Tag Archives: Buddy Girl and Mechanic

Top 20 Releases of 2014: No.8 – Buddy Girl and Mechanic – Topsy Turvy

Topsy Turvy

CD/download, Space Shower Music, 2014

A shifting collection of Tokyo psychedelic postpunkers of no fixed membership, Buddy Girl and Mechanic followed up their luxurious self-titled 2013 debut with this claustrophobic piece of clockwork mechanical nonsense, maintaining their position as one of the most distinctive and interesting bands in the Tokyo music scene.

Can are an obvious influence, most strongly on Circe’s Kitchen, but rather than Jaki Liebezeit’s slippery drumming, the rhythms of Topsy Turvy elsewhere employ more mechanical beats, either intricate, overlapping toy rhythms as on Release the Fish, direct and propulsive as on Mechanic Nonsense, or some combination of the two as on the closing Nature/Property.Mechanic Nonsense

Seemingly stitched together from a variety of home and studio recording fragments, Topsy Turvy is a patchwork of varied sonic textures, which added to the toybox of sounds that are poured into songs like Cats Scratching makes listening to the album feel like searching for a lost earring in an unruly but fearsomely imaginative child’s bedroom. It retains a fondness for bluesy vocal melodies though, which even the most eccentric parts of the arrangements is ensures there’s a branch to cling onto, if a wilfully unsteady one.

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Getting hold of indie CDs from Japan — Call And Response Distribution

In the course of writing this blog, I occasionally get messages asking where people can get hold of the music I review, and while Bandcamp has been a wonderful thing in facilitating distribution of indie music all over the world and giving listeners the opportunity to pay bands and labels the bare minimum they actually deserve for their work, there is still a lot of music where the answer is simply, “Japan. If you’re lucky.”

In the past there have been attempts by indie music entrepreneurs to set up online distribution systems for Japanese music in the form of music download stores, but from conversations I’ve had with they’ve tended to run into problems firstly with the fan community, as new releases instantly get shared over fan forums with sales dropping to zero within just a few days, and secondly with record labels, as especially major labels but also many indies, can be exceptionally fussy and controlling over their product, to the point where it becomes more of a hassle than it’s worth to work with them.

A third problem, at least from my subjective position, is that these stores have tried too hard to give fans what they want. From a business perspective of course this makes obvious sense, but honestly, fans of Japanese music as a collective group have pretty horrible taste. I’m utterly opposed to any music business model that involves following what the audience wants (as a non-coincidental adjunct to that, I’m also deeply suspicious of any music business model that makes money). People have got way to used to the notion that “the customer is always right” and are well on the way to embracing the Japanese notion that “the customer is God”. This is questionable at the best of times because it devalues the workers’ experience and rights, and it’s especially inappropriate in the world of the arts.

Now I love so much music in the Japanese indie and underground scenes, and I want people to hear it, so since I already have an online storefront for selling my own label’s CDs, it was easy enough to expand the store to include a Distribution section where I can make available some of the music I write about on this site. I shan’t be selling downloads — that’s up to bands to decide and set up for themselves — and I shan’t be dealing with any record labels that give me even the faintest hint of hassle. All music I make available will be from local Japanese artists and labels I’ve personally selected and recommend, so make sure to adjust your taste filters accordingly.

You can access the shop here.

Call And Response Records

There are currently four CDs available.

Buddy Girl and Mechanic: Buddy Girl and Mechanic

Buddy Girl and Mechanic

First up is Buddy Girl and Mechanic’s sexy, psychedelic, kraut-blues debut, which I raved about last year and was one of my top releases of 2013. Not much I can add to what I’ve already written about this other than that it’s great and that they’re an utterly singular and compelling band, unique in the Japanese indie music scene.

Buddy Girl and Mechanic: Topsy Turvy

Topsy Turvy

Also available is Topsy TurvyBuddy Girl and Mechanic’s second mini album from this summer (which I wrote about here). A more intricate and claustrophobic record than the band’s eponymous debut, it expands the range of sounds they play with while retaining the interplay between organic and mechanical elements that is their signature sound.

Macmanaman: Drunkendesignatedhitter

Drunkendesignatedhitter

The third CD is Fukuoka-based instrumental post-rock band Macmanaman’s ferocious live album Drunkendesignatedhitter, with the live recording environment really capturing the band’s virtues in their best light. I interviewed them earlier in the year around the release of this album, and as we near the end of the year it’s still holding its own as one of the most impressive underground releases of the year.

Compact Club: Compact Club

Subete wa Template

Lastly, we have new wave art-popsters Compact Club’s Subete wa Template EP (review here). Drawing on influences like the Plastics, Devo  and especially P-Model, but with a skronky, postpunk edge, they’re one of my favourite new bands, this is their debut release, but there’s hopefully going to be great new stuff coming from them.

This store is never going to be anything other than a narrow, tightly curated fragment of everything that’s out there, filtered through my own particular taste, but it will grow gradually as I add more stuff. Some new stock arrived today and I shall be writing it up and updating the store over then next week or so, and I’ll ensure I post any new arrivals here as they come in.

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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).

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Buddy Girl and Mechanic: Topsy Turvy

Topsy Turvy

CD/download, 2014

One of this web site’s top albums of last year was Buddy Girl and Mechanic’s eponymous debut, and it’s heartening that they’ve been able to follow it up so quickly (or at least what passes for quickly in the Japanese indie world). While a lot remains consistent with before, with the blues-inflected melodies combined with an obvious love of krautrock, and vocalist Xiroh’s habit of suddenly squeaking like a 1960s secretary who’s just been touched on the bottom by a roguish co-worker. However, the transition from the bands debut to Topsy Turvy is far from seamless, and it’s clear a lot’s been going on in the studio in the interim. While Buddy Girl and Mechanic was characterised by expansive, reverb-drenched sonic vistas, Topsy Turvy is a far more claustrophobic album, with the group’s “Mechanic” aspect expressing itself in the clockwork clinks, clanks, rattles and creaks of songs like Mechanic Nonsense and Cat’s Scratching, and the tightly compressed drums of the Circe’s Kitchen. Rather than all blending together into one sultry sunset soup as the 2013 model BGM did, the band’s 2014 incarnation sets each sound scrapping it out in a closet.

One effect of this more claustrophobic production is that where in the past Xiroh’s vocals have tended to be indistinct in the reverb and overdubs, here they are occasionally pushed closer to the surface, as on the title track. Language can often be a problem for Japanese acts as the needs, expectations and interpretations of domestic and overseas audiences can lead to very different responses. Most obviously this lies in comprehension, where Japanese is obviously easier to understand for Japanese audiences and English for those in many other places. Differences also lie in how exotic or fashionable a language can make something sound, and how the inflection the singer places on the words can affect the impression they make. The vocals on Topsy Turvy are in a mixture of English and Japanese, processed through a variety of effects, sometimes in the group’s familiar distant and abstract manner, sometimes right close up in the listener’s ear. Now where a group like Shonen Knife make a virtue out of the naïvety of their English pronunciation, Buddy Girl aren’t that sort of band. The persona Xiroh projects is more adult, more vampish, and this lends an odd sense of not-quite-rightness to the English language material, where the naturalistic and the obviously foreign grate against each other.

And yet break it down and there’s nothing intrinsically wrong going on in their either. Topsy Turvy kicks off with a song that purrs its desire to “make it nonsense” and is an album constructed entirely of sounds and ideas designed to clash against each other. Release the Fish sets what sounds like a sanshin, an instrument primarily associated with Okinawan folk music, against a song that’s comes over like one big sexual come-on, while closing track Nature/Property takes all the grinding gears, tensing wires and general “mechanic nonsense” that have clattered through the album and builds an ambient psychedelic crescendo around them before releasing it all into a throbbing, motorik conclusion that lasts for about a minute but could have gone on for about twenty.

So amid all this wilful chaos, does something coherent emerge? Well, firstly I’m not sure it really needs to, and secondly yes it does. Aside from the obvious point that the thematic clash of elements that runs through the album is in itself a point of consistency, the group also never let it sabotage the songs. “The melody, it’s my remedy,” is the opening track’s response to the “nonsense” it professes to promote, and while Buddy Girl and Mechanic play the mischief makers, they’re fundamentally a band very much like Can in that the fun and games is always set in service of the greater musical good.

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Call And Response Records — Appendix

As an appendix to the series of posts on the release history of my Call And Response Records label which started here, I’m just going to add a few more comments and thoughts.

First up, you’ll notice that the catalogue numbers often skip a few (and actually it doesn’t show here but in some cases are out of sequence). The reason for this is that some releases are free downloads or private CD/Rs and things that I chose to pass over in favour of the CDs I pressed and released professionally. They also sometimes fall out of sequence because I’m disorganised and sometimes things get delayed and something else slips into the gap. Anyway, this isn’t a big deal, but just in case anyone was wondering why the N’toko album was CAR-77 but the Black Sabbath Paranoid covers compilation was CAR-75, it’s because CAR-76 hasn’t been released yet die to production delays (next month, maybe?)Jebiotto (live at Kichijoji Planet K)

Looking forward, there’s a Jebiotto album (the much-delayed CAR-76) in the works, and a new issue of Quit Your Band! gradually taking shape, with Slow-Marico on the accompanying CD. There are friends of the label also working on new albums that even if they’re not on Call And Response, I’ll certainly be loudly cheering on, with Iguz Souseki’s psychedelic post-Zibanchinka band Futtachi foremost among these. September 27th 2014 will also mark the ten-year anniversary of the first Clear And Refreshing live event, so there’s going to be a big party to celebrate that.

Finally, in a purely hypothetical exercise (the last one was too recent for it to really be worth doing another one right now), I’m going to talk a bit about what a new Call And Response compilation in the Dancing After 1AM/1-2-3-Go! mould might look like if I were to make one now.

Firstly and obviously since it was only a year and a half ago, a lot of bands would be the same. Futtachi, Hysteric Picnic, Hyacca, Mir, Slow-Marico and Jebiotto would be right at the top of my list of people I’d be mailing. However, there are some bands who were on DA1AM who are probably a bit too famous or at least operate in a slightly more professional milieu now — bands who wouldn’t really benefit from being on the album and who I’m not really doing stuff at live events with these days. She Talks Silence, Extruders and The Mornings for example are bands I still very highly regard, but who are kind of above my level now, and while I’m not opposed to getting in popular bands who work musically with what Call And Response does, there is a balance between that and finding out new stuff that I feel should tilt more towards the latter than the former.Umez: Lingering Dream

Bands that have come onto my radar over the past year and a bit and who I’d definitely be trying to get something from for this hypothetical CD include indiepop jangleteers DYGL, noise-pop duo Umez, industrial/EBM duo group A, Fukuoka electronic glitchgaze duo Deltas, jittery Saga punk trio Hakuchi, Krautrock-kayoukyoku three-piece Fancy Numnum, new wave/artpunkers Compact Club, and Tokyo postpunk band illmilliliter. The marvellous Buddy Girl and Mechanic, who I missed out on with DA1AM, would be well up there among my priorities too, while it would please me greatly to get original 1-2-3-go! band Usagi Spiral A back to do something as well.Hakuchi: Suttokodokkoi

As I say, I’m in no hurry to make another compilation, but I’m not short of stuff I’m still excited enough by to do something with. Anyway, back to regular posting after this. Your attention has been greatly appreciated.

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Top 20 Releases of 2013: No.4 – Buddy Girl and Mechanic – Buddy Girl and Mechanic

I’ve already written so much about this band over the past couple of years that there’s really very little else I can add. This album came out at the beginning of 2013 and its seven tracks (three of which are available to listen on the band’s Bandcamp and Soundcloud pages) kept bringing my back over and over again. It’s breathy, bluesy and ambient, but with a motorik driving power that underlies it and gives propulsive force that prevents it from getting bogged down in the dreamy web it weaves. More recently the band made a cameo appearance in and contributed to the soundtrack of the Zellner Brothers’ forthcoming film Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter, which will hopefully see them garner a wider following, and it’s easy to see how the Herzog-influenced, Austin-based filmmakers would be attracted to BGM’s spacious, dreamlike combination of intensely physical blues and out-of-this-world kosmische.

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Guardian Song of the Week: Buddy Girl and Mechanic, “A Very Ordinary Day”

This week’s pickup for The Guardian’s music from around the world guest blogging series is an ambient Kraut-blues psychedelic pop trip from one of Tokyo’s best new bands.

One of the best Japanese albums of the year was the self-titled debut by Buddy Girl and Mechanic, a Tokyo-based psychedelic pop quartet whose distinctive combination of Krautrock and sultry, ambient blues melodies has marked them at once as a band to watch but also served to hold them separate from any of the close-knit scenes that make up Tokyo’s Balkanised indie landscape.

Released as part of Japanese net label Ano(t)raks’ B.V.D.A. birthday compilation, Buddy Girl and Mechanic’s take on the birthday theme is typically dark and opaque with references to the atomic bomb and Hitler coming at you right from the get go. The group’s familiar musical motifs are also clearly on display, with a metronomic guitar and subtle but insistent drum pattern forming the song’s spine, embellished with occasional crashes of clattering guitar noise. The core dynamic that runs through both this song and the group’s whole catalogue is a tension between this mechanical rhythmical sense and the fluid melodies that float over the top. This juxtaposition of elements is embodied by frontwoman Xiroh herself, whose simple two-note keyboard threaten to give the song an almost technopop feel, while her sultry vocals insist on the organic.

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