Tag Archives: Homecomings

Homecomings: Somehow, Somewhere

Somehow, Somewhere

CD, Second Royal/Felicity, 2014

One of the standout acts of Fuji Rock’s Rookie A Go-Go new bands stage in 2013 (they were beaten in the voting by a novelty band of dancing prawns), Homecomings have had a productive 2014 with March’s I Want You Back EP/mini-album, the July vinyl release of their 2013 Homecoming with Me? Mini-album, a September split single/collaboration with singer-songwriter Sachie Hiraga, and now this first full length album just in time for Christmas. Rather than a purely UK/US-styled twee/indiepop band, Homecomings’ melodies feel more like indiepop-arranged J-pop. There’s so much crossover in elements that it’s not a cut-and-dried thing by any means, and while the Supremes Cant Hurry Love beat that underlies Dancing in the Moonlight is definitely one rooted in the Motown tradition, it’s also one beloved of 80s/90s kayoukyoku/J-pop songwriters, and it’s that latter tradition that the breezy (but not at all bluesy) melody fits most easily into. Similarly, on songs like Mall, it’s clear the tremendous, probably subliminal, influence the himself very Western-influenced Eiichi Ohtaki continues to have over indiepop songwriters in Japan. Rather like For Tracy Hyde earlier this year, Homecomings leave a sense of Japanese pop songwriting habits and Western indie styles inextricably mixed together in a way that manages to be satisfying to both traditions. But the real thing that defines Homecomings’ sound is the harmonies and backing vocals, and as the album progresses, they crawl under your skin, rarely jumping out at you, but along with the simple, bouncy guitar solos they are an ever present feature of the music. From start to finish Somehow, Somewhere is light and fluffy as a soufflé, but as one unassumingly presented yet expertly crafted tune after another makes its way out of the speakers, it becomes clearer and clearer that the sum total of Homecomings’ diaphanous parts is something far more substantial.

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Fuji Rock: A rare chance to see Japanese and overseas artists rubbing shoulders

The second of my Fuji Rock articles is up on Nippon.com. With this one I focused primarily on the main festival, looking at the way Japanese and overseas music interacts. As I say in the article, it’s very rare to find Japanese music pitched up together with foreign stuff, so festivals like Fuji Rock (and the dreadful Summer Sonic) give a rare opportunity to see how they stack up against each other and how similar audiences react to each.

One point that I felt from the festival is that it would be very hard to imagine the bigger Japanese acts successfully making the return trip to a foreign festival. For all their popularity, Brahman are a thoroughly mediocre band by most Western standards. It’s clear that Japanese people listen to music in a slightly different way to Brits like myself, with the different musical traditions training our ears to expect different sounds, and as a foreigner, you tend to focus on the parts that sound familiar and tune out the bits that fall outside your experience. I’ve been here for twelve years now and spent more of my life as a music nerd in Japan than I did back in the UK, so I don’t think I do that so much anymore. However, that said, I think I sort of hang somewhere in the middle rather than really hear music as a Japanese person would. In any case, those caveats aside, I still think Brahman are rubbish. Japanese fans seem to treat them as a sort of lovable nostalgia trip that they kind of know suck and definitely know aren’t cool, but can’t help enjoying anyway.

The Japanese stuff that seemed like it would work best overseas was the stuff that came out of leftfield and didn’t really address any musical tradition in a direct way. Shugo Tokumaru has already gained some level of international attention, and Kenta Maeno was enjoyably eclectic. Uhnellys were just fucking intense, and there were a handful of bands on the Rookie A Go-Go stage (Homecomings for sure, and oddballs like that bloody prawns band and Oni no Migiude) that seemed like they’d be warmly received wherever they went. Chara I’m less sure about, but she was definitely good, displaying a power and charisma live that is only hinted at by her recorded work.

Looking a bit wider, one wonders where the more mainstream or popular Japanese acts who could bridge the gap with overseas bands are. Mostly playing at Rock in Japan I suspect, and it would be easy to imagine Sakanaction working in an international context. Capsule I have problems with. They’re really good, and Yasutaka Nakata is the closest thing mainstream Japanese music has to a genius, but Capsule’s music drifts too often into sounds that would be dismissed as goofy by electronic music fans in Europe (Americans made a star out of Skrillex so all bets are off as far as they’re concerned). Just to be clear, I’m not saying he should be trying to make cool European-style electro, just that I suspect he’d have his work cut out convincing music fans to take his work with Capsule seriously — his Perfume/Kyary stuff would have no such problems since as idol music, it forces listeners to check in their ideas of cool with their coats.

As for me, I was blown away by Mari Natsuki, and I don’t care that she’s in her sixties, I have a bit of a crush on her. It was music that needed to be played to a Japanese audience, and really wouldn’t work overseas, but it was all the more powerful for how specific its focus was. She knew her crowd and worked them with the confidence of a diva.

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Fuji Rock: Rookie A Go-Go stage live report

The first of my articles on this year’s Fuji Rock is up now on MTV 81. It’s a report on the Rookie A Go-Go stage, where the amateur or little-known bands play in The Palace of Wonder, almost a little separate free mini-festival of it’s own just outside the main gates.

To be honest, the first night was pretty horrible, although obviously in the report I tried to be more positive than that, firstly because, you know, MTV and all that — gotta be nice! — and also because as I’ve said before, I don’t think putting the boot into new and unknown artists is a particularly edifying exercise of journalistic principle. I will just use this blog to flag up the bands I really did enjoy though, and the first one to really grab my attention was the Homecomings.Homecomings: Sunday

M’colleague Patrick St. Michel has already written about them at The Japan Times and he’s bang on in singling out their harmonies as being what sets them apart from so many other Japanese indiepop bands (although there’s a lot of other good stuff out there which I wrote about in a different article recently too and I’ve just realised I really should have remembered to blog) and if you ignore their lapse into the tedious indiepop cliché of the found-footage music video, there’s something charming and fresh sounding about their music.Oboreta Ebi no Kenshi Houkokusho: Washa-washa!! Gugyagyagyagya!!!

Mitsume are a good band but the vague, milling, casual crowd wasn’t really tuned into their more subtle charms, and while I also quite liked Suichuu Zukan, it was Oboreta Ebi no Kenshi Houkokusho (“autopsy report of drowned shrimp”), henceforth known as “that bloody prawns band” that stole the show, which they did mainly by dressing up in fluorescent prawn costumes, but also, it has to be said, by making genuinely interesting music. The gimmick started to grate a bit after 20 minutes or so, and unless they can incorporate some costume changes, I can see them being quite an annoying prospect over the 40-minute or so set they’d be expected to perform if they graduate to one of the bigger stages, but anyway, it would be spiteful and childish not to admit that they were good.

On the final night, it was all about Oni no Migiude. There’s no easy way to do justice to how awesome they were, and they were one of my top five acts of the entire festival, not just their own little indie bands ghetto. A friend of mine said their melodies sounded “Asian”, although I could hear stuff that reminded me of what might have been Bulgarian traditional music or God knows what else.Oni no Migiude: Sono Kane wo Narasu Toki

They were a bit new wave, which obviously endeared them to me greatly, and a bit krautrock, which endeared them to me more, but they were very difficult to pin down. They seemed to have an understanding of harmony, counterpoint and musical structure that went beyond your average Tokyo underground band and which suggested that they might be music students with at least some classical or music theory training. In any case, what they did was simple and complex at the same time, as well as being hauntingly beautiful and strangely funky.Oni no Migiude: Peroron

I came out of the festival still with a few questions about the extent to which Rookie A Go-Go is useful. If Fuji Rock are trying to provide a forum to develop new music and give it a chance to break out of the underground ghetto, that’s laudable, and by giving one band a year a chance to go up to one of the main stages, they’re making a small step towards that. However, the booking policy and the casual festival crowd who are going to be most of the audience at Rookie, seems set up to just reinforce the kind of thing that they already book for the main festival, since fans who came to the festival to see certain kins of bands are just going to vote for “Rookie” bands who sound like what they already came to see. Developing new music and helping new, original music grow an audience probably still needs to be done in small clubs and through touring — big festivals, even ones as diverse and enormous as Fuji Rock, are I suspect really only of marginal value. That said, however, it’s still a venture I strongly approve of, and despite a few awful bands this year, I came out of it feeling glad for having been there.

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