Tag Archives: Friends

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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Top 20 albums/EPs of 2011 (numbers 1-10)

Several days later than promised, but here’s the top ten of my Japanese music of 2011 (No.11-20 is here). Again, I’m allowing some Korean stuff if it’s a proper Japanese release, and again I’m not being fussy about what counts as an EP, a mini-album or an album — it all goes in. Obviously, this is just a personal list of what interested me out of the limited range of what I actually heard this year and I didn’t include any of those bizarre “objective” measures that people keep moaning to the Japan Times complaints department that I don’t include. Anyway, on with the list:

Boundee, CD

10. She Talks Silence: Some Small Gifts

Precariously poised on the edge between the barely-produced lo-fi indie ethos of early 80s British DiY music and the kind of Tokyo hipster scene that’s well-connected enough to bypass the dirtier fringes of the live music circuit and parachute straight into the 3000yen a ticket, 700yen a beer range of venues, She Talks Silence are the sort of band that could be unbearable to an indie snob like me who generally requires years of slumming it in dives out of a band before I grant them my seal of approval. And if that sounds like a strange way to introduce a band I’m trying to convince you are in my top ten of the year, I apologise, but She Talks Silence’s position is at the heart of what I find frustrating about them. They’re like the beautiful, intelligent, talented girl who’s dating a jerk who doesn’t appreciate her [Disclaimer: their actual boyfriends are really cool]. Their music is delicate, sweet, lonely, charming, violent and tremendously affecting, with Fragment one of the most beautiful songs I’ve heard all year and Dead Romance edged with a series of particularly sharp thorns, and yet there is a terrible and selfish sense that they belong to someone else, that they float in a fashion environment too superficial to understand what’s so great about them, and worst of all, the gnawing knowledge that the only real problem is my own snobbery. In any case, Some Small Gifts is a near flawless example of lo-fi indiepop melodymaking that also demonstrates flair and artistry with more awkward, off-centre song construction.

Self-released, CD/R

9. Tsumugine: Tsumugine

This three-song, EP by the performance art collective Tsumugine (a group with a curious penchant for live performances in isolated countryside road tunnels, among other places) is basically fifteen minutes of eerie “instrumental” vocal music, with the musical wing of the group’s a capella utterances creating distorted tones and monastic harmonies that I would have thought certainly the work of studio effects had I not seen them perform a lot of this stuff live with only a couple of microphones. Some harmonica is thrown into the mix on the eight-minute final track, but the range of tones and sounds of the vocal performers is so diverse that it’s utterly in keeping with the rest of this atmospheric little CD.

Self-released, CD/R

8. Hysteric Picnic: Hysteric Picnic EP

Like Pop Office, Hysteric Picnic are clearly influenced by 1980s British new wave bands — in this case Joy Division and maybe The Jesus and Mary Chain feature strongly, with something of Young Marble Giants in the tick-tock-tick-tock drum machine rhythms that underpin many of their songs. However, where Pop Office distinguish themselves with quirky embellishments or a slightly off-centre approach, Hysteric Picnic charge right in, glowing with conviction, dirty and lo-fi as you like, and bursting with great tunes. They don’t spend hours polishing their songs to a burnished sheen, but neither is the roughness an affectation: it’s integral to the band’s sound, present in the Wire-like slashes of guitar, explosions of feedback and anguished vocal yowls of Chinese Girl. The way they combine that with sublime melodies and harmonies, best displayed on Persona, is what makes this EP such an extraordinary debut.

Nayutawave, CD

7. Girls’ Generation: Girls’ Generation

Another Korean one, but as with 2NE1 in the previous post, I’m counting it since it’s a Japanese release, this time sung entirely in Japanese, that was released and promoted just like any J-Pop album.Girls’ Generation is quite simply the most accomplished, polished, catchy collection of three-minute pop gems I’ve heard in ages. You can read my review here, and I’d just add that the failure of both Perfume’s JPN and Girls’ Generation’s own The Boys to even come close sadly seems to drive home what a one-off combination of bubblegum pop fizz and modern electropop sophistication this album probably was.

Take a Shower Records, CD

6. Tacobonds: No Fiction

Boom! Badaboom-booooooom! Badabadabadabadabadabadabada-boooooom-bangbang-boom-B-P-M-4!-bangboombang-a-bang-ratatattatatatata-tat-Bang!-Skreeeeeeeee! FICTIOOOOOOOON! Read it here.


Penguinmarket, CD

5. Uhnellys: To Too Two

Another one I’ve already reviewed, Uhnellys are a smart, funky, sophisticated, genre-hopping psychedelic jazz-hop duo and this was probably the album that combined technical accomplishment, energy, intelligence, invention and mainstream (admittedly in a fairly limited, indie sense) appeal better than any other I’ve heard this year.

Second Royal, 10-inch Vinyl

4. Friends: Let’s Get Together Again

Reviewed this one too. This is an album that I wasn’t sure about at first, but especially since getting my hands on the vinyl release, it’s risen in my estimation. The duvet of feedback that envelops most of the melodies works for me, noisenik that I am, and once you get past the bristly exterior, there’s a juicy melodic centre that tastes of The Beach Boys and all the rest of your favourite summer guitar pop tunes. Apparently now renamed Teen Runnings, Friends are a prickly, awkward band, and this album captures that aspect of them with a perhaps unintentional degree of honesty.

Bijin Records, Double CD

3. Nisennenmondai: LIVE!!!

Another one I’ve reviewed. To date, the definitive recorded document of one of Tokyo’s most striking bands, LIVE!!! is instrumental Kraut-noise trio Nisennenmondai at their best. Fan is a magnificent example of how you can repeatedly bang away on a single note for fourteen minutes and somehow keep it exciting through dynamics alone, and along with fellow death disco masterpiece Mirrorball, it forms the centrepiece of the album. Ikkyokume is Stereolab’s Golden Ball at 3x speed and rippling with unhinged energy and Appointment might be a lost Daniel Miller instrumental from 1981. There are lots of bands in Tokyo who play drawn-out instrumental jams, but none as skilled at manipulating the dynamics of such minimal sounds in such an accessible and downright fun way.

Naturebliss, CD

2. Tyme. x Tujiko: Gyu

Not being tremendously familiar with Tujiko Noriko’s prior work, it’s hard for me to place this within her overall canon, but this album, sneaking in just at the end of the year is a simply stunning collection of avant-pop and electronic soundscapes. I’m going to be a twat here and compare it to Bjork and Kate Bush, and I admit I’m largely doing this because it’s a magnificent, weird pop album with ethereal sounding vocals by a woman with an odd voice. HNC tried a similar thing recently with her rather fine I Dream I Dead, but this album eschews HNC’s instagram faux-retro lo-fi flicker in favour of more confident, sophisticated multi-layered synth-artistry, which elevates it to another plane productionwise. As a general rule, the earlier tracks edge more popwise while the album begins to skew ambient as it progresses, but I’m not going to single out tracks since this is a rare album where absolutely every song is truly lovely.

CD, Take A Shower Records

1. The Mornings: Save The Mornings

Quite simply nothing this year could quite touch spazzpunk quartet The Mornings’ debut album for sheer, irrepressible energy. There are other bands making faintly similar kinds of music but The Mornings beat them all by being faster, more intense, just more full of wow. The first moment of Opening Act wakes you up, eyes saucers, mouth grinning with delight, and everything that happens from that moment onwards just makes your grin stretch wider. Amazon Surf is what Devo would have sounded like if they’d been a hardcore band, Mad Cheergirl pushes drummer Keika’s vocals to the front, while on Mad Dancer, synth/vocalist Ponta and guitarist Junya trade lines against a rhythmical backdrop that constantly threatens to collapse before leaping back to attention, Drug Me sees the group taking on the Dead Kennedys and winning, and so on and so on. It’s an exhausting listen, like gorging on a mixture of sherbet candy, raw chilli and hard liquor, and it leaves you similarly battered and physically defeated at the end, but 26 minutes of moment after moment of unbridled, explosive joy will do that to you. Give in.

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Hysteric Picnic: Abekobe

I’ve written about this duo before both here and in The Japan Times, and I’ll also ask you to excuse the self-promotion as I note that this new track is a timely release, coming just a week before Hysteric Picnic appear at the Clear And Refreshing/Call And Response new year party at Kichijoji GOK Sound on January 22nd (yes, I did warn after the Tacobonds profile that there would be more of this on its way, and I’m nowhere near finished yet), and take a moment to listen to this rather fine piece of new wave-influenced sonic violence.

Hysteric Picnic: Abekobe

As on most of Friends’ similarly noisy 2011 album Let’s Get Together Again, the scuzzy guitars and distant, isolated echo-effected production make the vocals next to indecipherable. However, the insistent, pounding, programmed industrial/krautrock drums and the twofold assault on your ears of the twin guitars, with one making an insistent buz, buzz, buzz in your eardrum and the other a shrieking, repetitive Joy Division-influenced cry of despair, creates an atmosphere from which the vocals seem to be yowling at you from inside the depths of some infernal machine as it clanks, thunders and rattles away in a crumbling, blighted industrial dystopia.

All of this is, of course, a rather affected way of saying that Abekobe is crappily recorded. If time has taught me one thing, it’s that I have a broadly higher tolerence for crappy recording than some people so take that for what you will, but the fuzzy recording genuinely does feel right here. A layer of slick, studio polish can often make this kind of bleak, 80s-influenced new wave sound like no more than a fashion statement — more like U2 with Shoreditch hair and eyeliner than the dirty business of real, harsh, 80s psychocandy — but Hysteric Picnic bring a fearsome aggression to it. They sound like a band battling against the limitations of inferior technology, like they had no choice but to make it sound like this, and in that sense it hits the same emotional spot as their 80s forbears.

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Friends: Let’s Get Together Again

Vinyl, Second Royal (2011)

This review originally appeared in Japanese on Goblin.mu.

Having secured their claim as home to Japan’s answer to chillwave with last year’s Hotel Mexico album “His Jewelled Letter Box”, Kyoto’s Second Royal Records seem intent on staking out ground in every indie buzz genre with the lo-fi beach pop of indie power trio Friends, currently available to hear online as it awaits a vinyl release later this autumn.

The music is basically feelgood, summery 1960s pop of the sort that was the stock in trade of The Beach Boys and any number of girl groups of that period. However, the sweet melodies exist in a constant state of tension with the fuzz-drenched lo-fi production. Sometimes, as on closing number “Cruel Sea”, the melody is almost drowned by it, while songs like “When I’m Asleep”, singer Shota Kaneko’s voice reaching the listener like distant echoes from the back of a cave, sound like the work of some kind of half-decomposed zombie Phil Spector, and one suspects that’s the point.

Friends: Good For Us

The Jesus and Mary Chain pulled off a similar trick in the early 1980s, with tunes recalling the innocence of classic rock & roll which the band brutally attacked with chainsaw feedback, reflecting the relocation of the music from the sunny Californian shores of the 60s to rainswept, economically depressed Thatcher-era Glasgow. The band’s obviously deep love and enormous respect for the likes of The Shangri-las was set against a postpunk rage that needed to tear at the heart of rock & roll (not to mention a hero-worshipping relationship with The Velvet Underground).

With Friends, however, the lo-fi production feels less frought with ambivalence, as if the band are paying tribute in equal parts to 60s America and 80s Britain, not to mention absorbing the atmosphere of any number of contemporary international indiepop artists. Rather than taking a chainsaw to rock & roll, they are carefully crafting an identity out of its history.

And identity is at the core of what this kind of music is about. Bands like Friends, from the hug-me band name, down through the gorgeous, nostalgic melodies, to the amateurish production are all about making their audience feel comfortable and at home. The feedback and fuzz here comes neither out of necessity (it’s not that difficult to record a relatively clean, clear sounding album nowadays) nor desire to lash out, but rather functions like an Instagram photo filter, marking out the band’s indie subcultural position, and providing a sonic identifier for fans already inclined to listen to such music. “Listen to this,” it says, “We are one of you.” That said, they went a bit too far with it — at several points it becomes difficult to actually hear what is going on, which is a shame considering how pretty the songs here are

Part of what this means is that a band like Friends will never be as important as the pioneering artists in whose footsteps they follow; however, the good thing is that of course lo-fi recording of this type really does sound incredibly cool, especially when combined with tunes as classically beautiful as “I Think I Love You” and “Good For Us”. The lyrics, where they emerge from behind the squalls of distortion, seem for the most part simple, unrefined declarations of feelings, unpolluted by the fashionista posing of similar-sounding bands like The Raveonettes, and all the more appealing for that. Finally, the way the band rattle their way through these ten short, sharp, tightly focussed melodies in just over twenty-five minutes gives the whole album a genuinely intimate, analogue feeling, as if the band had just knocked out the whole thing in a mid-sixties American suburban garage on a Sunday afternoon.

What that says about life in a digitally-connected Japanese urban metropolis in 2011 is another question, but the answer probably begins with the words, “Wouldn’t it be nice…”

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