well as the brutal, uncompromising funk-punk of The Pop Group as on “Go On to Be Child”.

Citibank

Nevertheless, these are sounds that are so worn into the Tokyo alternative scene that they have become part of the fabric of the city; at least partially divorced from 70s Cleveland, London or Bristol, but rather than a fashion-conscious affectation, they have found a new home tattooed into the concrete of venues along Tokyo’s Chuo Line and beyond, buzzing with urban frustration, alienation and paranoia.

The jerky skittishness and sparse production are powerfully discomfiting but also relentless, which makes it a difficult album to swallow in one gulp. Contemporaries like Panicsmile would often find ways to break up the harshness of their more experimental and raw moments with, admittedly self-mocking and deconstructive, approximations of the occasional pop song, while the 25-to-30-minute mini-album is becoming the delivery medium of choice for many current underground bands.

Who is Next

Especially given the long gap since “Loaded, Lowdead, Rawdead”‘s predecessor, one wonders if Bossston Cruizing mania might be better off releasing their material more frequently in more easily digestible chunks. On the other hand, and perhaps decisively, it’s difficult not to respect the band’s uncompromising commitment to the ideal, and with the carnivalesque “It’s 4AM in Lynch” they even indulge the listener by rounding the album off with something that sounds almost happy.

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Profile: Tacobonds

I’m helping to organise an event in Tokyo on Sunday January 22nd that features a lot of my favourite local bands so over the next week, I’ll be profiling a different one every day. Obviously part of the hope is for anyone in the Tokyo area to find something that catches their interest and come along, although this is just as much an opportunity to wax lyrical about bands that I think are wonderful and/or lovely for anyone to enjoy.

The first band I’m going to talk about are Tacobonds:

BPM4

Tacobonds have been around in one form or another since 1998 and are part of a generation of bands emerging from Rikkyo University in the late 90s who were at least in their own minor way influential in the Tokyo indie/alternative scene. Joshua Comeback and The Hangovers are a couple of other examples of bands who came out of the same Rikkyo band circle; Tokyo Pinsalocks were members of a different club at the same university.

Originally Tacobonds were formed by vocalist Toshikazu Sasaki, with guitarist Naoki Ogawa joining a week or two later. They ditched their original bassist and drummer in 2003 and broughit in Arito Yano on drums and Yukiyo on bass, with their sound slowly evolving from the old-school emo-ish alternative rock/punk sound that was common to many Japanese bands of the post-Number Girl generation towards the more progressive, rhythmically tricky and riff-heavy sound displayed on their 2005 full-length debut album Sick of Listening (produced by AxSxE from Natsumen).

By 2009 Ogawa had stopped using effects pedals and the group were moving towards a more stripped down, postpunk-influenced sound based on quirky but confident grooves and a less heavy, more scratchy, furious and dynamic sound. The same year, Sasaki left, leaving  Ogawa as the group’s de facto leader and forcing them to reconsider their sound again. What followed was six months with a rotating cast of guest vocals from local luminaries such as Panicsmile, Bossston Cruizing Mania, Groundcover., Mahiruno and others before they emerged at the other end with a new, more confident, slimmed down lineup, that took more of a tag-team approach to vocals, often emphasising the contrast between Ogawa’s punk boy yelling and Yukiyo’s demure, cooing melodies, but with subtle changes in time signature still forming the key to the songs’ dynamics and Ogawa showing a revived interest in effects pedals.

This Count

It was this lineup and these songs that formed the basis of the group’s 2011 album No Fiction, released on Disk Union affiliate label Take A Shower Records (who also released The Mornings and Bossston Cruizing Mania the same year). The great thing about Tacobonds is the way they are able to make quite complicated, technical, even fiddly things seem so natural, intuitive and accessible. Throughout the music they keep dropping hooks for the audience to catch onto, each member seems instinctively aware of what the others are doing even when they let things fall out of synchronisation or descend into a tightly controlled spiral of chaos.

For me the best thing about them is hearing audience members break out in screams when they drop from one time signature into another. I mean, isn’t that brilliant: audiences going nuts, punching the air and getting all stagedivey at a change in goddamn time signature? Well you might not think so, but trust me, it is. And it’s the passion and sheer rocking-outness of it that makes it so kinetic, so immediate. I remember once seeing them at a gig where Ogawa broke the guitar amp during a particularly frenzied wig-out, but the other two kept up the same dance groove for what may have been only five or six minutes, but from the sweat pouring off Yano’s face looked like far longer, while problems were diagnosed and a replacement was found, before Ogawa plugged back in and casually as you like all three members swung straight back into the song at the exact moment they’d left off, drawing their energy out of the air and spitting it back in the audience’s faces. And in Tokyo there are few bands around who can touch them.

Fiction

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Connect And Receive, December 2011

Connect And Receive is a series of monthly Japanese indie music podcasts I’ve been making since the summer. I skipped last month because I was too busy with various bands’ tours but I’ve made the December one into a sort of end-of-year review focussing on some of my favourite bands and releases of the year, as well as a couple of things from previous years that I either only discovered recently or came back to in a big way this year. Anyway, here’s the pod:

CONNECT AND RECEIVE, DECEMBER 2011

And here’s the track list:

1. cynicalsmileisyourfavorite: Crazy Disco (self-released 2011 CD/R)
2. Kobayashi Dorori: Pickles (Yarukoto Yattara Kaette yo, 2011)
3. Hakoiri Kibun: Hakuchuu Sosou (Fudoutoku Pops Kouza, 2010)
4. Bossston Cruizing Mania: Low Down (Loaded Lowdead Rawdead, 2011)
5. Extruders: Vertical Point (Neuter, 2007)
6. Lihappiness: Eikoku ni Tsutawaru Dance (Drums & Lihappiness, 2011)
7. Hysteric Picnic: Persona (Hysteric Picnic EP, 2011)
8. She Talks Silence: Dead Romance (Some Small Gifts, 2011)
9. Uhnellys: Subliminal Orchestra (To Too Two, 2011)
10. Mothercoat: No Music Yes Life (Egobag, 2011)
11. Sloppy Joe: Still Be a Little Roof (With Kisses Four, 2011)

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