Tag Archives: Ms. Machine

Connect And Receive – Summer 2021 Japan underground picks

I’ve put this blog on hold while I’m trying to finish writing the terrible book I’ve been putting off working on for the past five years, but as a compromise, I made this mix of tracks from Japanese underground and weirdo punk releases that have come out during the first half or thereabouts of this year. You can listen to it here:

TRACK LIST:

OOPS – Riso no Morning / 理想のモーニング
An up-and-coming punk band from Osaka, taken from their Out of Pictures 7-inch single.

LLRR – Anonymous
Released on streaming sites last year, this Kyoto art-punk band’s debut < = > EP got a limited cassette release this spring (full disclosure: from my Call And Response label).

THE QUESTONS – I am I
This garage-punk trio from Okinawa have put out a couple of releases this year, with this track coming from their Koi no Yokan EP in February.

M.A.Z.E. – Spread the Germicide
Punk with oblique no wavey flourishes, from this reliably in-your-face band’s short, sharp, sub-15-minute 9-song collection II.

Ignition Block M – Houses of Fire
There’s a lot of buzz around this Tokyo punk band, with this song the title track of their recent Houses of Fire EP.

KLONNS – Gehenna
One of the core bands of the Discipline event, usually held at the great Koiwa Bushbash live venue, which combines punk, metal, psychedelic noise and intense techno, Klonns hold up the ferocious, gothic grindcore end of the spectrum on this single. The label Black Hole has also carved out a noteworthy space as a key hub for young, stylish, noisy artists in Tokyo. Aisha from Ignition Block M appears as a guest vocalist on this track.

Ms. Machine – 2020
Another young band with connections to the Discipline and Black Hole crews, Ms. Machine’s debut album was one of the few underground releases to really attract a buzz in Tokyo this year, combining simple hooks in swirling, gothic no wave squalls of noise.

Barbican Estate – White Jazz
Another hotly tipped Tokyo indie band, this 4AD-esque psychedelic swirl came out as part of the Rhyming Slang label’s Japan/China compilation cassette early this year.

yokujitsu – Just Vibes
This Tokyo psychedelic band released a live EP earlier in the year, followed up with this cassette single in the spring.

concrete twin – Nigella
Lo-fi shoegaze that builds up towering walls of distorted sound around its fragile melody in this track from their “Re​:​encounter” sound source #04 EP. The band claim a trip-hop influence, which is hinted at in the shuffling drums, although I get more of a Madchester vibe from it.

BD1982 – THEW3ST
One half of the team behind Tokyo’s fantastic Diskotopia label, this track hails off BD1982’s excellent Ryuichi Sakamoto-meets-Throbbing Gristle solo album Distance Vision.

Jesus Weekend – Forever Breeze
A welcome return from what was once a curiously meandering Osaka lo-fi band and is now a more ambient-focused Tokyo solo act, with this Eno-esque piece taken from the lovely Rudra no Namida cassette EP.

rima kato – today was so bad
This is an old track, from the Four Songs EP, originally released by the aotoao label in 2010 and just re-released this year. Rima Kato’s simple, melancholy melodies and gentle, warm delivery are always worth checking out.

Mitsuru Tabata – Nichijo Part 1 / 日常パート1
Another old song, re-released this year as part of eclectic underground legend Mitsuru Tabata’s (ex-Boredoms, Zeni Geva, Acid Mothers Temple and a billion other bands) large archive of tracks released for compilation albums over the years, Compilation Breakdown.

Closh – I don’t care bcz I’m just ????
A curious and always interesting presence in the Tokyo indie scene, Closh released a couple of mini-albums with the band Doodless before joining alt-rock band Wetnap. As far as I know, this is her first solo release but her exasperated vocal howls and catchy, lo-fi indie-punk guitars are instantly recognisable.

Merry Ghosts – Scotch Egg Struggle
Previously known as Trespass, Merry Ghosts are a post-punk-edged Osaka-based (I think originally from Kobe) alt-rock duo, with this track a deceptively catchy, scuzzy highlight of their very good new album Pink Bloom. It’s not available on Bandcamp, but there’s a CD out there if you can track it down.

Worst Taste – New creation
A mainstay of the Tokyo alt rock scene over the past 15 years or so, this piece of sparse yet intense art-punk comes from their recent Ultra Power EP, which seems to be available only as a cassette directly from the band at the moment.

PANICSMILE – Have You Seen The Bridge
Another album not available on Bandcamp, but the self-titled CD album it comes from is available pretty widely from label Like a Fool Records (and you can find it on the evil Spotify if you don’t want the band to get any money). Put together last year through a sort of pass-the-parcel remote recording process between Tokyo, Nagoya and Fukuoka, this album revels in its fragmentation and unexpected turns, but comes together with an urgency that it’s amazing a band with such a long career can still summon.

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Various Artists – We Need Some DISCIPLINE Here.

There have been a lot of Japanese compilation albums this year, largely organised by and for live venues that had been forced by the pandemic to scale back their operations. This compilation by Tokyo’s Discipline event team is different in that its focus is more specifically around the organisers’ own event.

Pinning down exactly what sort of event Discipline is (and therefore what sort of album this is) is difficult using the normal diagnostic tools of genre — it blends hardcore, grindcore, post-punk, EBM, noise, techno, drone, experimental and various points between, but nonetheless it adds up to a coherent sonic universe. Many of the electronic tracks (Golpe Mortal) have a raw, rough-edged quality to them that plays well with the punk-influenced entries (Klonns), some of which themselves bleed seamlessly into experimental territory (Granule), while experimental and noise acts happily cross back over into rough-edged electronica (In The Sun).

A good compilation album takes you on a journey through different landscapes that are nonetheless recognisable as parts of the same world, and what makes this Discipline compilation so interesting is how it constructs that world itself with such little reliance on the shortcuts provided by external signifiers. Part of that is perhaps down to the way it has already established and honed its identity through its regular events. Part may also be down to the disregard towards genre among young audiences in Japan (the Rokoh label’s 2020 Songs for Our Space compilation dances around similar sounds with a similarly gloomy sense of cool to Discipline, with members of the bands Ms. Machine and Strip Joint appearing on both). In this sense, the attitude is feels like an update of the post-punk era’s marriage of funk, dub, electronic and experimental music to various strains of rock’n’roll, all with a similarly stripped-back and raw approach. All of which is to say that if Discipline is the future of underground music in Tokyo, it’s one with a lot of promise.

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Top 25 Releases of 2018: No. 15 – 11

afrirampo - afriverse

CD, Supponpon Record, 2018

No.15 – Afrirampo – Afriverse
One of my most anticipated releases of the year, the comeback album of Osaka avant-garage duo Afrirampo following their return to the stage in 2016 was an instant re-encapsulation of everything that made them so thrilling and fresh — or everything that made them so mannered and irritating, depending on your mileage. Whatever your take, on Afriverse they are energetically and unapologetically themselves — even more so than in their original incarnation really, with the guitar-shredding rockisms cranked up further than ever before and the whimsical psychedelic pop of drummer Pika’s solo work edging in here and there in a sprawling one-hour-plus tapestry of childlike vocal nonsense and zigzagging prog-garage-punk energy.Afrirampo – Potsu Potsu

ms machine - sldr

CD, self-released, 2018

No.14 – Ms. Machine – S.L.D.R.
A short, sharp blast of shrieking noise-punk, S.L.D.R. made a small but significant impact on the Tokyo scene when it landed in spring 2018, attracting press attention not only for the band’s harsh sounds and sharp image, but also from their proudly political feminist stance in a cultural environment largely untouched by movements like #metoo. Live appearances have been sparse since its release, but S.L.D.R. promises great things for the future, should Ms. Machine choose to grasp them. You can read my original review here.

dmbq - keenly

Vinyl, Drag City, 2018

No.13 – DMBQ – Keenly
Massive, clattering drums, immense, stadium-filling bass, a swirling galaxy of noise and feedback, sustained drone advancing across the sonic landscape like a wall of death, riffs like granite blocks hurled from Mount Olympus, and howling guitar solos raining down, serpentine and electric — that’s what DMBQ do, and that’s what they do on Keenly. Magnificently.

the hatch - opaque age

CD, Jusangatsu, 2018

No.12 – The Hatch – Opaque Age
Fourteen tracks of gruff post-hardcore, enlivened by dynamic, shifting rhythms, jazz-tinged guitar lines and unexpectedly uplifting horns. There are moments where everything comes together with almost transcendent ferocity and others where the parts grate against and struggle with each other like the jittery dynamics of postpunk, but at all times, Opaque Age is intricately worked and delivered with fearsome conviction and a touch of sarcastic humour.The Hatch – Sexgame

sonotanotanpenz - new

CD, self-released, 2018

No.11 – Sonotanotanpenz – New
After collaborating with a variety of musicians on their previous 31 and promoting it with a series of shows backed by a full band, Sonotanotanpenz’ new New is for the most part an even more minimal affair than usual, although not one lacking in texture due the the fun the duo have with a diverse array of oddball synth sounds. The usual ‘tanpenz mixture of near-whispered tag team rap and overlapping vocal melodies is present and correct, although the stronger emphasis on synths brings means this short album presents sharper contrasts between its more plastic moments, like the squelchy Milovat’ and where their approach is more organic, as on the piano-led I Love You.

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Ms. Machine: S.L.D.R.

ms machine - sldr

CD, self-released, 2018

If you didn’t get hold of the scuzzy demo CD/R that the band were selling at live performances a year or two back, S.L.D.R. is likely the first chance most people have to hear Tokyo-based noise-punk band Ms. Machine in recorded form. Occupying the more discordant end of the current wave of young, aloof, well-dressed Tokyo indie bands with icy, blank stares that don’t give a damn about your bullshit, they bring a shot of curiously taciturn aggression to a scene still dominated by the piss-end of City Pop and varyingly competent imitations of vaguely twee US and UK guitar pop.

With four tracks’ worth of snarling guitars, distortion, doom-laden chords and shrieking sloganeering coming in at around seven and a half minutes, this EP places the band in a lineage that encompasses both D.C. hardcore and New York no wave. Most of the songs on S.L.D.R. are built around a single, grinding guitar riff, over which the vocals repetitively intone their minimal message. Despite that minimalism, however, there’s a distinctly feminist slant to the lyrics, with the opening Break the Current System featuring just the phrase, “She gotta obey him to succeed in this world” one and a half times and Your Little Yardstick simply and repeatedly demanding, “Do not appraise me!” Meanwhile, whether intentional or not, instrumental closing track 3.11 is difficult to separate from the horror and unease of the earthquake that struck Japan on March 11th 2011, the track unfolding beneath a shrieking toy siren, with guitar and bass alternating between the same two-note riff and percussively hammering away on one chord before the guitar dissolves into a Mission of Burma-esque distorted outro.

There’s an unfinished quality to Ms. Machine’s songwriting that contributes to its no-bullshit appeal, the songs starting, locking into a groove, and then never really finishing so much as just ending. Despite (or maybe partly because of) this, as well as the short length and the minimalism of the music within, S.L.D.R. is an EP that rewards repeat listenings with a brutal simplicity of its own.

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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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