Tag Archives: Motocompo

Top 25 Releases of 2018: Extra

In addition to the albums and EPs covered by my, admittedly selective and only vaguely ranked, top 25 list, there were of course plenty of other releases I listened to and enjoyed. Fukuoka insult-punks Born Shit Stirrers put out another extremely fun album, Depressed Fathers Club, which featured a song namechecking me, titled Ian Martin Thinks You’re Shit. Synthpop/technopop duo Motocompo re-released their fantastic 2008 Chiptop Lips album towards the end of the year, while their all-boy “ska-electro” successor band (M)otocompo released their daffy new Yokoshima Borderline EP at the same time. Fukuoka-based operatic jazz-prog trio Kelp put out the fascinating Intake album, while there were some interesting cassette compilations in the alt-rock-themed Life Is Music and Tokyo indie event Rhyming Slang’s collaboration compilation with Korean indie collective Freshalwayson. There was plenty more that I either didn’t get a chance to listen to or that I’ve somehow forgotten in the swirl of events and noise that usually makes up my year.

My own Call And Response label also put out a couple of new releases, which for obvious reasons I didn’t feel right including in my personal ranking of best releases. However, since this site seems to be the only place on the Internet that covers this sort of Japanese art-punk, underground and experimental rock music with any real affection, I’m going to make a point of recommending them here because (like all Call And Response releases, natch) they’re both excellent albums.

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CD, Call And Response, 2018

Sea Level – Dictionary (Handwritten) – BUY HERE
In a review by Ele-king magazine, Sea Level were described as “centreless music”, which is to say music that doesn’t have an obvious, easy-to-define core identity but rather defines itself through the fluid, free-floating and dreamlike way it dances from idea to idea, pulled outwards in various directions by the diverse creative talents in the band, but nonetheless linked in a stream of consciousness. Musically, it’s in the zone that we can comfortably call post-rock in that it combines electronic music with progressive rock, with diversions into various other genres where appropriate, but that doesn’t do justice to the beauty of this record — less a linear journey than a hallucinatory, melancholy landscape that you’re left to explore freely by yourself.

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CD, Call And Response, 2018

Velvet Ants – Entomological Souvenirs I – BUY HERE
I’ve mentioned a couple of times in these year-end countdown posts that 2018 was a great year for the loose category of sonically or rhythmically distorted experimental rock and (post)punk music I like to classify as noise-rock, and Velvet Ants by all rights should be considered an important part of that wave of great music. Recorded and mixed by Shinji Masuko of DMBQ (whose monumental Keenly also featured in my top albums list), Entomological Souvenirs I combines jittery rhythms, heavy riffs and ferocious Sonic Youthian freakouts, delivered with a disarmingly loose sort of confidence.Velvet Ants – Cicada (single edit)

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XXX of Wonder: Meiseki Yume Madonna

A recurring theme in my writing over the past couple of years and I think a key idea in understanding the layout of the Japanese music scene these days is the idolfication of the indie scene and the parallel indiefication of idol music. As subcultural scenes like anime and manga fandom, and indeed idol culture itself, have been led out of the shadows and into the mainstream by an entertainment industry attracted to the consumer patterns of otaku, elements of those subcultural roots have been caught up in the net and found themselves with a route out of obscurity by employing some of the same commercial practices.

Those subcultural figures are often the most appealing aspects of this new indie commercialism simply because the things they do in order to sell themselves are things they were already doing purely for the love of it anyway. Julie Watai could perhaps be seen as an example of such a figure, packaging and promoting herself in a distinctly idolesque way, but at the same time quite clearly a massive nerd in her own right. And this is where XXX of Wonder enters the picture. A collaboration between Watai (whose musical role in the group is rather ambiguous), pop singer Shiho Nanba, illustrator Mel Kishida, lyricist Frenesi and composer/producer Dr. Usui, it is a project born of people who all exist somewhere around the nexus between pop, otaku and indie culture.XXX of Wonder: Meiseki Yume Madonna

I have some issues with this kind of thing, in that by opening up this particular path towards commercial respectibility it reinforces a certain cutesy, idol-ish pop orthodoxy. A producer as talented as Dr. Usui could have put his skills to work in the service of something like The Knife, but there’s no established protocol in place for promoting something like that, so short of doing full-on idol or anime music (both of which he has also done), this sort of twee, pastel coloured pop is the only route on offer to people like Usui.

And it must be said that in this kind of thing Usui is a past master. Through his work with Motocompo in the late 90s and early 2000s he had a pioneering role in introducing Daft Punk-influenced electro into technopop and the moribund remains of Shibuya-kei — an idea later applied by Yasutaka Nakata to the idol trio Perfume to massive commercial success — and melodically, structurally and productionwise there’s a lot in Meiseki Yume Madonna that could easily be part of one of Motocompo’s later releases.

All of which is to say that it’s a rather fine pop song and refreshing to see Usui back doing what he does best. It does, however, leave me still dreaming of what kind of sounds he might produce were he able to really cut loose creatively. Also, while we’re in the realm of speculation, if this project is to continue long term, it would be fascinating to see what might result from Frenesi being given space to play around melodically as well as lyrically. A terrific composer in her own right with wonderfully eclectic taste (her DJ sets are superb journeys into both familiar and unknown places), XXX of Wonder could be a great canvas for her own songwriting.

In any case Meiseki Yume Madonna is a slick piece of synthpop that while it’s superficially very much a product of squeaky-voiced contemporary kawaii aesthetics, has a classic pop musical heart that reveals itself most clearly when the song sheds its cutesy eccentricities and leaps into its soaring dance-pop chorus. The music itself may be only part of a project that, in tune with current music industry trends, spans various media including visual arts and fashion, but it’s clear that XXX of Wonder has at least gathered people who are genuinely invested in the various niches they explore. If the future of music is as a relatively small component part of such multimedia projects, then Meiseki Yume Madonna demonstrates that music’s diminished status need not go hand in hand with a loss of craftsmanship.

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Aprils: New Electric / High Flying Girl

The Aprils were part of the generation of bands that sprang up in the early 2000s heavily influenced by Shibuya-kei (their early stuff is pretty much a direct copy from Flipper’s Guitar) and which added the cheap, plastic synthetic sheen of the new wave revival that had sprung up a few years before around bands like Motocompo and Polysics. Artists from that scene have gone in various directions, with YMCK doubling down on their 8-bit jazz-pop schtick, Hazel Nuts Chocolate going from bright, sugar-coated nursery rhymes through frenetic breakbeat technopop hybrid to woozy, post-chillwave bedroom electronic pop. The closely related capsule, now officially “CAPSULE” since their switch of labels (and who I shall be calling Capsule in all subsequent uses) went on to become a huge influence on the mainstream through producer Yasutaka Nakata.

The Aprils took time off between 2005 and 2010, re-emerging with a brighter, more electropop sound that channeled some of the incessantly cheerful energy of idol music and worked in elements of pop culture nostalgia, particularly from the 80s. There are obviously elements of what Capsule did in reviving electropop with Perfume in that intervening 2005-2010 period, and you can hear various formerly Shibuya-kei-influenced groups settling on a similar sort of vocodered/autotuned pop around this time, with Candles and Sweet Vacation but two examples, and singers like Aira Mitsuki approaching the same sound from the idol direction.Aprils: New Electric

New Electric, off the January 2012 album Magical Girls, is atill a pretty accurate statement of where the band and a lot of their contemporaries remain musically. In a way, it’s sad to see music born from such an eclectic and musically adventurous ethos as Shibuya-kei (even if it was at times stultifyingly snobby) congeal around a sound as wishy washy and hollow as this. The Aprils are good at it and New Electric is a very accomplished example of the sound, but Motocompo have already been there and Yasutaka Nakata has already taken it way further than any of this generation of bands are even trying. it’s electric but it’s not really new.

The more recent High Flying Girl mixes things up a bit more, with the shouty chorus barging its way insistently to the fore and a more interesting combination of sounds competing for the listener’s attention in the background. It owes back more to the 80s than to anything really new, but more than that, it suggests that more than just genre merchants, the Aprils might have genuine mainstream pop songwriting appeal.Aprils: High Flying Girl

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