One of the most heartening things I noticed when compiling this rundown of the best of 2014 was how several of them were actually identifiably about something. This may seem like an obvious base line for any sort of art, but given how often indie musicians will deflect any questions about what they do with banalities along the lines of, “We just make music that gives us a good feeling and we hope others like it too,” and how often that flight from any sort of concrete underpinning framework leads to music that is itself wispy, insubstantial, unwilling to engage even with itself, it’s often quite noticeable when an artist has the backbone to give their work some kind of, well, backbone.
Jesse Ruins’ first full-length release A Film was shot through with, often cryptic, cinematic references, but the follow-up Heartless seems to be themed around the alienating effects of a digitally connected world. For a band like Jesse Ruins whose whole existence is predicated on the Internet – the group began as a solo project in Nobuyuki Sakuma’s bedroom and only formed itself into a recognisable live band after they blew up online – there may also be some level of self-reflection or irony involved as well. Whatever Sakuma may have been thinking himself, it’s certainly true that Jesse Ruins are part of a generation of musicians who have come of age creatively at a time when not just personal communication but specifically the transmission and dissemination of music is carried out primarily online. Titles like Scar Caused by Your Phone, Forgot Your Account and She Is in Photo SNS allude strongly to this, drawing your focus in on the dissonance, alienation and loneliness that pervades the music in a more abstract way.L for App
Developing on from some of the more industrial elements of the A Film, as well as Sakuma’s parallel Cold Name side project, Heartless sets out to disconcert rather than reassure, which serves to heighten to the impact of the more melodic moments when they do emerge while providing more space to experiment with beats. While coming from a rather different background, Heartless makes an interesting point of comparison with another electronic duo, Capsule, whose 2013 Caps Lock threatened to take electro in an interesting, more experimental direction. Judging from the preview clips the group have released, Capsule are set to rebound right back into EDM territory, but with Heartless, Jesse Ruins are continuing to point the way towards a more interesting, thoughtful direction for off-mainstream electronic pop.