Obviously this section is another one with a lot of crossovers with earlier parts of the roundup, but I’ve gathered these acts together as two parts of the indie scene that often trade in dreamy or dreamlike atmospheres — they often intersect for this exact reason in the sort of music that often gets called dreampop, and there is often a shared foundational influence of The Velvet Underground. The acts here span from the guitar pop fringes of Shibuya-kei and neo acoustic, through lo-fi indiepop, dreampop, shoegaze and the guitar-heavy end of post-rock.
Boyish – Blue Rain
There’s a strange sort of disconnect on Blue Rain between the low-key understatement of the male-female vocal interplay and the extravagant, emotional thrashing about of the saxophone whenever it makes its presence felt, as if some intrusion from another genre has burst through a fold in reality. Squaring those two elements might say more about my expectations going into the album than what Boyish themselves are trying to do, and it gets easier as the album goes along in tracks like Pale Blue Lights, where neo acoustic and yacht rock snuggle up together and spoon in a way that feels quite natural. It’s towards the second half of the album where Boyish’s guitar pop side shines through a little more clearly, with quietly chiming guitars washing the songs in more neutral emotional tones, somewhere between Trembling Blue Stars type post-Sarah indiepop and 1990s J-pop of the My Little Lover strain.
concretetwin – “Re : encounter” sound source #04
The most immediately striking thing about this EP is the way Concretetwin combine their wall of heavy, distorted guitar and barely-distinct vocals with trip-hop-influenced beats. One effect of that is to reconnect shoegaze to a rhythmical thread originally spun out by A.R. Kane in the late-1980s, which is a welcome endeavour although one Concretetwin don’t fully commit to on here. Rather, opening track Nigella sounds like a band in the early 1990s caught between a shoegaze guitarist and a rhythm section tripping on Madchester vibes. The 90s is probably the best era to evoke with this sort of music though, and like that early wave of shoegaze, Concretetwin get that the music is meant to sound immense, employing all the tricks to whip up just the sort of storm-of-guitars in heaven that a lovelorn teen could use to burn their soul clean of heartbreak, if only for a moment.
The Florist – IN CVLT
There’s a bit at the beginning of second track Nocturne where the song seems about to lurch into The Flaming Lips’ Race for the Prize, and while certainly affiliated with the Japanese shoegaze scene, The Florist are really a band who operate in that broader indie rock space that pulls in influences from whichever (cult) sounds appeal to them — Cure-like ringing guitar lines here, emo-punk chords there, post-rock drum cascades at the back, a gothic post-punk bass rumble down the centre. The tunes themselves are in pretty familiar J-rock territory, and over the course of the whole album the guitar textures are where the most consistent care and attention reveals itself.
Her Braids – EP01
Four years after their charming and lo-fi demo cassette, the three songs on this EP by Matsumoto-based trio Her Braids follow on from their quite lovely song Forest from a 2020 fundraiser compilation put together by local venue Give Me Little More in the tighter sound and sense of growing cohesion as a band. That’s not to say there isn’t still a lot of instrument swapping going on, and the band’s willingness to just do what the song needs at any given moment is a key part of their easygoing charm, from the piano that anchors the opening Dream, through the subtle, Young Marble Giants post-punk guitar/bass interplay of Garden, to the washes of synth and dreampop vocals of the closing Midnight Blue. It all falls together beautifully, making EP01 a highlight of the year far beyond what its unassuming title promises.
The Moment of Nightfall – Light Is Beyond The Nostalgia
Formed by a supergroup of musicians associated with Nagoya-based indiepop label Galaxy Train, The Moment of Nightfall include parts of Pervenche, Red Go-Kart and H-Shallows, and the fact it all hangs together so well probably says a lot about the consistent atmosphere the label and the community around it has fostered over the years. Third track Well,Well,Well,Well is a good example of the musicians channeling their shared sound to powerful effect, with wisps of vocal drifting through a summery haze of guitar that recalls Yo La Tengo in particular, and that whole thread of distorted dreamlike psychedelia that runs back to The Velvet Underground.
Mono – Pilgrimage of the Soul
Twenty-two years and eleven albums in, there’s a thing Mono do and you’d be disappointed if they didn’t do it. Restrained moments, pregnant with portent, followed by big, cathartic swells of guitar — quiet and loud, in multiple but similar variations — they’ve been stewards of this dramatic landscape for a long time, and they rarely stray from its windswept crests and valleys. Step back for a moment and it might seem strange to see that amount of energy channeled into hitting so many of the same beats, but once immersed in it again, it’s perhaps more like sailors too in love with the churning waves of the icy ocean not to keep returning time after time.
pervenche – quite small happiness
Twenty years after their debut album, Subtle Song, Pervenche have finally come round to making a follow-up with this cassette album from the Galaxy Train label, and it bridges the decades like no time has passed at all with its quietly strummed, whisper-voiced, autumnal psych-pop sound lilting eternal. A cover of Bob Dylan’s I’ll Keep It With Mine is decidedly Velvetsy in their hands, and Peter Ivers’ Miraculous Weekend replacing the quirky jaunt of the original with something far more breathy and intimate, spiralling into eerie Lynchian space as it goes on. After years of prayers to the music spirits, it’s a delight to have Pervenche back in the pop jingu.
Puffyshoes – Again
It’s always nice to have a new Puffyshoes EP, even if the songs are often gone before you’ve had time to even notice they’ve arrived. These nuggets of 60s girl group melodies and teen drama lyrics come in an ultra-compressed package that come across like brief, frustrated scrawls in a diary pulled out and set to music, usually with a single, simple sentiment ground into a catchy refrain through as much repetition as the one-minute runtimes of the songs permit. It’s been a long time since the duo last made an album, and I wonder if they’ve refined their art into such minimal sketches of songs now that the broader canvas of an album-length release would feel too cluttered to comfortably hold that much of Puffyshoes’ music, but with four songs in about four and a half minutes, Again leaves you hungering after more.
Pulsnug – Fanfare For Farewell
There’s an all-consuming live for the 1990s running through this album. There are little things scattered throughout the album, perhaps nodding to Blur’s It Could be You on the riff that opens Turn Off, maybe referencing Radiohead’s No Surprises in the melancholy guitar line that runs through Slow Starter. The overarching sense, though, is that Pulsnug somehow felt that Cornelius’ Fantasia simply hadn’t been made enough times or there weren’t enough Hideki Kajis running around Tokyo already. And if making giddily eclectic and optimistic pop music out of perky pieces of synth-smoothed indie is a crime, Pulsnug is joyously guilty.
Optloquat – From the shallow
Shoegaze in its early form was often about the edges and specifics being softened or simply blasted to oblivion by the noise and distortion of the music, but over time, it has become more a tool in the box of guitarists than a genre in itself, sharing space in the music with other, often more traditional approaches. On this album by Tokyo’s Optloquat, walls of guitar noise and distortion play apart, but at the same time the vocals ring out strongly and emotionally, while guitars grind out riffs or solo away, all the specifics and clear edges of the music intact. On Giver, the band dial up a snowstorm of distorted guitar that almost transports the song into the shoegaze dreamscape, while Imaginary Host cuts harder shapes, with echoes of forgotten futures of British rock like The Music or The Klaxons.
re:lapse – re:lapse.ep
The debut release from this Tokyo-based band, as well as from new Nagoya-based shoegaze label Dreamwaves, re:lapse’s first EP is a strong statement of intent, never really pushing the sonic limits of the style, but crafting rich and subtle textures nonetheless around icy-sweet melodies. Sitting comfortably in the dreamy centre of contemporary Japanese shoegaze, re:lapse have appeared as fully-formed masters of their craft.
Softsurf – Returning Wave
Dreamwaves’ second release comes courtesy of label hometown of Nagoya’s Softsurf, whose take on shoegaze follows in the indie rock footsteps of British forbears like Ride and especially Slowdive, the wall of noise (sometimes underscored by synths) bursting in to add a heart surge to the choruses, while one guitar is also free to cut shapes or solo, Britpop style, in the spaces. The band hit many of the joyous, floppy-haired surges of indie-kid emotion that wouldn’t shame their influences at all on songs like the anthemic one-two punch of It’s OK and Hello My Shadow marking a triumphant return for the band after what appears to have been a long hiatus, and making for a successful first year for Dreamwaves.
Sugardrop – Eventually
Despite the candy-sweet name, Sugardrop feel like a different sort of culinary treat in the Tokyo indie scene: more the happy, solid reassurance of comfort food than an insubstantial confection. The guitars crunch, the drums pound, the riffs cut their grooves, the choruses burrow their way into your ears, everything throwing all the right indie rock shapes at just the right moments, with a sense of urgency that makes each shift move in just a fraction of a beat ahead of when you’re expecting it. Eventually isn’t overflowing with originality, but it’s dense with stuff it knows works: not a drop of sugar so much as a well-packed kebab.