Tag Archives: Former Airline

Top 25 Releases of 2019: No. 25-21

It’s always hard to tell if it’s the scene as a whole or just me as a listener, but it feels as if music in Japan is becoming ever more fragmented and compartmentalised. It goes through cycles, for sure, but the impression I get is that it’s at a particularly introverted point in one of those cycles at the moment. We see it going out to shows, where bands increasingly play in the same venues with the same kinds of lineups, and I can feel it happening to me too. Where, in the past, I would have paid some glancing attention to recent pop releases, the only J-pop album I listened to this year was Babymetal’s Metal Galaxy, which I couldn’t get through more than a minute of. In the past, it was interesting to look through similar year-end roundups by Make Believe Melodies and Beehype and see where some crossover might be, but this year neither of their lists made any impact on me; it feels like we’re all in our bubbles (although Tokyo Dross continues to listen quite widely). I’m pretty comfortable in my bubble though, and the nature of the Internet is that it’s often more useful if people know what they’re going to get. In this case, what you’re going to get is a view of 2019 from a pretty militantly underground/alternative perspective, with increasing numbers of limited-run cassette and CD-R EPs, but even within those limitations there were plenty of new Japanese releases that I enjoyed in 2019.

va - Noise Three City Story

Cassette, Instant Tunes, 2019

25. V/A – Noise Three City Story

Noise Three City Story is a compilation cassette EP featuring, as the title implies, one band each from three different cities. Tokyo act Soloist Anti Pop Totalization, whose Instant Tunes label released this, along with a couple more of this year’s most interesting releases, bookends the EP with his Daniel Miller-esque minimalist synths, while Nagoya’s Noiseconcrete x 3chi5 unleash five minutes of glorious industrial noise topped with 3chi5’s diving, twisting and swooping vocals. The third contributing act is Hernear from Sendai, an electronic project of Kamata from post-punk band Waikiki Champions, which channels DAF-style EBM through thumping techno. The whole EP is brutally lo-fi, but the raucous industrial pulse running through it gives it a fierce energy that can’t help but appeal.



Hazy Sour Cherry - Tour de Tokyo

CD/download, Hazy/Damnably,2019

24. Hazy Sour Cherry – Tour de Tokyo
On Tour de Tokyo, indiepopsters Hazy Sour Cherry deliver 25 minutes of extremely effective, bouncy Shimokitazawa-esque garage-twee that feels like bands in the 1990s imitating cassette indie acts of the 80s imitating beat music of the 1960s. Coming out from UK label Damnably, who were also behind Otoboke Beaver’s 2019 album Itekoma Hits, it’s representative of a growing trend of Japanese groups bypassing the moribund local indie market and connecting with fans via overseas labels (and presumably-re-importing whatever buzz they get and banking it with local audiences), and it’s easy to see how these sunny, energetic two-minute blasts of ramshackle guitar pop are well placed to appeal to audiences both at home and abroad.


Former Airline - Nu Creative Dreads

CD-R, self-released, 2019

23. Former Airline – Nu Creative Dreads
One of two excellent albums released in 2019 by sonic bedroom scientist Former Airline, Nu Creative Dreads is the artist’s take on a dub album, albeit filtered through his own particular setup, featuring banks of synthesisers and cassette loops. With its hyperactive basslines and beats against a background cacophony of psychedelic guitar and synth squiggles, this instrumental album is a disorientating listen at times, but a rich one nonetheless.

Demon Altar - Demon Altar

Cassette, Instant Tunes, 2019

22. Demon Altar – Demon Altar
Emerging from the cinders of Tokyo post-punk/new wave stalwarts You Got a Radio, Demon Altar trade in scuzzy, distortion-drenched, gothic post-punk that leans into the darker fringes of You Got A Radio’s later work and pushes it further into Birthday Party/Jesus & Mary Chain/Joy Division territory, assisted in this general darkening of tone by the insistent drum machine beats. There’s still a sort of melancholy romance to the melodies though, the guitars swirling around the baritone vocals as they intone their cryptic or just plain indistinct mantras. It’s wilfully rough, but there’s something infectious in the combination of the beats’ relentless, driving, robot energy and the music’s insistent, melodramatic air of gothic gloom.

tawings - tawings

CD, Space Shower, 2019

21. Tawings – Tawings
Tawings are one of the hot new things in Japanese indie right now, with a handful of singles to their name and a lot of the right people as fans (indie royalty DYGL and rising stars Luby Sparks among them), so this debut album from upper-tier indie label Space Shower puts them in a strong position going into 2020. The opening Statice will come as a bit oif a surprise to anyone familiar with their previous material’s shambling yet angular Delta 5-isms, coming in overglazed with Cranberries-does-dreampop synth-laden lushness, but the Devo-esque Poodles swiftly brings a much needed dose of nonsense to proceedings. Invisible still shamelessly rips off The Cramps’ Human Fly, but Tawings have been playing it long enough that it feels like it belongs to them by now (plus songs that end with explosions are always good). Recent single Suisen is another mainstream-ready tune drenched in washes of lush synth, and honestly it’s pretty good, but the band still sound most themselves when they’re charting a ragged, discord-scattered route through brittle post-punk melodies Like UTM, Listerine, Hamburg, and the closing Dad Cry.

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Top 25 Releases of 2018: No. 5 – 1

former airline - 2011 or so

CD-R, self-released, 2018

No.5 – Former Airline – 2011 or so…
Former Airline may have taken his name from a B-side by British postpunk band Wire, but his music is in a broader tradition of experimental rock music that runs from artists like the Silver Apples, through Eno and krautrock, into postpunk, EBM, industrial and beyond. He has been putting out DIY cassettes and suchlike for a while now and 2011 or so… is a collection of material spanning several years. It opens with the musique concréte noise collage Portrait of a City, but gradually dissolves into less sonically uncompromising but no less exciting and interesting territory, with cheap rhythm boxes merging with hazy, ambient synth drones taking over by the time An Incident at the Terminal Beach comes around, while later tracks increasingly incorporate distorted, washes of shoegaze guitar. Taken together, 2011 or so… is an intriguing and quite beautiful musical glimpse into the mind of a mad scientist.

the doodless - capture

CD-R, self-released, 2018

No.4 – The Doodless – Capture
This wonderful CD-R EP dropped into my lap out of what seemed like nowhere at a show early in the year and Doodless (with the double “s”, not to be confused with the more famous Japanese indie band Doodles) instantly became one of my favourite bands. A lot of other people in the music scene I recommended them to felt the same way, so of course what the band did was immediately stop all their activities and fail to capitalise on any momentum they might have got. What that means, however, is that this unashamedly lo-fi collection of off-kilter garage-punk postpunk whimsy is going to be something you and a very small group of others can claim as your own forever now. It’ll be something where you can meet someone and they mention “this Japanese band Doodless with a double-s” and you can say, “Oh, my God, you’re my friend for life!” and move in together and buy a labrador. Read my original review here.
(NOTE: The band’s Bandcamp page has Capture down as a 2017 release, but I suspect that’s a case of New Year forgetfulness, as their Twitter account announced it in January 2018.)

luby sparks - luby sparks

CD, Space Shower Music, 2018

No.3 – Luby Sparks – Luby Sparks
Sounding like it was transmitted directly from mid-90s Britain, there’s always a temptation to dismiss something like Luby Sparks as retro, but if you did, you’d be missing out on some of the most exuberantly lovelorn pop of the year. Read my full review here.Luby Sparks – Thursday

the noup - flaming psychic heads

CD, self-released, 2018

No.2 – The Noup – Flaming Psychic Heads
More a short, sweet mini-album accompanied by an unrelated single than an album outright, Flaming Psychic Heads is a fantastic and long-awaited debut album from Okayana noise-rock trio The Noup. Combining postpunk, post-hardcore and krautrock, the mini-album section is a fierce, driving set embellished with expansive guitar excursions onto almost spacerock territory, most notably on second track Utopia. The band are able to harness and rein in the ferocious energy at their core with thrilling restraint on the electric Monochrome Dead, but when they unleash it, as on the closing Impotents Anaaki, it’s explosive. An additional CD features Geodesic, a percussion-heavy ten-minute track that features echoes of drummer Takafumi Okada’s work with Kansai rhythm collective Goat, with the guitars taking on a sparser role. It’s an interesting track in its own right and a welcome addition to the album, although different enough from the five initial tracks that it’s easy to see why the band might have felt the need to include it as a separate item.The Noup – Impotents Anaaki (single version)

eiko ishibashi - the dream my bones dream

CD, Felicity, 2018

No.1 – Eiko Ishibashi – The Dream My Bones Dream
Images of railway lines run through multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter Eiko Ishibashi’s beautiful, multilayered The Dream My Bones Dream, providing the album with a skeleton of sorts, as well as functioning as the means by which the listener is transported back through a series of faded photographs of unremembered memories. The spectre of Japan’s wartime occupation of parts of China hangs over Iron Veil, a half-imagined memory from Ishibashi’s father’s youth in the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo, but the patchwork of fragmented secondhand memories and dreams mostly takes more abstract shapes, with the album split about half and half between wispy vocal and richly textured instrumental tracks. Echoes of Ishibashi’s experimental work with Merzbow and Jim O’Rourke, there’s a collage-like structure to the way layers of sound intertwine, drifting in and out of focus, and at times Ishibashi seems to treat her own voice as just another of these ghostly elements, her own identity being lost in the series of scattered images flitting by the train window, but the The Dream My Bones Dream has a distinct personality of its own, melancholy but determined, and the journey it takes you on is a thing of extraordinary beauty.

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