Tag Archives: For Tracy Hyde

Best of 2017 – More great sounds (3) – What does the rest of the internet say?

This site isn’t the only place on the internet that attempts to rank the best Japanese music of the year, and depending on where you look, you can get a very different picture of the music scene. This is of course very right and proper, because the Japanese music scene is broad and diverse, covering every genre you know and dozens you don’t. I’m not going to include any J-Pop-focused sites here, since I don’t really follow any of them, or even know if any of them made year-end rankings, but here are what a few other writers have come up with.

Beehype (top 20)
Beehype gathers new music releases from all over the globe, but it has a discrete Japanese ranking covering the top 20 Japanese music releases of the year. Beehype is probably the best place to go to get a general sense of the kinds of Japanese music the Japanese music consensus is gathering around, with artists like Satoko Shibata, Oomori Seiko and Tricot all making an appearance, although it deviates into a few interesting oddities of its own, like the recent album by Osaka jazz-skronk trio Oshiripenpenz.

Make Believe Melodies (top 50)
part 1 | part 2 | part 3 | part 4 | part 5
Make Believe Melodies, written by Japan Times writer Patrick St. Michel, tends towards soft-edged dance music and the gentler strains of indiepop and singer-songwriter music, but as the most extensive list among all the Japanese music countdowns here, there’s a fair variety on display around that theme. This list touches on indie-branded idols Maison Book Girl, rapper Zombie-Chang, the manic synth-pop funk of Chai and the pachinko machine noise of Pachinko Machine Music, along with MBM regulars like Taquwami and LLLL.

Muso Japan (best shoegaze and dreampop)
This does exactly what it says on the tin, focusing on shoegaze and dreampop, and while these genres in Japan can encompass slightly different material to what they do in the West, Muso Japan doesn’t stray far from its remit. Having such a narrow focus means that they can dig a little deeper than another site might, singling out material by lo-fi acts like FogPark, and Nurse alongside shoegaze scene veterans like Cruyff in the Bedroom, Shelling and Caucus.

Tokyo Dross (unranked list of 16)
Another list by a Japan Times contributor, this time James Hadfield, whose preferences lean towards more experimental rock and electronic music. There are more crossovers with my list creeping in here, partly because as the Listing Season drew in, we spent some time frantically sharing and picking over each other’s recommendations in private. His decision to include Phew’s Voice Hardcore despite it not being officially released until 2018 is legitimised perhaps by The Wire’s earlier decision to do the same.

Zach Reinhardt
Top 10 EPs & mini-albums

Top 20 albums (20-11)

Top 20 albums (10-1)

Zach’s lists also tend to have a lot of crossover with mine, as I think we both have very similar biases towards skronky art-punk and oddball avant-pop. One key difference is in the appearance of a lot of Call And Response stuff in Zach’s list (P-iPLE, Tropical Death, Looprider and the Throw Away Your CDs… compilation, all of which were disqualified from mine), and perhaps a little more washed-out indiepop/dreampop. Basically, though, if I missed something, it’s highly likely Zach caught it, and vice-versa.

Summary:
For anyone looking for areas of consensus, the crossovers between these various lists throw up a few recurring names. Cornelius’ Mellow Waves appears several times, topping the  Beehype list and getting honourable mentions in a few others, while Ryuichi Sakamoto’s Async, Phew’s Light Sleep, Endon’s Through The Mirror and For Tracy Hyde’s He(r)art were all rated very highly in more than one list. Miu Mau’s Drawing made appearances in most of the lists, while the Throw Away Your CDs Go Out To A Show compilation that I produced made an appearance in every list except my own (disqualified because I made it) and the Muso Japan list (wrong genre), so I feel validated in saying that’s a great record. Elsewhere, She Talks Silence, Crunch, BLONDnewHALF, Hikashu, Tofubeats, Oshiripenpenz, Sapphire Slows, Suiyobi no Campanella, Mondo Grosso, Tricot, Oomori Seiko and Satellite Young all made multiple appearances.

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For Tracy Hyde: In Fear of Love

In terms of the songwriting traditions at play, indiepop in Japan can be divided into two loose categories. On the one hand you have the stuff that’s basically a Japanese version of jangly overseas bands and which could be defined as part of loose international collective indie/guitar pop consciousness. This category includes self-consciously retro pastiches like Sloppy Joe, as well as younger, less historically rigorous bands like Teen Runnings and pretty much anything on the Dead Funny label — the factor that links them is melody based around “foreign” chord structures. On the other hand, you have music that’s essentially J-Pop using indie arrangements and production. Into this category you find stuff like Soutaisei Riron, The Keys and pretty much any post-Flipper’s Guitar Shibuya-kei type guitar pop — again, the styles can be quite disparate, but the songwriting here generally follows “native” melodic lines.

On the basis of In Fear of Love, For Tracy Hyde are in the latter category. While the chiming reverb and cascading guitar descent of First Regrets are straight out of 80s Manchester or Glasgow, the melody is pure 90s Tokyo of a sort that would have been equally at home in the hands of nouveau-hip singers like Kahimi Karie or dead-centre-of-the-mainstream MOR pop-rock merchants like Presents-era My Little Lover. You can hear it not just in the chord progressions but in the rigidly enforced way every syllable gets its own note, forcing the melody to keep hopping up and down where an overseas band would be far more likely to let a few syllables run along repeating the same note before going on to stretch a single syllable over two or three notes. You can also hear it in the way the closing Waraibanashi (probably unconsciously) apes the melodic tropes of Soutaisei Riron songs like Cinderella and Jigoku Sensei — these are almost certainly not intentional so much as independent manifestations of a songwriting tradition that simply exists outside the Western-dominated international indiepop consensus.

And for a lot of people, that’s what will make In Fear of Love appealing or interesting. It’s an example of a Japanese indie tradition rooted in Japan’s own pop history even while it’s aware of sounds and influences from overseas and this allows it to sit comfortably alongside more mainstream domestic pop, at the same time offering listeners from overseas music possessed of a different sort of structural complexity while retaining many of the sounds and musical signifiers that mark it as part of a familiar genre. In addition to the 80s-influenced guitars (that themselves had roots in the 60s), the naive-sophisticated synth and drum arrangements and cotton-candy shoegaze washes hint at contemporary bedroom indietronica, most notably on the instrumental Saraba Atlantis Tetsudou.

In Fear of Love is also music that really needs to exist at least close to the mainstream in order to make the best sense, because despite its obvious affection for the sounds and textures of indiepop, at its heart it’s a J-Pop record, and insofar as it has any kind of outsider’s voice, it’s the whimsically disaffected voice of the perpetual dreamer, the romantic. Indie kids don’t need to be told to dream — they already do practically nothing else — but out there in radioland, the indie-influenced sounds that adorn For Tracy Hyde’s songs could help define them more clearly from the crowd and give them a real voice.

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