Tag Archives: Boyish

Top 20 releases of 2013: Intro

I’ve put off doing this for plenty long enough, so before January ends, I’d like to get started on counting down my top releases by Japanese or Japan-based artists of 2013. As with previous years, I’m basically sticking to releases with three or more tracks, I’m not imposing any particular genre restrictions although given this blog’s focus, it’s obviously going to be more or less entirely indie-biased. In addition, it’s obviously limited to albums that I’ve had a good listen to, and finally, this list and ranking is entirely subject to my own whims and on a different day might look totally different.

This means that singles like Merpeoples’ excellent Silent Sleep and Miu Mau’s (last year’s top placed band) magnificent Monochrome/Spring 7-inch aren’t included. It also means that Hikashu, who released two albums this year if we include the one they did with Charan Po Rantan, don’t feature simply because I haven’t had a chance to listen to any of their new material yet. Likewise I can’t assess Fukuoka indie quartet the Hearsays who I’ve been very excited about for a long time, Yokohama postpunk weirdniks Sayuu, and Tokyo indiepopsters Boyish (who featured last year) because I haven’t copies of their albums.Sugardrop: Breeze Flower

Because I decided to keep this list as a strict Top 20, there were a few albums by bands I very much like that I didn’t have space to include. On another day they might have been in there, and they remain highly recommended, so Pop-Office’s Portraits in Sea is one well worth checking out, as is Ykiki Beat’s Tired of Dreams. Hotel Mexico’s Her Decorated Post Love was another fine album that didn’t make the cut but on another day likely would have and if you haven’t heard it, you should go out and do that right now, as you should Sugardrop’s superb, shoegazetastic Yeah Right. As I said earlier, there’s a strong indie bias to this list, and while Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and Momoiro Clover Z both put out genuinely good and highly recommended albums, neither album really stuck with me enough to warrant a place among my top 20 of the year. Sakanaction also put out another very good album and remain consistently the best “mainstream” Japanese rock band, but somehow their stuff still doesn’t quite jive with me the way I feel it should. It’s a top notch album, brimming with creativity and thoroughly deserving of its massive sales and huge popularity, but I don’t know. It’s a model example of an album that does everything right and shows signs of maybe even being a classic, but doesn’t make my heart sing the way my real favourites did. It’s good so listen to it and a lot of you will feel it in a way I just can’t quite. It’s not you, Sakanaction, it’s me.Sakanaction: Yoru no Odoriko

Last of all, and again as with previous years, I’m obviously not including albums I released myself through my Call And Response label, which means the brilliant Я не могу без тебя (“Ya ne mogu bez tebya”, or “I can’t live without you”) by Mir and Hysteric Picnic’s fantastic Cult Pops are out of contention, although of course both would be right up near the top if I were honest about my feelings for them.

Anyway, now that you’re primed, I’ll be starting the countdown from tomorrow, so get ready.

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DYGL: DYGL

DYGLI first encountered DYGL (pronounced “day-glo”) in their earlier incarnation as the ungoogleable De Nada at a small show at the now defunct Shibuya Echo in December last year and was impressed by their energetic brand of jangly indiepop. Yeah, I know, another jangly, 80s-influenced Japanese indiepop band. There are a lot of them about, and really a lot of pretty good ones, although so slavishly devoted to a particular sort of lo-fi, C86, proto-shoegaze aesthetic are many of these bands that distinguishing the fine nuances that separate them can be a bit like trying to differentiate between different K-Pop groups on sound alone, i.e. the differences are there, but you have to be deeply buried in the subculture to recognise them when uniformity and adherence to a style are such important parts of what passes for musical identity.

Bearing this in mind, DYGL’s closest musical contemporaries might be Nagoya’s Lilacs, who share a similarly propulsive, uptempo rhythm. In particular, what I like about DYGL is that the vocalist actually sings properly. He’s actually got a rather nice soul singer’s voice, which is in evidence a bit more in his other band, the more musically adventurous Ykiki Beat, and when taken as a whole, DYGL’s musical repertoire seems less rigid than some of their more 80s-fixated peers, demonstrating a possible interest in, or at least echoes of, the genre’s 60s garage roots as well, which expands the range of sounds available to them.

The band also have a five-track CD/R that’s doing the rounds (not sure if it’s available to buy or even what the real title is, but track them down at one of their gigs and I suspect they’ll have a few copies). On the CD, things are a bit more conventional, with the homogenising nature of bedroom recording meaning that the vocals, the band’s strongest point, slip back into the dreamy murk that characterises Tokyo-based contemporaries like the (nevertheless very good) Boyish. That said, the levelling effect of the lo-fi recording means that DYGL’s songwriting has to stand by itself, and it does so confidently. There’s a lot of energy that the band are forced to repress in these recordings though, and the sense remains though that these are songs that would benefit from some time in a proper recording studio where the band can rock out and let the vocals sing out cleanly.

There are some excellent songs here and DYGL are a young band to watch out for. Especially if you get the chance to see them live, they really are one of the best bands in their genre, brimming with energy, their sound breezily retro, but not overwhelmed by museum-piece recreation of their idols.

UPDATE: DYGL now have their own Soundcloud with four songs, including some different ones to those linked here, up on it. Go check them out at this link.

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Top 20 Releases of 2012: No.16 – Boyish – Summer Dream

I was a little bit cynical about this self-produced, self-released CD/R when it came out last spring, but for all its youthful fixation on the past and despite the bugbear I have about the way so many indiepop vocalists insist on adopting this vague, disaffected murmur instead of, you know, singing properly, just on the strength of tunes alone, Summer Dream is an outstanding album, especially for those, like me, who share a mild obsession with bands like The Close Lobsters.

Because the vocals are buried, shoegaze-style, beneath a duvet of semi-conscious cotton wool haze, he real pleasure of listening to Summer Dream comes from the moments where the big, chiming guitar riffs jump in, all shimmering, spine-tingling reverb, and kick the song up a gear. Summer Dream is a defiantly lo-fi release, and you suspect that the band are happy for things to stay that way, but like Teen Runnings (ex. Friends), to whom Boyish almost certainly owe a debt of influence (and whose debut album was re-released in a slightly cleaned-up form last August), it wouldn’t take much extra work to make these songs into something much more strident, confident-sounding and pop.

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Boyish: The Hidden Secrets EP

It’s a constant source of wonder to me the way so many Japanese indiepop bands seem to spend hours ensuring the reverb on their guitars is just so in order to create the scientifically optimum level of Cure/Smiths/Close Lobsters style jangle and then when it comes to recording and mixing the vocals, they suddenly discover that of all the bands they could be mimicking, Sonic Flower Groove-era Primal Scream (the second-worst period of this utterly horrible band, and largely because of the shuddering craptitude of the worst vocalist in British indie history, Bobby Gillespie) is the pinnacle of their aspiration.

I dig Boyish and there is a lot to love about them on this new EP. On title track The Hidden Secrets, they fashion a neat energy rush out of the little pause between each loop of the main guitar riff and on Quarrel, the xylophone that dances over the top of the guitars seems to be saying, “Want some jangle on top of your jangle? You got it!” while the repetitive chorus burns itself into your ears and the abrupt halt that closes the song is an enjoyably snotty way to end. Closing number, Crazy For You is the weakest of the collection, and it’s no coincidence that it’s the once that sees Boyish aping Primal Scream the most, with the vocals smeared blandly across the otherwise solid track, nailed down to no clear melody and expressing no particular character or personality.

I realise that this, more than many other things, is a matter of taste (I really do dislike Primal Scream a lot, and Bobby Gillespie in particular I can’t stand), and there is a certain sort of person who finds this sort of emotionally drained vocal style the peak of washed-out beauty. I also don’t want this to seem like I’m gunning after Boyish in particular, since they’re a band I very much like. It’s a general point about the mixing of vocals in Japanese indie records that I’ve touched on before when discussing Nagoya’s The Moments and which some people have mentioned as a criticism of Friends/Teen Runnings (I don’t strictly agree as far as Teen Runnings are concerned, since their music has a more abrasive, punk edge, but it was enough that they themselves decided to remix their album and clean up the vocals) but it really does seem to me that these bands are all missing a trick by neglecting the musical opportunities offered by such an important instrument as the vocals.

(More on this over at Make Believe Melodies)

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Boyish: Summer Dream

CDR/cassette, self-released, 2012

Hey, have you heard the new album by The Close Lobsters? Wicked, isn’t is? Oh, and the new Pale Fountains, isn’t it just utterly brill? And I’ve got tix for Felt next week, which is going to be ace for deffo — you’ll be there, right?

Chances are your answer to all the above is going to be no, since you’re not living in cold, grey, wet, Thatcher-era Britain. However, a small but dedicated corner of the Japanese indie scene are still carrying the flame, carefully shielding it against the wind and rain as they shuffle through life in their NHS specs and tank tops, collars of their macs turned up against the 80s chill, vocals turned down to near incomprehensibility in the mix and reverb whacked up to eleven on the guitars.

Enter Boyish, who are so mad keen on 1980s Britain that their new Summer Dream mini-album sounds exactly like a Macbook Pro loaded up with Garageband slipped through a wormhole to a damp afternoon in 1986 Manchester. Or Glasgow. Or Birmingham. Or Liverpool. Oh, you get it, right? You know the deal: jangly guitars, lovelorn lyrics, faint air of disaffection. We’ve been here before, or a pretty similar place, with Sloppy Joe’s hilarious and ultimately charming Postcard Records homage With Kisses Four last year, but while Sloppy Joe teetered on the brink of knowing pastiche, offering sly winks and nods to specific songs, Summer Dream sounds more like a straight up act of devotion to the sounds of the 80s. If With Kisses Four was a love letter to the era, Summer Dream has taken a job as its live-in nanny and started breastfeeding its children in secret.

So, um, where was I? The music. As someone for whom The Close Lobsters’ Foxheads Stalk This Land probably ranks as one of the all time greatest albums in the history of recorded music, I’d have to say that these nine songs are really quite lovely. The murkiness on the vocal production goes a bit too far, but I made it through Friends’ (now Teen Runnings’) Let’s Get Together Again without suffering permanent injury and I’ll survive this. At a bit over 22 minutes, it doesn’t outstay its welcome, and when those chiming guitar solos kick in like they do in Blindfold or Winter Song, it’s enough to make a boy go squiffy.

There’s a broader point here about just what point there is in a musician from 2012 Tokyo making music that sounds like something from an economically depressed former mining or steelworking town in northern England 25 years ago, and it certainly does nothing to push Japanese indie forward in any meaningful way, but then group mastermind Mr. Iwasaki could justifiably argue that isn’t his responsibility. And in that narrow sense, he’d be right. This is music whose only responsibility is to the small band of tweepop retronauts who hang around Shibuya Echo and Jet Set Records and any number of indie blogs. Like, um, this one. It’s a button-pushing record made for fans of a specific sound, and it ruthlessly hits the right notes, crashing into exactly the chord changes you’re expecting at exactly the moment you’re expecting them, and delivering the heart surges and dreamy wig-outs with deadly precision like a fix to a desperate junkie. It’s nothing new, but in a world where “something new” can be a scary, disorientating and alienating force, indiepopsters can be forgiven for taking some comfort in the past.

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