Tag Archives: Miu Mau

Best of 2017 – More great sounds (3) – What does the rest of the internet say?

This site isn’t the only place on the internet that attempts to rank the best Japanese music of the year, and depending on where you look, you can get a very different picture of the music scene. This is of course very right and proper, because the Japanese music scene is broad and diverse, covering every genre you know and dozens you don’t. I’m not going to include any J-Pop-focused sites here, since I don’t really follow any of them, or even know if any of them made year-end rankings, but here are what a few other writers have come up with.

Beehype (top 20)
Beehype gathers new music releases from all over the globe, but it has a discrete Japanese ranking covering the top 20 Japanese music releases of the year. Beehype is probably the best place to go to get a general sense of the kinds of Japanese music the Japanese music consensus is gathering around, with artists like Satoko Shibata, Oomori Seiko and Tricot all making an appearance, although it deviates into a few interesting oddities of its own, like the recent album by Osaka jazz-skronk trio Oshiripenpenz.

Make Believe Melodies (top 50)
part 1 | part 2 | part 3 | part 4 | part 5
Make Believe Melodies, written by Japan Times writer Patrick St. Michel, tends towards soft-edged dance music and the gentler strains of indiepop and singer-songwriter music, but as the most extensive list among all the Japanese music countdowns here, there’s a fair variety on display around that theme. This list touches on indie-branded idols Maison Book Girl, rapper Zombie-Chang, the manic synth-pop funk of Chai and the pachinko machine noise of Pachinko Machine Music, along with MBM regulars like Taquwami and LLLL.

Muso Japan (best shoegaze and dreampop)
This does exactly what it says on the tin, focusing on shoegaze and dreampop, and while these genres in Japan can encompass slightly different material to what they do in the West, Muso Japan doesn’t stray far from its remit. Having such a narrow focus means that they can dig a little deeper than another site might, singling out material by lo-fi acts like FogPark, and Nurse alongside shoegaze scene veterans like Cruyff in the Bedroom, Shelling and Caucus.

Tokyo Dross (unranked list of 16)
Another list by a Japan Times contributor, this time James Hadfield, whose preferences lean towards more experimental rock and electronic music. There are more crossovers with my list creeping in here, partly because as the Listing Season drew in, we spent some time frantically sharing and picking over each other’s recommendations in private. His decision to include Phew’s Voice Hardcore despite it not being officially released until 2018 is legitimised perhaps by The Wire’s earlier decision to do the same.

Zach Reinhardt
Top 10 EPs & mini-albums

Top 20 albums (20-11)

Top 20 albums (10-1)

Zach’s lists also tend to have a lot of crossover with mine, as I think we both have very similar biases towards skronky art-punk and oddball avant-pop. One key difference is in the appearance of a lot of Call And Response stuff in Zach’s list (P-iPLE, Tropical Death, Looprider and the Throw Away Your CDs… compilation, all of which were disqualified from mine), and perhaps a little more washed-out indiepop/dreampop. Basically, though, if I missed something, it’s highly likely Zach caught it, and vice-versa.

Summary:
For anyone looking for areas of consensus, the crossovers between these various lists throw up a few recurring names. Cornelius’ Mellow Waves appears several times, topping the  Beehype list and getting honourable mentions in a few others, while Ryuichi Sakamoto’s Async, Phew’s Light Sleep, Endon’s Through The Mirror and For Tracy Hyde’s He(r)art were all rated very highly in more than one list. Miu Mau’s Drawing made appearances in most of the lists, while the Throw Away Your CDs Go Out To A Show compilation that I produced made an appearance in every list except my own (disqualified because I made it) and the Muso Japan list (wrong genre), so I feel validated in saying that’s a great record. Elsewhere, She Talks Silence, Crunch, BLONDnewHALF, Hikashu, Tofubeats, Oshiripenpenz, Sapphire Slows, Suiyobi no Campanella, Mondo Grosso, Tricot, Oomori Seiko and Satellite Young all made multiple appearances.

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Top 20 Releases of 2017: No.1 – Miu Mau – Drawing

miu mau - drawing

CD/download, VYBE Records, 2017

A full-length collection from Kyushu indie supergroup Miu Mau to follow up 2008’s Design was always going to be a contender for album of the year, and Drawing really is excellent, exceeding its now long-distant predecessor in both the range and depth of its songwriting.

Followers of the band will quickly recognise most of the material on Drawing, with the core of the album made up of a trio of singles and EPs that the band have put out over the past few years. The only brand new material comes in the form of new songs Ryuukou-iro no Pallette and Mishiranai no Basho de, while Monochrome appears in a new, mostly Japanese language version as well as a new remix at the end of the album. All that is to say that if you have been following Miu Mau over the past few years, you’ll already know that basically everything on this album is beautiful, sparse, sophisticated, melancholy, synth-led new wave pop.

Of the new material, Ryuukou-iro no Pallette is the most immediately striking, with the stabs of noise that interrupt the song’s sparse, piano-led melody and harmonies, making explicit the note of dissonance that subtly underscores much of the material on Drawing. The source of that dissonance is most usually Hiromi Kajiwara’s guitar, which is delivered with a harsh, metallic reverb that contrasts with Masami Takashima’s lush washes of synth and pristeen vocals. On the new wave Asiatica of Future Classic / Mirai no Classic and the minimalistic dance-pop News, Kajiwara’s guitar cuts throught he songs, the strokes of her plectrum scratching percussively against the sweet melodies, while on songs like Iro wo Matou the guitar adding texture to the music like an additional voice wandering through the background of the song.

There’s a sparseness to Miu Mau’s music that it would have been tempting to try to fill out in pursuit of a more commercially pleasing sound. Similar bands like the now departed Merpeoples have tried something like that and lost something of their own identity in the process, so it’s to Miu Mau’s credit that over the years they have always kept the spindly, dissonant aspects of their music in play, all recognisably within what the three members can comfortably reproduce live together.

Of the Monochrome remix, it’s a decent take on the song, but unnecessary and largely out of step with the atmosphere of the album, but it also feels unnecessarily querulous to complain about being given too much. The remix is there if you want it, but if you don’t, you can be more than satisfied with the collection of nine immaculate avant-pop songs that remains. Album of the year without a doubt.

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Top 20 Releases of 2016: No.5 – Masami Takashima – Fake Night

MASAMI TAKASHIMA - FAKE NIGHT

CD/cassette, Twin Ships, 2016

Fake Night is singer-songwriter Masami Takashima’s first album under her own name, although for a long time she has been perorming under the name Coet Cocoeh, first in Fukuoka (yes, another Fukuoka connection) and in her adopted home of Takamatsu in Shikoku. Fake Night isn’t really a debut, with the song Tsukiyo no Dance Party having already appeared on Coet Cocoeh’s 2015 album Glass Collage and an older version of the closing In a Fog dating back even earlier. The same blend of pop balladry and distant club vibes informs the songwriting too, but there is nonetheless a sense of a new start about it.

It’s a richer album from a production point of view for a start, with Takashima’s synth bass throbbing powerfully in contrast with the spacious piano that it shares the album with as its twin dominant defining sounds. At her heart a pop songwriter, Takashima nevertheless delights in juxtaposing these two elements, with the chanson-like piano ballad Romantics following right hot on the heels of the aforementioned synth-heavy Tsukiyo no Dance Party, while the beautiful Somewhere bounces back and forth between sparse piano chords and a sudden intrusion of thundering bass. Cosmic Sea, meanwhile, sets a simple, looping piano line over a lackadaisical club backdrop.

Piano aside, Takashima’s rich singing voice is the other most distinctive aspect of her work, and a common thread linking Fake Night to both Coet Cocoeh and her band Miu Mau. Here, shorn of the harmonies provided by her Miu Mau bandmates, she stretches her range to cover subdued rapping/spoken word on Cosmic Sea and the just-short-of-melodramatic tour de force performance that is Romantics. There’s a world-weary quality to Takashima’s voice that ensures that even uptempo songs like the bouncy On the Town Square/Machi no Hiroba de are imbued with a faintly melancholy, dreamlike quality.

This way of these disparate elements — piano balladry, house music, reggae, electro, hop hop — are integrated with such assurance and such a distinctive atmosphere is perhaps what makes Masami Takashima such an interesting musician. She’s one of those artists who creates a world of her own through her music — a beach, illuminated by the setting sun from the west and the lights from a party at a nearby beach house to the east: where you’re a bit lonely but never completely alone.

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Ten Years of Live Music in Tokyo: Autopsy

A short afterword on my ten year anniversary event this Saturday gone, and a big thank you to everyone who took part.

My band Voided By Geysers (west Tokyo’s finest Guided By Voices tribute band) took the stage at 3:15 with Carl playing Tobin Sprout for a version of Ticket to Hide, with Ryotaro donning Mitch Mitchell’s cloak in gradually building up a squall of feedback and noise as the song locked into its closing mantra of “It might get louder”. By the time we’d kicked into A Salty Salute, there were already people with their fingers in their ears, and the sound just got bigger as the night went on. Miu Mau’s refined, sophisticated pop boomed out of the PA, while Usagi Spiral A’s brutal kraut-noise panzer assault was one of the most heart-stoppingly joyous things I’ve heard in a long time. By the time Hyacca closed the show, the sound had reached a level of earsplitting intensity. 20000V/Ni-man Den-atsu has a reputation as pretty much the loudest venue in Tokyo, but I’ve never seen it like this before – it means the engineers were excited.

Tropical Death Metal were fantastic on their stoner-prog-punk-metal debut, while Mir’s krautrock-sampling icy noise pop was expertly chilled. Macmanaman played a frenzied whirlwind of a set, Futtachi played out half an hour of eerily compelling psychedelic improvisation, Nakigao Twintail said their farewells in characteristically off-kilter and unhinged fashion, and Jebiotto proved themselves matchless in their capacity to make rooms bounce. The attendance was terrific and 20000V’s staff were brilliant as always. Next year, I’ll be trying to move on and get the next ten years rolling in a way that looks to the future.

Koenji vs. Kyushu Pop Festival 2014

Some blurry, lo-res camera phone pictures from the night (you want hi-res, you should have been there on the night!)

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Ten Years of Live Music in Tokyo addendum: Planning an event and timetable

In my posts over the past ten days I’ve gone through all ten of the bands performing tomorrow (September 27th) at my party to celebrate ten years of doing events in Japan. However, booking the bands isn’t the whole picture. In between bands, there are a few DJs spinning tunes, which can sometimes be a thankless job in events like this where the sound of bands setting up and eking out what they can of a soundcheck can overwhelm most of what the DJs are playing, but it’s nevertheless an important job, helping to keep the mood of the event going and where possible linking one act to the next. DJing this time is James Hadfield, with whom I’ve been running the monthly party Fashion Crisis for more than five years now. Also commanding the decks will be eclectic DJ team 3TE1, a.k.a. Haru and Kaname (the name is a pun on K-pop group 2NE1 and is pronounced “thirty-one”), who will be joined by Kyushu-based friend Emix, who has herself DJed at a couple of my events in Fukuoka.

The other big consideration is the timetable. This is by far my least favourite part of any event, but here’s a bit of insight into how the process works. First up there’s the noise limitations of the venue, which means live music needs to be done by 10pm, and related to that, there’s the fact that no event ever stays on schedule, so there needs to be at least 30 minutes of slack built into it. Very few bands are ever really happy playing first, and the earlier the event starts, the more people there are who you’re going to disappoint. One of the big reasons I’ve had in forming my own band is to have someone to put on first, thus sparing the sad eyes and pointed expressions of, “Oh, that’s a bit early…” from bands. Thus, Voided By Geysers are opening the event, playing a short set right at the start. Since Tropical Death Metal are just starting out and finding their feet, and nearly all their members are also in VBG, they’re on next to minimise changeover of equipment. After that, I’ve tried to balance the louder and more low-key bands so the sound doesn’t become too repetitive, and I’ve tried to space out the Kyushu acts as much as possible. Considering the audience is another thing, and having a rough idea of how big a crowd each band will bring I’ve tried to space out the bands with the biggest followings too, to give the other bands the best chance of catching new listeners. Then there are individual issues. Jebiotto and Futtachi have new CDs out, and this event is at least in part a release party for them both, so I shifted them more towards the end of the bill; Hyacca are notoriously difficult to follow, being both devastatingly intense live and these days really quite popular, and singer Hiromi Kajiwara needs time to switch characters from her more refined role in Miu Mau, so they still play last; and then Nakigao Twintail will be completely new to most people, plus they’re playing their final show, so I tried to give them the best chance of playing to a packed room.

The big challenge for me as an organiser is to mitigate any disappointment the earlier bands might feel by making sure I personally get as many people along right from the start. It’s a good bill, and there’s been fantastic support from some of the participants, so I’m uncharacteristically optimistic in this instance. Anyway, here’s the timetable:

3:00 Open
3:20-3:35 Voided By Geysers
3:45-4:05 Tropical Death Metal
4:20-4:45 Miu Mau
5:00-5:25 Usagi Spiral A
5:40-6:05 Mir
6:20-6:45 Macmanaman
7:00-7:25 Futtachi
7:40-8:05 Nakigao Twintail
8:20-8:45 Jebiotto
9:00-9:30 Hyacca

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Ten Years of Live Music in Tokyo Part 9: Hyacca

I’ve written extensively about Hyacca before, including posts here, here, here and here, so I’ll keep this relatively short except to say that they’re one of the best bands in Japan, an incredible live act, and always a treat to have on the bill at one of my shows. They embody all of the qualities I look for in an artist, mixing something accessible with an anarchic sense of unpredictability and a refreshing disregard for doing things the “right” way, be that adhering to pop conventions or adopting the posture of vacuous, Rockin’ On Japan-style, festival-ready designer indie.Hyacca: Uneko

Vocalist Hiromi Kajiwara will also be taking part in the September 27th anniversary event as part of Miu Mau, and the contrast between her role as Miu Mau’s refined avant-pop guitarist and Hyacca’s agent whirlwind of unmoored chaos is part of what appeals to me about having both bands on the same bill.Hyacca: Hanazono

Hyacca will be headlining my anniversary event on September the 27th, and there are very few bands I’d risk putting on after them.

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Ten Years of Live Music in Tokyo Part 4: Miu Mau

Another band with roots in Kyushu who are playing at my ten year anniversary event on September 27th are Miu Mau. I know Miu Mau through guitarist Hiromi Kajiwara, who I’m familiar with through through another band she’s in, although both drummer Miwako and keyboard /vocalist Masami both have venerable backgrounds in the Fukuoka music scene too, with Masadayomasa and Coet Cocoeh respectively. With Masami now living in Takamatsu, the group is split between different islands, but they continue to write, record and play together.

In fact, Miu Mau are a band who I’ve never quite been able to believe my luck that I’m able to book, because they really should be huge. They have great tunes, a sophisticated sense of style, and they’re female (which in this idol-obsessed pop cultural environment is marketing catnip). But perhaps due to their geographical remoteness or the relative connectedness of their scene, they’re an oasis of fabulous pop, somehow out their on their own.

Which like I say is lucky for me, because in a lineup that leans so much towards noisy, energetic things, having something so purely but idiosyncratically pop gives the whole experience an extra edge of excitement and interest.

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