Tag Archives: Half Sports

Indiepop roundup (Summer 2020)

Tangingugun – Yasui Jumon
Matsumoto, Nagano-based Tangingugun typically trade in laid-back pop melodies delivered through a hazy filter of psychedelic-tinted guitar distortion, the male-female twin vocal interplay between Saori Nakamura and Masashiro Nimi adding an enriching layer of texture to the sound — sometimes trading lines, others intermingled as harmonies, and on Kiri wa Hagureta slipping easily between the two. While there are moments where things step up to a bouncier tempo, as on second track Koumi-machi, the prevailing atmosphere is one of quietly sophisticated, summery melancholy.

Puffyshoes – I Might Be In Love
I wrote about this EP for the Undrcurrents blog’s Bandcamp roundup in June, singling out the simple economy of Puffyshoes’ songwriting in how they create ultra-short lo-fi pop nuggets by focusing in on the hooks and rarely getting diverted once the point has been made. I Might Be in Love also sees the band playing around with other songwriters’ material, as on their joyously ragged-edged cover of The Strangeloves’ I Want Candy, and it’s testament to Puffyshoes’ own songwriting that they can flit between the two seamlessly.

Sloppy Joe – Waiting For The Night Begins
It feels strange to be writing about Sloppy Joe almost ten years after their first album, With Kisses Four, with the same mixture of irony and giddy joy and with almost the same words, but here I am and here is Waiting For The Night Begins. And really it’s like not a moment had passed, which is to say that from the bat it sounds like the meticulous and loving work of a passionately devoted Smiths tribute band. To leave it at that assessment alone would be more dismissive than Sloppy Joe deserve though, and they wear their jangly 1980s indiepop influences so proudly, their love for the sounds, the tone, the inflections and melodic habits of the era running far deeper than Morrissey and Marr — fans of Aztec Camera, The Pale Fountains, early Orange Juice, The Monochrome Set and plenty more will frequently find themselves in a familiar place. Above all, the craftsmanship underlying these songs and their attention to detail is spellbinding, sweeping the listener up in the band’s obvious love for the music — originality be damned.

Half Sports – Intelligence and Delicious
Intelligence and Delicious is Half Sports’ first album since 2014’s Mild Elevation, although a couple of 7-inches have appeared in the meantime, and the propulsive opening Missing the Piece of my Miseries shows the band still have their peculiar cocktail of energetic melancholy, combining punkish 1970s powerpop with shoegazey scuzz and distortion, with the album taking a turn towards the hazier end of that spectrum on Emperor Soy Sauce and leaning on the rockier end on Isolated Facts.

Morningwhim – Talking to Myself / Smoke From Cigarettes
The first of a couple of new releases by Aichi Prefecture’s Morningwhim, this cassette single is perhaps the more immediately striking of the two, with Talking To Myself in particular pushing all the right bittersweet buttons from its heartache chord changes to the slight rough edges of the vocals’ celestial 4AD harmonies. That’s not to diminish the other side, Smoke From Cigarettes, though, which carries a similar scuzzy, jangly garage-shoegaze energy with just as much assurance. The cover art suggests a lingering influence from Pains of Being Pure at Heart, but from the evidence of this, Morningwhim have plenty to offer in their own right.

Morningwhim – Most Of the Sun Shines
In addition to the wonderful Talking to Myself / Smoke From Cigarettes cassette single, Morningwhim also released this 7-inch this spring, with a cleaner, less fuzz-inflected sound, the title track setting an acoustic guitar groove against a haunting synth string backdrop, while B-side Wandering turns up the jangle and chime. This single makes for more of a low-key introduction to the band than the cassette, but demonstrates that their sweetly melodic guitar pop songwriting talents run deep.

Various Artists – Miles Apart Records presents “Moments”
Drenched in nostalgia for times of which most of the featured musicians are too young to have their own memories, this cassette compilation from Osaka-based Miles Apart Records sits somewhere between indiepop in its classic, jangly, Byrds-influenced British 1980s roots and the more recent smooth, soft-focus synth strain where the indiepop venn diagram crosses over with city pop. At the murkier, more garage-influenced end are the likes of Pale Beach and Superfriends, whose respective entries Deadbeat and Fake Flowers have a reassuringly cheap, indie or alt-rock edge to their own particular brand of nostalgia, while Pictured Resort lie at the other extreme, their song Comfortable bittersweet and bathed in soft neon. An interesting entry is Cairophenomenons’ Spring (Moments ver.), its jangly, reverb-soaked guitar pop base elements employed to ends that play out with the sort of VHS-haunted atmosphere that other bands here use synths to evoke, and in the end, the sharper edges this setup gives them to work with helps to offset the cloying mellow their more synthetic peers often veer into.

Chris Jack – Miles to Go
Based in Oita in Kyushu, Chris Jack has a certain low-key notoriety as the guitarist and vocalist of garage rock band The Routes, but in this solo album he trades in the explicitly retro for a sound better characterised as classic with music in a timeless singer-songwriter tradition that could have been from any decade in the past fifty or more years. There’s a refreshing sense of space and warmth to the recording, aided by understated arrangements that may subtly underscore a phrase with organ here and there but mainly work to give the vocals and guitar lines space to walk their gently affecting paths.

Letters To Annika – Letters To Annika EP
Letters to Annika is the name under which Azusa Suga, better known from Tokyo indie rock band For Tracy Hyde, records solo work from his room, with this EP being mostly born out of the semi-lockdown conditions of pandemic Tokyo. Perhaps because of the speed and lo-fi recording conditions under which most of these songs were written and produced, during those curious weeks in April where the pandemic-led disruption to life was as much an interesting shift in perspective as a source of fear, there’s a lightness to this EP that feels both refreshing and somehow restless. Manifesting not only in the faintly washed out, shoegaze-tinged sound but also in the almost panicked urgency of the cranked-up motorik rhythms of songs like Love Song, Tidal and Wavelength, Letters to Annika mixes its reverb-drenched polaroid indiepop nostalgia with an immediacy or even urgency. Also worth attention is the non-EP single Summercrush, released in July, which makes an interesting companion to Letters to Annika, taking the EP’s fuzz and jangle and bringing in an on-trend wash of almost vaporwavesque VHS synth.

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Top 20 Releases of 2014: No.12 – Half Sports – Mild Elevation

Mild Elevation

CD, Drriill, 2014

Half Sports are one of the most fun, energetic and adventurous indiepop bands in Japan, and their debut mini-album Slice of our City was a raucous little bundle of joy. With Mild Elevation, the band opt to mature without compromising the essentially rough-and-ready approach that defined its predecessor.

Most of the songs on Mild Elevation are really two or three songs driven into each other at high speed, with songs like closing track The Pretend Girl and Streamers of Flames suddenly accelerating and shifting tempo from one moment to the next, and in Needle the actual song serving mostly as a set of bookends for the extended instrumental passage and none-more-indie guitar solo at its core. New and Unknown Kiss is a circa-1980 Soft Boys-alike psych-tinged new wave powerpop anthem with a decidedly Johnny Marr-esque guitar solo neatly slotted in, and would have sat comfortably on Slice of our City. Other tracks like the opening His Castle Staying in the Sky take the psychedelia a step further, cranking up the clatter from singing drummer Keita Kanamori’s kit and letting the guitar’s ring out in a lo-fi Jesus And Mary Chain proto-shoegaze wall of scuzz.New and Unknown Kiss (Live at Uguisudani What’s Up)

While Mild Elevation is a little more restrained than its propulsive, irrepressible predecessor, it’s every bit as rich in tunes, ideas and enthusiasm, and features a combination of energy, easygoing looseness and understated intelligence and imagination that ensures they still stand out in a scene that can often be prissy, reverential and sterile.

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Call And Response Distribution: New arrivals from Half Sports and You Got A Radio

There are some new arrivals in the Call And Response online store now. As with the first batch of CDs I got in stock, they are all loosely in a postpunk/new wave sort of zone, but each offers something a bit different and again, all of them are bands I personally rate and am happy to recommend.

You can access the shop here.

Call And Response Records

The three new CDs are (click the photos to go to each CD’s page in the Call And Response Store):

You Got A Radio

You Got A Radio

New wave/postpunk band You Got A Radio’s self-titled 2010 debut album. You Got A Radio are mainstays of the Japanese postpunk/new wave scene and through their Tokyo Noise events have done a lot to support other bands in a similar vein. This album is pretty much the definitive recorded document of their sound, and it’s fun, spiky and energetic, striking a balance between art-punk and offbeat pop.

Slice Of Our City

Slice Of Our City

Half Sports’ debut Slice Of Our City was one of this site’s best albums of 2012 and it still with all the benefits of hindsight resonates with the same unbridled energy and outright tuneful joy. Released through You Got A Radio’s Drriill label, it’s also another example of the way one band’s support of their peers can produce creative dividends.

Mild Elevation

Mild Elevation

Mild Elevation is Half Sports’ 2014 follow-up to Slice Of Our City, and it retains the same confidence with a catchy melody and an anthemic chorus, but this time sees the band incorporating slightly more psychedelic pop elements.

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Top 20 Releases of 2013: No.14 – V/A – Dead Funny Compilation Vol.1

2013 saw a glut of new indiepop and shoegaze releases, and many of those were on the new Fukuoka-based label Dead Funny Records. This compilation can in a way stand for all of them, featuring as it does pretty much all the movers and shakers (or “standers and starers” as the case may be) in the world of Japanese 80s throwback indie guitar music. Highlights abound but standing out above all others is the gorgeous The Blind by Fukuoka’s Hearsays, with a guitar riff that hints at Happy End’s Kaze wo Atsumete, simple, catchy and affecting vocals, and a faintly dissonant underlying chord sequence.

But pop nuggets abound in Dead Funny Compilation Vol.1, with further highlights being Jappers’ jangly, uptempo Give It, Talk’s opening In Refrain Refrain, Old Lacy Bed’s Little Girl and The Paellas’ reverbtastic Fall Even Further. On the more feedback-heavy side, Nagoya’s Pop-Office have a winner with the driving, fuzz-soaked End of the Summer, The Earth Earth are another standout with the punky Empty Boy rather less of an obvious and direct My Bloody Valentine ripoff than some of their other material, and Azma Shoegaze Explosion’s (now just known as Azma) immense Thousand Lights a mind-shattering gut-punch of sound. Not quite fitting into either category is the Nephogram by Fancy Books, with its synth-led arrangement and distant vocals giving the compilation a bit of unexpected but nonetheless welcome Trembling Blue Stars-style romance.

Many of the tracks are incredibly rough, with the mix of Half Sports’ entry in particular almost indecipherable, but in many cases this serves to simply emphasise the naive charm that is such a point of appeal for much of this kind of music.

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Top 20 Releases of 2012: No.5 – Half Sports – Slice of Our City

I pitched my initial review of Half Sports’ Slice of Our City in terms of something I don’t really like about a lot of other indiepop bands (although as Boyish’s Supper Dream shows, when the music’s good enough, I’m happy to throw away any principles I have on that front). But of course what I really like about the album and what has kept me coming back to it throughout the year is what it does rather than what it doesn’t do. The noise freakout at the end of No Kids Have Seen, the punk rush followed by abrupt tempo shift in Break Away, the wall of feedback running through the background of Sad Eyes and We Got Along Right From The Start like a more upbeat Jesus And Mary Chain (a Jesus And Merry Chain?), the stuttering guitars of Knock Back Your Request, and most importantly the restlessly energetic drumming, soaring guitar, and surging, raggedly harmonic choruses — all these things and more besides are what make Slice of Our City such a rush of pure indie powerpop joy.

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Half Sports: Slice of Our City

CD, Drriill, 2012

What makes Slice of Our City, the debut album by Half Sports, one of the most soul-cheering albums of this past summer is the sheer exuberence with which the band attack their ragged, lo-fi indie melodies. I’ve increasingly found myself coming to the conclusion that Primal Scream’s Sonic Flower Groove is the worst thing to have ever happened to indie, setting the template for all subsequent peddlers of stultifyingly reverent, emotionally blank, dreary, self-absorbed Byrds pastiches. Half Sports throw that shit out of the window, plunging into every song all booming drums, joyous vocals and energetic major chords, while never losing sight of the essential charm of  melodic 1980s guitar pop. In fact, in many ways Half Sports are closer to the spirit of that era than many of their contemporaries, with Slice of Our City, like Japanese indie contemporaries Teen Runnings, remembering and retaining a connection to indiepop’s roots in punk and powerpop, which it does largely through propulsive rhythms that recall elements of The Soft Boys in places. The band cite The Stone Roses as a key influence, and there are echoes of John Squire’s chiming Rickenbacker guitar lines here, but where Brown, Squire & co. were all about precision and poise in their recordings, Half Sports are more about rock’n’roll energy. In this sense, they have more in common with The Mighty Lemon Drops, falling somewhere between the rough-edged early material like Like an Angel and the straight “big music” rock thrills of 1989’s Laughter. One of the Japanese indie albums of the year.

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