Tag Archives: Miu Mau

Top 20 releases of 2013: Intro

I’ve put off doing this for plenty long enough, so before January ends, I’d like to get started on counting down my top releases by Japanese or Japan-based artists of 2013. As with previous years, I’m basically sticking to releases with three or more tracks, I’m not imposing any particular genre restrictions although given this blog’s focus, it’s obviously going to be more or less entirely indie-biased. In addition, it’s obviously limited to albums that I’ve had a good listen to, and finally, this list and ranking is entirely subject to my own whims and on a different day might look totally different.

This means that singles like Merpeoples’ excellent Silent Sleep and Miu Mau’s (last year’s top placed band) magnificent Monochrome/Spring 7-inch aren’t included. It also means that Hikashu, who released two albums this year if we include the one they did with Charan Po Rantan, don’t feature simply because I haven’t had a chance to listen to any of their new material yet. Likewise I can’t assess Fukuoka indie quartet the Hearsays who I’ve been very excited about for a long time, Yokohama postpunk weirdniks Sayuu, and Tokyo indiepopsters Boyish (who featured last year) because I haven’t copies of their albums.Sugardrop: Breeze Flower

Because I decided to keep this list as a strict Top 20, there were a few albums by bands I very much like that I didn’t have space to include. On another day they might have been in there, and they remain highly recommended, so Pop-Office’s Portraits in Sea is one well worth checking out, as is Ykiki Beat’s Tired of Dreams. Hotel Mexico’s Her Decorated Post Love was another fine album that didn’t make the cut but on another day likely would have and if you haven’t heard it, you should go out and do that right now, as you should Sugardrop’s superb, shoegazetastic Yeah Right. As I said earlier, there’s a strong indie bias to this list, and while Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and Momoiro Clover Z both put out genuinely good and highly recommended albums, neither album really stuck with me enough to warrant a place among my top 20 of the year. Sakanaction also put out another very good album and remain consistently the best “mainstream” Japanese rock band, but somehow their stuff still doesn’t quite jive with me the way I feel it should. It’s a top notch album, brimming with creativity and thoroughly deserving of its massive sales and huge popularity, but I don’t know. It’s a model example of an album that does everything right and shows signs of maybe even being a classic, but doesn’t make my heart sing the way my real favourites did. It’s good so listen to it and a lot of you will feel it in a way I just can’t quite. It’s not you, Sakanaction, it’s me.Sakanaction: Yoru no Odoriko

Last of all, and again as with previous years, I’m obviously not including albums I released myself through my Call And Response label, which means the brilliant Я не могу без тебя (“Ya ne mogu bez tebya”, or “I can’t live without you”) by Mir and Hysteric Picnic’s fantastic Cult Pops are out of contention, although of course both would be right up near the top if I were honest about my feelings for them.

Anyway, now that you’re primed, I’ll be starting the countdown from tomorrow, so get ready.

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Guardian Song of the Week: Miu Mau, “Monochrome”

This week’s pickup for The Guardian’s music from around the world guest blogging series is a local gem from the western-Japan musical hotspot of Fukuoka.Miu Mau: Monochrome

Partly due to the domination of the music press by (mostly Tokyo-based) record labels and partly due to the high costs and low returns of touring domestically, even in this supposed digital age, information about music from other cities in Japan can still be hard to come by for fans. As a result, regional scenes based around certain clubs and live venues still hold a strong influence over local indie culture, and there often remain noticeable cultural differences from place to place.

Traditionally Fukuoka has had a reputation as a town for fierce, energetic bands, from the “mentai-rock” generation of the 70s (a pretty close Japanese parallel to the contemporaneous pub rock movement in the UK) to the punk and alternative boom of the late 90s and early 2000s. While drummer Miwako Matsuda and guitarist Hiromi Kajiwara have impeccable punk/alternative credentials (as members of garage-punk duo Masadayomasa and postpunk noiseniks Hyacca respectively), Miu Mau fly in the face of their local musical heritage, group leader Masami Takashima taking a deliberately minimal, and melodic approach to songwriting, and employing a poised, carefully constructed art-pop aesthetic, which makes them a rare and special creature in their hometown.

Typically, Miu Mau songs are built around the tension between Takashima’s chunky synths and Kajiwara’s spindly, wandering, reverb-heavy guitar lines, something still present on “Monochrome” but with the tension dialled down a notch, the keyboard pushed into the background and taking on a more organic, 60s-influenced hue, while the guitar takes the lead. As with many bands in Japan, the lyrics slip back and forth between English and Japanese, spinning their desultory tale of urban ennui, while the melody is haunting, an atmosphere accentuated by the repetitive, looping guitar and synth lines. If you can get your hands on the forthcoming single, there’s an equally splendid double A-side called “Spring” that’s well worth seeking out.

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Things to look forward to in 2013

With 2012 fading in the rear mirror, it’s worth looking ahead to some of the things worth getting excited about over the next year. Some of my favourites from last year are already working on follow-ups, and doubtless more will have come out with new material by the time the year’s out. In addition, my own label, Call And Response, is looking to release in one form or another some of the bands I’m excited about at the moment. So here’s a few suggestions, largely drawn from Call And Response’s immediate circle of bands, of things to look out for over the course of 2013.

Miu Mau: No.1 in my best releases of 2012, Miu Mau have already finished recording two new songs, which they’re currently thinking of releasing as a vinyl single. They recorded it all on analogue equipment and vocalist Masami Takashima claims on her blog that it has more of a 60s sound than last year’s new wave-influenced News EP. Either way, I guarantee it will be super.

Hysteric Picnic: They’ve already put up a couple of new songs on Soundcloud that indicate a growing confidence in their songwriting if their enthusiasm for noise-inflected doom-laden postpunk remains undimmed, and they’re working on more. Hopefully there should be a new EP out by the summer. If no one else releases this, I will.

Jebiotto: This synth-punk trio claim to be hard at work writing new songs for a mini album or EP to be released some time this year. Their last release, Beat End, came out in 2010 so they’re long overdue a follow-up. They did an excellent song, Deacon Punk, for a compilation I released last year, so the new year looks promising. Again, if no one else releases this, I will.

Hyacca: Another band long overdue a new album, this Fukuoka postpunk band are one of the most intense and just plain brilliant bands out there, but their last mini album Hanazono came out in 2009 and apart from a couple of appearances on compilations, they’ve not released much since then. They debuted some new material when I saw them in Fukuoka last month and again, a new album by the end of the year is on the cards.

Extruders: Another of last year’s favourites, minimalist Kanagawa postpunk/psychedelic band Extruders have a new album entitled Colors coming out on Knew Noise Records on April 3rd. It’s likely that the core of the album will be studio recordings of material off last year’s Pray live album, but the release via the ultra-hip Knew Noise label should see them reaching a much wider audience.

Dorolys: Basically the project of one girl, Hazuki Togo, Kagoshima-based Dorolys is a brand new unit with a really nice line in Velvets-influenced lo-fi indie. I saw them for the first time at only their second ever gig, in Kagoshima recently, and they were ace. I’m currently nagging Hazuki to start recording so we can get a cassette or something out soon.

Mir: I’ve been sitting on two or three excellent unreleased recordings by Mir, some of them dating back nearly five years, but which were impossible to release in any form because the band kept splitting up and re-forming and never got the momentum together to put together a proper release. It might have to be a limited release, but the band and I are determined to get these tracks out in some form, hopefully by this summer. EDIT: And Kyohei Hiroki from Mir just informed me on Twitter that they’re busy recording new stuff as well, so there could be a mini-album in it. Fingers crossed. 

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Top 20 Releases of 2012: No.1 – Miu Mau – News

I think friends of mine probably knew that this was coming. I raved about it when it came out, and I’ve been DJing tracks from this EP pretty much constantly ever since I got my hands on it at the Kyushu Pop Festival in June. Mirai no Classic made its first appearance in spring 2011, but it never gets old. It’s the song that more than anything else I’ve ever played is guaranteed to have people coming up to me in bars and clubs, asking, “What the hell is this? It’s brilliant!”

The title track, News, is a worthy follow-up, drawing on some of the same general dryly observational, teetering on the brink of irony, new wave-influenced themes and sharing similar spindly, wandering guitar lines, but with a funkier beat.

Neon Sign pushes Hiromi Kajiwara’s guitar into the background a bit more, letting band leader Masami Takashima’s synth step to the fore, with a melody that harks back to a lot of the material on Miu Mau’s lo-fi, Shibuya-kei-styled debut album, Design. While it lacks the sharp edges of the first two songs, it has a soft, marshmallow charm of its own, mixing the vocals with greater subtlety and with the greater emphasis on synths giving it a richer, less sparse texture.

In my initial review, I didn’t give much time to the two remixes that close out the CD, but they are both outstanding in their own right. Future Classic (Girlfriend Record Remix) is a ponderous electronic dub track that cuts out the main body of the vocals and just holds on to the catch “fa fa fa”s and the spine tingling harmonies of the chorus.

News (Girlfriend Record Remix) is another deliberately paced electronic affair, although it holds onto the structure of the original song more closely at first, letting the vocals run over an electro-funk beat for the first couple of minutes before breaking out into a swooping, synth-laden outer-space disco blissout.

The fact that this was a relatively obscure, largely unremarked upon CD/R release and not a massive, genre-defining indie pop hit is the sort of thing that were I not the positive-thinking, optimistic sort that I am, might start making me wonder whether or not the Japanese record buying public are taste-bereft idiots. The reaction of people whenever given the chance to hear it suggests that I’m right in my more positive assessment, and so I can just urge you you spread the word and get these magnificent songs out there more and more.

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Miu Mau: News

CD/R, Girlfriend Record, 2012

I’ve already written about Miu Mau’s excellent Mirai no Classic/Future Classic, but the all-girl Fukuoka indie supergroup have now provided us with a parent EP that sees the song sit alongside two new tracks and a couple of remixes.

Firstly, it goes without saying that Mirai no Classic is every bit the quirky new wave pop masterpiece that it always was, and that in fact repeat listens reveal more and more what a great, multi-layered piece of work this is. The song’s extra depth is largely down to Hiromi Kajiwara’s meandering guitar lines that wander through the verse before chiming in with a gorgeous descending line that perfectly offsets the chorus’ harmonies.

Of the other songs, the title track is a standout with its new wave disco beat, electro-funk synth bass and Kajiwara’s guitar playing the same flat, metallic, meandering game that was so effective on Mirai no Classic. Neon Sign is a softer-edged proposition, with vocalist Masami Takashima’s synth at the forefront and the guitar mostly confined to rhythm. There’s still a lot going on in a Sound Dust-era Stereolab sort of way, but it feels a bit lost coming after the one-two punch of the first two songs.

The remixes begin with Mirai no Classic (here referred to by its English title of Future Classic) slowed and stretched into a minimalist dub piece and close with News, playing up its electro-funk trappings, paring back the guitar and transforming itself into a synth-swooping space-disco number. Neither is exactly essential, but both do the job of a remix effectively (drawing out and refocussing aspects of the original in an interesting way) and together they round off this diverse, assured and generally thoroughly high quality collection neatly.

Miu Mau: News (Live at Yakuin Utero, Fukuoka)

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Miu Mau: Future Classic

Download, Girlfriend Record (2011)

This isn’t a new song by any means, appearing about a year ago on iTunes, but band leader Masami Takashima has recently put it up for anyone to listen on Soundcloud, so this is a first chance for a lot of people to get a good listen at this really quite fantastic song.

Miu Mau are an all-girl Fukuoka indie supergroup featuring Masami Takashima, a.k.a. Coet Cocoeh on synths, Hiromi Kajiwara of postpunk noiseniks Hyacca (full disclosure: Hyacca’s music is released via my own Call And Response label) on guitar and Miwako Matsuda of garage-punk duo Masadayomasa on drums. They released a lovely album called Design in 2008, which showcased their rough-edged yet stylish Shibuya-kei influenced (Daimyo-kei?) sound with echoes of mid-period Stereolab, but with Takashima moving away from Kyushu to Shikoku, the group’s subsequent work has been sporadic. All of which makes the existence of any remotely new material something to be celebrated.

Productionwise I’ve always more or less felt that lo-fi is as lo-fi does, and while this is by no means a slick, professional recording, it’s good enough and seriously, who gives a fuck? What it is is a gorgeous piece of early 80s new wave pop Asiatica, with Takashima’s keyboards going all retro-futurist oriental over the melody while plugging away at the synth bassline, Kajiwara’s flat, metallic-sounding guitar, an effect that sounds brutal and industrial on Hyacca recordings, here adding to the refined early 80s faux-Asian YMO vibe and the lyrics lauding with wide-eyed optimism the brave new world of music, science and fashion that the “future classic” of the song proudly declares repeatedly in flawless harmony.

If this song had been written by a band like Chakra in 1981, it would now be held up as one of the great songs of the new wave era, but it wasn’t, and the modern age is far less tolerant of beautiful, intelligent, offbeat pop. In its simplicity and easy grasp of pop hooks and melody, however, this song, if not yet exactly classic, at least may become a minor future retro-future classic.

Links to the various online stores where the download is available can be found on the Girlfriend Records homepage.

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