Tag Archives: Convex Level

Top 20 Releases of 2016: No.4 – Convex Level – Inverse Mapped Tiger Moth

Convex Level - Inverse Mapped Tiger Moth

CD/download, Kikufactory, 2016

Convex Level are a rare and precious band in the Japanese underground rock scene, blending a knack for instantly accessible tunes with a restless creative instinct that ensures that for all the ease and familiarity of their hooks, they never play it quite straight.

Formed in Osaka in the mid-‘80s and releasing their first album in 1991, Convex Level emerged against the backdrop of two important musical movements. The first of these is the extreme underground characterised by the likes of Hijokaidan and Hanatarash (later the Boredoms), while the other is the nationwide band boom of more conventionally pop- and rock-influenced bands that was inspired by punk and helped drive the massive expansion in Japan’s live infrastructure. While Convex Level steer clear of the confrontational noise and junk sounds of some of their Osaka contemporaries, and their pop instincts consistently swerve the proto-J-Pop conventions of much of the band boom, holding these two backgrounds in mind is helpful in understanding the kind of tension that runs through the music on Inverse Mapped Tiger Moth.

It’s a tension between the instinct towards accessibility and obliqueness that’s reminiscent of Robert Pollard of Guided By Voices’ maxim about subverting the “creamy” and making things “fucked-up”. There’s none of Pollard’s wilful sloppiness here, and it’s a far less jarring tension, but there’s a similar freewheeling charm in how Convex Level barrel through moments of soaring pop and playful artsiness, refusing to accept them as different. I Am A Clone rocks through four and a half minutes of anthemic indie rock before literally pulling a 180-degree turn and reversing the tape for the last minute. Murder in the Greenhouse starts out like a rather surprising excursion into bar blues, until you notice just how fucked-up the intersection between the rhythm and melody is, never quite sure if it’s on or off the beat.

There’s also an openness about the band’s own inspirations that permeates the album. The opening Spellbound has clear echoes of Nirvana in its melody, although the band take the song in a direction all of their own (there was always way more of The Police to Convex Level’s songwriting than there was grunge). Intentional or not, it sets the tone for an oblique sort of nostalgia for early influences and contemporaries — a sense of old ideas forgotten and rediscovered perhaps echoed in the defiantly krautrock-influenced 23-minute Lost And Found, with the subtitles of its five parts namechecking Irmin Schmidt, Yukio Mishima, Denardo Coleman, Jane Birkin (and someone called Eric, whose identity is open to interpretation). Elsewhere, the title of the closing Bell Is a Shelter Until It Is Rung riffs off Wire’s A Bell Is a Cup Until It Is Struck, but the most striking thing is that amid all these shout-outs to past heroes just how much Convex Level sound like themselves.

After 30 years together as a band, Convex Level are a powerful musical and songwriting force, and on this seventh album they can confidently wear their influences on their sleeves without fear of being subsumed by them.

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Top 20 Releases of 2014: No.3 – Convex Level – donotcl

donotcl

CD, Convex Level, 2014

Convex Level are still a band I know very little about. They’ve been around on and off for years but their releases have been sporadic, they’re friends with Extruders, one of the smartest and best bands currently operating in Japan, all of whom have cameos in Convex Level’s 2013 video Traffic, their web site is cool looking but nigh unnavigable, and they have a surprisingly cheerful stage manner given the sometimes brooding nature of their music. Where things become less ambiguous is in what Donotcl reveals about just how good they are.

On Donotcl Convex Level stake a convincing claim as a sort of Japanese Talking Heads, navigating a path through new wave, pop and art rock that is is diverse in its songwriting as it is consistent in its quality. From the tight, often thoroughly funky bass to the ringing reverb of the guitars, there’s a terrific sense of space (Donotcl shares a recording studio and engineer with Luminous Orange, whose Soar, Kiss the Moon is another standout in terms of audio production on this list). That sense of space extends not only to the sound within the recordings, but also to the way the band feel comfortable letting them breathe, drawing them out through expansive instrumental passages while retaining a focussed structural integrity, exemplified by songs like Dice and Slider, the latter of which is Convex Level’s Marquee Moon, clocking in at eleven minutes without ever losing sight of the song at its core.Human Receiver, live at Akihabara Club Goodman

At the other end of the spectrum, Maria is a straight-up new wave pop tune with all the fun and fizz of early XTC, while Human Receiver is all Gang of Four-esque rhythmic jitters before blossoming into an anthemic rock chorus. The English language That’s Always Fantasy takes the band’s obvious weakness for lighters-aloft stadium rock to its greatest extreme, seeming to stray dangerously into aspirational ad-speak platitudes like “You can become what you want to be,” although the lyric as a whole is ambiguous enough that it might be saying the exact opposite.Ashy Sleep, live at Akihabara Club Goodman

What runs through all of Donotcl is a pitch-perfect balance of pop accessibility and arty experimentation, with the gorgeous, funky and intricate Ashy Sleep – an instant classic and possibly this site’s favourite song of the year – representing that balance best. At over an hour in length, this collection of thirteen songs is easily the longest album in this top twenty countdown, but Convex Level nonetheless make every moment count.

[The songs Ashy Sleep and State of Things are available to download for free from the band’s web site]

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Convex Level: State of Things / Ashy Sleep

Despite having been around for what seems like forever, Japanese postpunk trio Convex Level only really came onto this blog’s radar due to their touring relationship with Clear And Refreshing favourites Extruders. And from these two tracks which the band are giving away for free, taken from the band’s current donotcl album, it’s easy to see to appeal Convex Level would hold for a band as deeply immersed in minimalist postpunk dynamics and sweet, but understated melody as Extruders.

State of Things is a more pretty conventional new wave/80s rock tune with that chugging mid-paced beat and “Ah-ahh” backing harmonies that a lot of songs of that era seemed to have but you can’t really put your finger on a single one that memorably did so. It’s still very well put together though, with the harmonies and key changes dropping in at the moments of maximum effectiveness to either disconcert or give a heartstopping endorphin surge — not to mention a proper guitar solo slap bang in the middle of the song. Played a bit faster it could have been as good as Martha & The Muffins’ Paint By Number Heart, but as it is, it’s still solid. Of the two tracks, Ashy Sleep is the killer though, alternating between a taut new wave-reggae bass/drum interaction that underlies the verses a the driving, powerpop chorus. There’s something terribly reminiscent of Roxanne by The Police to it, and although it’s hard to know how flattering the band would consider that comparison, be assured, I definitely mean it in the most favourable sense.

It’s also worth noting about both these songs just how nicely produced they are. Between the flat, soft-edged tedium of mainstream pop production and the equally flat, scuzzy amateurishness of most indie recording, Convex Level (who absolutely not coincidentally share an engineer with Extruders) seem to have found a niche that captures the mixture of glacial and intimate that characterised so much of the best music of the late 70s and early 80s.

Download both tracks from Convex Level’s web site here.

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