Tag Archives: Luminous Orange

Top 20 Releases of 2014: No.6 – Luminous Orange – Soar, Kiss the Moon

When m’colleague Ryotaro Aoki and I were putting together our Quit Your Band! zine back in 2013, we developed a deliberately over-elaborate rating system for album reviews, marking them as an X on an inverted triangle that included Black Sabbath at the top-left, Stereolab at the top-right and latecomer 90s grunge wannabes Bush at the bottom. The semi-serious idea was that all good music can be placed on a scale somewhere between the raw, idiotic rock racket of some idealised, imaginary Sabbaff and the poised intellectualism of some extreme parody of the ‘Lab (and with the subsidiary point that who cares what rubbish music sounds like). It was a silly idea and one that we had a lot of fun taking way too far, but analysing music within such an abstract, arbitrary framework was interesting in how it forced you to look at it in ways that wouldn’t necessarily be obvious.

The reason I bring this up here is because Luminous Orange sit like a sort of indie rock Schrödinger’s Cat simultaneously at both extremes of the “Sabbath Scale”, with Soar, Kiss the Moon the quantum box that holds them. On one hand, it’s all ba ba ba this and la la la that – everything in the most tasteful way possible – but on the other it’s all ear-shredding guitars tearing strips out of each other.

Obviously in terms of the sound itself, Luminous Orange have more in common with Stereolab. One reference point that insists its way to the fore is the combination of densely layered, distorted guitars and breezy jazz-pop of Stereolab circa Transient Random-Noise Bursts with Announcements. There’s far less emphasis on Neu! pastiche extended motorik krautrock workouts on Soar, Kiss the Moon, though, with Luminous Orange instead bringing in an almost hardcore brutality to some parts that bring a far earthier kind of grit to the likes of Nightwalking. It’s not just in the guitars, which are nonetheless beautifully captured on record by Luminous Orange’s Rie Takeuchi and engineer/mixer Yui Kimijima (and this is not just one of the best albums of the year in terms of the songs: the production is very much an equal partner in its terrific-ness), but in the drums, which retain a power and energy even on relatively poppy tracks like the gorgeous Kissing the Moon.

Luminous Orange still have a reputation as a bit of a shoegaze band (or solo project, really), and their 2002 album Drop You Vivid Colours is perhaps still the best Japanese shoegaze album ever made, but they’ve mostly transcended that by this point. Those influences still inform an important part of their sound though, and especially on the blissed-out closing Slaughterhouse, with its wall of distorted guitars and Cocteau Twins-esque melody feels like a love letter from a teenage crush who has only grown more beautiful with the years.

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Strange Boutique (February 2013)

My latest column is up on The Japan Times’ web site now. It deals with the influence of shoegaze in general, and My Bloody Valentine in particular, on the Japanese indie music scene. Given that MBV have their first new album out in forever and have recently been on tour here, it’s perhaps understandable that people have been going mental for them lately. My Facebook feed for a week was full almost entirely of different photos of the same “Tonite: My Bloody Valentine” display board outside Studio Coast that all my friends were posting with tedious regularity, and there were several club events, a shoegaze festival and a tribute album all out at the same time.Supercar: Karma

There were a few little remarks I dropped in there knowing that people would get annoyed by them. It’s my little gift to idol fans that after aggravating them so much the other week, I thought I’d do the same to indie fans. Some people have already told me off for calling Chapterhouse, Ride, Lush and Slowdive “copycats”, but I hope most people will accept that as legitimate editorial hyperbole (I’m a huge fan of Lush and I’m sure Chapterhouse will one day merit an article all of their own where someone can do them proper justice, but that article isn’t this one and that writer won’t be me). I wondered if anyone would upbraid me for mentioning Stereolab and Flying Saucer Attack as well, since they’re not strictly shoegaze (if you cleave to a definition of shoegaze that means basically “exactly copying MBV”). Stereolab were definitely part of The Scene That Celebrates Itself though, and the guitar on the 18-minute album version of Jenny Ondioline is as shoegaze as anything ever made, while FSA’s whole first album is non-more-shoegaze. But yes, I stand by my assertion that FSA were better than MBV. If you disagree with me, your ears are wrong.

I mentioned Narasaki’s work with Momoiro Clover Z too, and to be honest there’s nothing really shoegaze about any of that. All it really means is that he’s a guy with a shoegaze background working with idols. In Lost Child, he uses synths and vocals in a vaguely shoegazing way, but where he employs guitars, it’s always metal. You need to listen to Coaltar of the Deepers to see where the two cross over really.

Shoegaze in Japan is interesting though. In the indie scene, it tends to be more of the lo-fi, 80s proto-shoegaze variety, and I think The Jesus and Mary Chain and well as MBV’s early, jangly stuff are probably bigger influences. You can hear that really strongly in stuff like Slow-Marico and Teen RunningsThere are also bands who probably take their influence more from the more vaguely defined neo-shoegaze coming out of the USA and to a lesser extent the UK in the past few years, which I feel is more where Jesse Ruins are.

In the alt-rock scene, which is where the really hardcore effects pedal geeks reside, the likes of Dinosaur Jr. are probably just as influential, and then there’s also the secondary influence of all the Japanese bands around the late 90s/early 2000s who were the first to really articulate the influence of shoegaze in the first place. Supercar were by far the most significant. Nagoya’s Pop-Office acknowledge the influence of Supercar as an important one for them. When I was in Fukuoka at the end of January, my boys Hyacca covered the track Lucky off the album Three Out Change and everyone over the age of thirty went mental. Hyacca themselves have some pretty heavily shoegazey tracks (guitarist Goshima is largely responsible) like Olympic, Skyline, Angel Fish, and Sashitai, although usually mixed in with something else, and that tends to be the way with most alternative bands. They love MBV pretty much uniformly, but few of them seem that tied down or restricted by the influence.Hyacca: Sashitai

The other thing that they tend not to have so much of is the sheer noise. Noise music in Japan tends to come from electronic, no wave or psychedelic traditions. The idea of an indie noise band is pretty unique here, so any band with MBV’s tunes would probably not really bring the noise, and any band with the noise would probably be a bit more prog rock and soundscapey with the songs. Cruyff in the Bedroom, the guitarist of whom I spoke to briefly for the article, are one of the best (that I’ve heard, at least) of the current crop of bands who can legitimately be called full-on shoegaze, although there are a lot of pretty good ones. My favourite are probably the Stereolab-esque, synth-laden Hour Musik, but some other key names are Lemon’s Chair, who organised the Yellow Loveless tribute album, Luminous Orange, who were perhaps the first Japanese shoegazers back in the 90s, Plastic Girl in Closet are another important one, and the list goes on.

 

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