Tag Archives: Lo-shi

Top 20 Releases of 2015: Afterword

With the end of this latest countdown of the past year’s top Japanese music, it’s worth drawing attention to what other writers did for their own rundowns. The other main English language sites that go deep enough to put these kinds of extensive lists together are Make Believe Melodies and Beehype. Neither list had anything in common with mine, and precious little in common with each other, which just goes to show how diverse the indie scene in Japan is. In any case, both lists are worth checking out in order to get a different perspective on what Japanese indie (and a bit of pop – Patrick at MBM remains inexplicably attached to E-Girls) music has to offer.

Make Believe Melodies: Best Japanese Albums of 2015
30-21
20-11
10-1

Beehype: Best of 2015 – Japan

As I said before embarking on this latest countdown, the fact that my own label’s releases were disqualified had a big influence on the makeup of this list. It’s always an issue, but it was a bigger one than usual this time round since we released so many albums and EPs featuring so many of our favourite bands in 2015.

Looking forward into the rest of 2016, I’ll be dealing with a similar situation next time round, with a lot of new Call And Response releases already in the pipeline. Looprider’s debut only came out six months ago, but they already have a second album recorded and ready to go this spring, and a third album written. Lo-shi have already recorded their third album and first CD release, with the album currently being mixed with a view to a summer release. Mechaniphone, whose first EP came in at No.4 in my best of 2015 countdown, have a new EP ready to go, which I’ll be helping them put out in a limited release very soon. Other bands in the wider Call And Response family have new material at varying stages of completion, including Han Han Art, Sharkk, Trinitron and Tropical Death.

More broadly, I’m (maybe hopefully) picking up vibes that indiepop may have peaked and that the cool kids are ready for something a bit more discordant. If there is even the faintest possibility of a postpunk/no wave revival, I’ll be doing everything I can to jolly it along and then report on it as if it’s some spontaneous thing I just discovered.

Basically, my theory is that the indie hipster cred Hysteric Picnic/Burgh have been building up over the past couple of years has now reached such a level that young, cool kids want to hang out with them and be in bands like them. There has always been a seam of arty, angular Japanese underground music scraping away metalically beneath the surface of the music scene, and the emergence of younger bands like Deviation and Ms. Machine, as well as the welcome return of the still ludicrously young and inspired Nakigao Twintail, suggests that at least in some limited sense Japanese skronk might be getting a shot of young blood.

Any look at stuff to look forward to should probably begin with Afrirampo’s spring reunion tour, followed by an appearance at the Taico Club festival in June. Whether any new recordings will emerge is still uncertain, and I’m not sure if that would even be a good idea at this stage. Pika already has a new album titled Sun Ra New, in collaboration with Yuji Katsui and Yoshihide Otomo, and quite what role Afrirampo could play in her ever-evolving musical explorations I don’t clearly see.

New releases I’ll be looking out for include Kyoto bubblegum hardcore/postpunk band O’Summer Vacation’s new 7 Minutes Order, which I’ve already heard and is awesome, and hopefully a full album by my favourite band in Tokyo right now, the wonderful Falsettos.

I’ll also be embarking soon on the second stage of my travels to every prefecture of Japan to research its indie music scene. Following my return to Tokyo, my long-promised book on the Japanese indie music scene is now back from the editor and pencilled in for a summer release, so keep your eyes open for more on that.

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Top 20 releases of 2015: Intro

As is custom with the start of a new year, this blog is going to kick off 2016 with a month-long look back at the past year’s musical highlights. As usual, this task is complicated by a number of factors and naturally limited by my own prejudices and interests as a music fan. For longtime readers, this will perhaps be unnecessary, but I’ll ask you to bear with me as I go over the background against which this rundown will operate.

Firstly, it’s all Japanese music, which I’m defining here as music made either by Japan-based musicians or Japanese musicians based overseas but with some significant connection to the music scene here in Japan.

In theory, there’s no particular rule dictating major or underground music, but in practice that means it’s all indie and underground music, for at least as long as all J-Pop and idol music remains utter garbage. If you think that’s unfair, feel free to complain to your heart’s content in the comments but I’ve tried really hard to like Suiyobi no Campanella and they’re just not that good.

The kinds of releases I’m covering range from EPs to full albums, which generally means three tracks or more and upwards of ten minutes in total – naturally with some wiggle room to take into account things like psychedelic albums where one track can last an hour or hardcore albums where ten songs can go by in eight minutes.

I don’t include any releases from my own Call And Response label, which was doubly hard this year, because the compilation/tribute album Small Lights – A Tribute to Mir which came out on Call And Response’s December 27th ten-year anniversary is a release I’m more proud of than anything I’ve ever worked on and is in my honest (and naturally unbiased) opinion easily the best album released anywhere in the world in 2015 and making a mockery of the actual list.

With that in mind, I’ll beg your indulgence for a moment as I run down the various releases on Call And Response this year in which I had varying degrees of involvement:

Sharkk: Sharkk EP – Buy cassette HERE

sharkk-smallA distinctly poppy collection of alt-rock/emo/punk tunes, recorded by Tokyo-based American musician Sean McGee and a menagerie of collaborators. Self-released via Bandcamp and distributed in physical form via Call And Response as a limited edition cassette.

Hakuchi: Chindon DING DONG! ~ Minokurui March ~ – Buy CD HERE

hakuchi_chindondingdongThis frenetic collision of postpunk, grunge, 1970s Japanese pop and children’s songs, by a band from Saga in Kyushu that I have been keeping tabs on for a while, was an album I proudly shepherded through from early stages to release. Hakuchi are a rare band who embody the carefree attitude of much of what’s popular in the alternative scene at the moment, while retaining the breakneck energy, arty contrarianism and strong musical core that I demand of my favourite bands.

Lo-shi: Baku – Buy LP HERE

lo-shi_bakuCall And Response took a minor role in distributing this limited edition vinyl release of an album the band had self-released in 2014. A mixture of dark, nightmarish psychedelic soundscapes and skittering electronic beats, kept from falling into the abyss of ambient goo by a krautrock-ish sense of momentum that constantly drives it forward and gives it structure and shape.

Looprider: My Electric Fantasy – Buy CD HERE

looprider_myelectricfantasyThis mini-album that sometimes fuses and sometimes juxtaposes elements of metal, shoegaze, psychedelia and pop is just part one in an ambitious cycle of releases from this new band that will cover even more eclectic ground as it works its way over the next couple of years towards the completion of its first phase. The Tokyo indie scene was utterly baffled by Looprider’s failure to conform to any of its usual scene/genre boundaries. People from outside seemed to find it far less confusing.

V/A: Small Lights – A Tribute to Mir – Buy CD HERE

car69As I mentioned before, this compilation stands as the work I’m most proud of in my whole ten years of releasing music, and while — as an 80-minute tribute/concept album dedicated to an utterly unknown Tokyo indie band — its commercial potential even/especially in Japan is next to zero, it still to my mind stands alone as a coherent, singularly powerful and emotionally moving album. I know it’s ludicrous to say this about an album I helped produce myself, and I can’t possibly know whether I would love it quite so much if delivered from another’s hand, but I can at least say that this is as clear and coherent a statement of What I Like as has ever existed.

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Call And Response online store — new stock update

2015 has been a busy year for this blog’s sister label Call And Response Records, with new releases from the label itself as well as a couple of excellent new releases from bands and labels we like in the distribution section.


CALL AND RESPONSE DISTRIBUTION


otori_i-wanna-be-your-noiseOtori: I Wanna Be Your Noise (CD)

This blog’s album of the year for 2014, Otori’s tightly-wired, laser-guided debut was a long time in coming, and turned out to be well worth the wait. These eight controlled explosions take earsplitting no wave ferocity and bottle it, deploying the fury with deadly precision and focus. (Gyuune Cassette, 1620yen)


yougotaradio_carnivalYou Got A Radio: Carnival (CD)

A follow-up to You Got A Radio’s 2010 self-titled debut, Carnival draws on similar postpunk and new wave influences to its predecessor, but synthesises them into a darker, more portentous sound that shares elements of similarity with Joy Division and Magazine. The songwriting revels in this darker palette, with melody and discord playing off each other to dynamic effect. (Drriill Records, 2160yen)


CALL AND RESPONSE LABEL


sharkk-smallSharkk: Sharkk (Cassette)

This five-song EP is the solo project of Sean McGee, who in addition to his own music plays drums with a number of bands in the wider Call And Response circle. Sharkk draws together a variety of alt-rock and punk influences with a clear, pop songwriting sensibility. (Call And Response, 500yen)


hakuchi_chindondingdongHakuchi: Chindon Ding Dong! ~ Minokurui March ~ (CD)

Saga-based spazzcore junk-punk trio Hakuchi’s debut album takes frenetic, lo-fi postpunk and crashes it headlong into a parade of children’s songs and 1970s Japanese pop, with this album the bloody, chaotic result. (Call And Response, 1300yen)


lo-shi_bakuLo-shi: Baku (12-inch vinyl)

Lo-shi are a Tokyo-based French instrumental duo, whose unsettling soundscapes combine electronic beats, samples and effects with ringing, reverb-heavy guitar. This album it themed around the nightmare-eating creature of Japanese legend, in a cathartic journey into a dark dream world. (Call And Response, 2000yen)


looprider_myelectricfantasyLooprider: My Electric Fantasy (CD)

Combining heavy metal, J-pop and shoegaze influences in one album, Looprider’s debut is a bold, brash statement of the band’s refusal to be tied down to specific genres and scenes, but it’s also a carefully crafted pop album that for all its eclecticism is never less than plain and direct in its accessibility. (Call And Response, 1500yen)

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Top 20 releases of 2014: Intro

Given that here we are in a fresh new year, it feels appropriately perverse to spend the majority of January wallowing in the backwash of 2014, in a painstakingly detailed series of posts counting down this site’s (by which I mean my) top twenty albums of the year. As with last year’s, I could have made this list much longer, and there’s a lot of superb stuff left out, but since the most important part of compiling a list like this is the filtering and pruning that goes on before the list is completed I resisted that temptation. Before getting stuck in with the actual list itself, however, there are a few things that I want to get out of the way, and a few that I just think are interesting and worth discussing a bit.

Firstly, the usual caveats about what isn’t on the list. I took a pretty liberal interpretation of what constitutes an “album” (which is why I phrase it as “releases” in the title) that includes any EPs with three or more songs, or in theory less if the music is sufficiently expansive and developed (progressive or psychedelic bands will sometimes release a single extraordinarily long track and call it an album, and I generously grant them my permission to do this).

I don’t include my own Call And Response label’s releases in my list, although for reasons I’ll come to later (and will probably develop in more writing I do over the year) there are actually some broader problems related to this due to the changing nature and environment of music journalism. This means Jebiotto’s Love Song Duet and Futtachi’s Tane to Zenra are instantly disqualified even though they are both brilliant, and Lo-shi’s Baku is also disqualified since it is due for a limited vinyl release through Call And Response Records very soon. I also didn’t include the magnificent and utterly ridiculous Black Sabbath covers album that Call And Response gave away for free on Valentine’s Day. Great stuff, but I wouldn’t know how to rate them relative to the other great stuff that came out this year, and including them would get in the way of the authoritativeness and impartiality for which I know I am famed.

One of the other things that happened this year was that Call And Response started distributing CDs by bands unconnected to the label in a limited fashion. Those CDs are eligible for inclusion in the list. I realise it’s a bit of a fine line, but if I love something enough to recommend it through my store, it stands to reason that I love it enough to recommend it on these pages and vice versa. My role still remains an essentially passive one in this instance, so I trust readers of this site not to whine about conflict of interest. As the roles of blogs and labels (not to mention organisers and suchlike) as curators of particular streams of musical taste increasingly converge, this line is an increasingly difficult one to maintain, and I’m feeling my way through it based primarily on what feels comfortable for me. It’s an unscientific process, but I’ll get there in the end.

Of course there were a lot of terrific releases that didn’t make the list because I either didn’t hear them or the wind of my whim at the time of compiling the final twenty was blowing in another direction, so Teen Runnings, Mukokyu Kakokyu Shinkokyu, Compact Club, Chiina and many others can still hold their heads high despite the shame of not making the golden twenty this time.Chiina: Syllabus

I’m going to draw this out to tedious length with (hopefully) daily posts tackling each of the twenty releases I’ve selected one by one, with the first post in the countdown tomorrow, so keep your eyes on this space and wonders await.

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Diary of a Japan tour part 4: March 16th secret gig at at Koenji Art Bar Ten

The day after Nagoya, we were back in Tokyo for a secret gig. The event was Tententen, a show I organise together with my friends Eric and Julian, a.k.a. Gotal and Ralouf from the band Lo-shi on the third Sunday of every month at a tiny little music bar in my home neighbourhood of Koenji called Art Bar Ten. I do two monthly parties in Koenji, the other being the DJ party Fashion Crisis at the nearby Koenji One. Since Ten has a proper drum kit, we focus more on live acts, but we also incorporate video, art and DJs into the show, while at One it’s more about chilling out and listening to the DJs, although we do sometimes have live electronic or semi-acoustic performances. One and Ten are not connected in any way other than being down the street from each other; the naming is just coincidence.

Koenji Kitty

Koenji Kitty

Anyway, there are a couple of advantages to having these regular events going on. One is that it anchors my activities in the Koenji neighbourhood, which helps establish an identity for what I do. The Internet does great propaganda about breaking down boundaries, and to an extent it does do something along those lines, but region and locality are still very important, even within Tokyo itself. Just look at the way anime over the past 10-15 years has increasingly focussed on real locations, almost fetishising the sheer locality of the place. Koenji itself has played stage to a few anime series, the tedious looking (I haven’t watched it) Accel World and notably parts of the bizarre Penguindrum. Hello Kitty has a special mascot for practically everywhere in Japan (Koenji again has its own version, dressed in Awa Dance costume) and everywhere has its own “special” ramen and manju or biscuit souvenir. Locality still carries weight, and local music scenes have a lot of appeal, perhaps more so the more the Internet appears to make them irrelevant.

The other advantage of these monthly events is that they gradually build their own audience. Fashion Crisis has been going for five years now, and while Tententen only started last September, it carries over a lot of the same audience. It helps foster a core audience for Call And Response events and provides a slightly looser environment for me to try new or different things that wouldn’t fit easily into any of my bigger and more strictly genre-focussed events.

With the N’toko tour I didn’t want to skip Tententen, but at the same time I didn’t want to be promoting another N’toko gig in Koenji just a couple of weeks before his big Tokyo release party at the nearby 20000V/Ni-man Den-atsu on the final day of the tour. Ten costs me nothing to do, but do something at a proper live venue and you have to guarantee about ¥100,000 in takings, so I didn’t want people looking at the tour schedule and thinking, “Let’s see, the release party is on the 29th, but oh, I can see N’toko for a quarter of the price two weeks earlier. I’ll just go to that instead!”

So N’toko was a secret guest at Tententen, although a lot of our regular crowd (the people who tend to show up to my events anyway) already knew he’d be there either because I’d told them or just through the simple art of deduction. We needed an event that would work on its own regardless though, so Eric suggested Communication Breakdown, a sample-based instrumental hip hop unit formed by two of the guys from avant-garde rock band Bathbeer and indie-dance band Nacano. I was wary of booking another hip hop act with N’toko, but their sound was reassuringly old-skool and since they were from an indie background, it helped smooth the transition to the next act, Gloomy. Gloomy is basically Aya Yanase, an indiepop singer with a synthesiser in the mould of someone like Grimes. She is sometimes joined on drum pads by Kohei Kamoto of indie bands DYGL and Ykiki Beat, leading to some charming stage interactions that remind me of nothing so much as a couple in a car arguing over a map but trying to keep their voices down unless they disturb the kids. Aya has also worked with N’toko before, albeit remotely, providing guest vocals to mine and his band Trinitron’s Valentine’s Day cover of Paranoid by Black Sabbath.

Anyway, the room was packed more tightly than any Tententen so far, which is to say there were about 35-40 people over the course of the night in a room that can really hold comfortably about 25 max. If there’d been a fire, people would have died, but the only fire was in the hearts of the musicians and audience. We were all burned, but it was a nice burning, like eating a spicy curry, or drinking strong liquor. Gloomy would have finished the show perfectly in their own right, but N’toko put in one of his best shows of the tour, and the Tententen crowd proved themselves one of the best audiences he could have asked for.

It was an interesting comparison with Bar Ripple in Nagoya the previous night, with both shows in similar small bars with no stage, both shows bringing in a mix of Japanese and foreigners in the audience, and both shows having a decidedly non-“scene” vibe without compromising the essentially nerdy musical atmosphere. You could have transplanted ONOBLK and Rock Hakaba from Nagoya to Koenji and done the same show and it would have felt very similar even with totally different audiences.

By this point in the tour, it was starting to feel like the motors were beginning to run. Most of the shows had been in unusual places and were far from typical gigs in proper live venues with the exception of the first night at Shibuya Home, which had been on a weekday night, but there was plenty of that to come. The next few dates would all be very far from home so we had many hours of planes and trains to look forward to. The next block of gigs, which would form the core of the tour would be in Kyushu, where Call And Response at least has fairly credible past form, so there was a lot to look forward to. I’d never done so many dates there all at once though, so we were trying a few new things too. In Hollywood terms, this was the end of Act 1.

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Top 20 Releases of 2013: No.6 – Lo-shi – Flasque

Flasque

Spice bottle, self-released, 2013

This Japan-besed duo (via France, Tahiti and the UK) was a lesson in expertly crafted, genre-defying experimental yet accessible instrumental music. Yet where work that throws together genres to this extent can often result in work that is disjointed and maundering, Flasque is throughout an elegant and coherent artistic statement shot through with a cocktail of beauty, menace and a distinctly Gallic sense of humour.

幽客 from Lo-shi on Vimeo.

Flasque is at heart a collection of cinematic soundscapes, with reverb-heavy guitar reflecting both a fondness for 80s-style indie guitar music, particularly on closing track Yu-kaku, and what was probably way too much time spent watching Twin Peaks in their youth — a show which is sampled heavily in The Pink Lodge. Underlying the tracks, on the other hand, things suggest a 90s spent immersed in the skittering beats and ambient sonic textures of artists like Orbital, not to mention a strong and deep appreciation of Krautrock (“Kraut’n’bass” is one of the duo’s preferred descriptors for their music, and marginally more useful as a tool than “NudeCouscousTaoistBeatCore”) in the application of loops and repetition, as well as the way synths are used to create a sonic layer that sits between the beats and guitars.

I called Flasque cinematic earlier, and there’s more to that than simply Lo-shi’s frequent use of movie samples. The collaboration of sound and vision is key to how they approach music, with live performances always delivered with a video accompaniment and the duo also having dabbled in live soundtrack performances. Obviously on the recorded version that element isn’t present, but it still informs the content, and the content is compelling.

Piston from Lo-shi on Vimeo.

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Lo-shi: Flasque

Flasque

Spice jar, self-released, 2013

In a world where Mos Def can release an album as a t-shirt and bands all over the place are releasing music in the form of tote bags and worse, the idea of releasing music in an unusual format is not without precedent, but there’s still something rather charming in the sheer, dadaist  pointlessness of Tokyo-based French electronic duo Lo-shi‘s decision to sell their debut album, Flasque, as a memory stick in a spice jar (with real spices).

The message-in-a-bottle delivery form is quite apposite as well, given the plaintive, drawn-out, alien drum’n’bass/krautrock (kraut’n’bass?) instrumentals that the album comprises. While the beats reveal Lo-shi as at least in part children of the 90s dance music revolution, the sweeping synths and reverb-heavy guitars of Piston also point to a duo of only partially closeted goths, and the distant telex of Calling Mir is a love letter to Tokyo’s loneliest synth-pop romantics (note to bands: If you want to get a good review on this blog, make a reference to Mir on your record). The music ranges from the grinding beats of the opening Rampant, through the propulsive Underworld-meets-The Shadows of Mother K, to the final, ambient docking of Yu-kaku, demonstrating familiarity and confidence with both electronic music and guitar pop without the two ever seeming to jar. Taken together, the six tracks and fifty-odd minutes of Flasque make for an atmospheric and curiously affecting transmission from a lost soul, an SOS from a deserted traffic island.


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