Tag Archives: NicFit

Top 25 Releases of 2019: No. 20-16

V:A - Nicfit:MAZE

Vinyl, Episode Sounds, 2019

20. V/A – Nicfit/M.A.Z.E.
This split EP features two of Japan’s leading purveyors of energetic, darkly leftfield punk rock and both bands shine. With Nagoya quartet Nicfit’s contributions, the guitars yowl and scrape at your eardrums as the songs barrel breakneck towards their conclusion, bass pounding out an atmosphere of doom. Meanwhile, Tokyo’s M.A.Z.E. come in all scuzzy, slashing guitars and post-punk jitters, then just as quickly as they arrive, they’re gone. A breathless, electrifying seven and a half minutes.


Towel - 「」

CD, self-released, 2019

19. Towel – 「」
Hamamatsu-based avant-indie band Towel’s new EP crams six songs into ten minutes, blasting you alternately with bouncy melodicism, jagged post-punk guitars with atonal yowling, and off-kilter, Sebadoh-esque songsmithery. On some level, you can make out parallels with a band like Siamese Cats in the songwriting sensibility, but Towel have way more ragged edges that they seem to have no interest in sanding away. And rightly so, because on this EP the edges are what give it its charm.


Otoboke Beaver - Itekoma Hits

Vinyl/CD, Damnably, 2019

18. Otoboke Beaver – Itekoma Hits
Kyoto garage-trash quartet Otoboke Beaver are currently the Japanese band that people overseas have heard of, and their growing status outside Japan is all the more remarkable for the fact that they’ve managed to do it all within the restrictive limitations of touring while apparently holding down jobs with typical Japanese holiday allowances. Itekoma Hits is half a compilation, gathering tracks from recent Japanese releases together with a handful of new and re-recordings, and if you’re already familiar with their particular style of breakneck garage-punk with hairpin rhythmical turns, you’ll be well prepared for this. But when they jettison the chatterbox vocal stream with shouted choruses and take a turn for the melodic, they reveal the songwriting heart of a J-pop group amid the crafted chaos, in a way reminiscent of Kansai-area forbears Midori. With 14 tracks in about 27 minutes, Itekoma Hits is dense with ferocious yet deftly structured oddball punk rock and packed with unexpected twists.


The Routes - Tune Out Switch Off Drop In

Vinyl, Groovie Records, 2019

17. The Routes – Tune Out Switch Off Drop In
Calling The Routes part of Japan’s garage rock scene isn’t quite accurate, as the band seem quite content sequestered away in Oita, rarely playing live and having very little to do with the core Back from the Grave/Garage Rockin’ Craze scene in Tokyo. And they stand out from most of that scene too, by having much stronger and more sophisticated songwriting. The opening The Ricochet might veer a little too close to Oasis for some tastes (let’s be charitable and say it has echoes of Ladies And Gentlemen…-era Spiritualized instead) but overall, the feeling recalls the sounds of the 1980s Nuggets revival, more along the lines of Chris Stamey, Dream Syndicate or the Fleshtones (maybe even a hint of Ian McNabb and The Icicle Works in there too in songs like Just How it Feels) gifting the music a lively, sharply-cut, hook-heavy energy.


Otori - Digitalized Human Nature

CD, Gyuune Cassette, 2019

16. Otori – Digitalized Human Nature
Where Otori’s 2014 debut album I Wanna Be Your Noise was loosely themed around ideas of communication, many of the songs on their 2019 follow-up Digitalized Human Nature — from the opening Encode Jungle to the closing Neuromancer — are concerned in one way or another with being human in a digital world. The arrival of new bass player Tsuda (of psychedelic rock band Owarikara) has also seen a shift in sound from the propulsive post-punk of their early years to something more rhythmically hyperactive, with vocalist Sae working more quirky, squeaky melodies into the songs and the introduction of more synth sounds (at least in some cases seemingly being worked Robert Fripp-style through Hino’s guitar). Digitalized Human Nature is an extremely busy album that retains and expands on Otori’s post-punk roots but is also intent on causing discomfort, overloading you with contradictory sensory input to the point where you don’t know where the man ends and the machine begins.

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V/A: Ripple

There’s a review I wrote of Knew Noise Records’ excellent new Ripple compilation of contemporary Nagoya indie and postpunk music in The Japan Times now, so please pop over there and check it out.

Here, I’m just going to add a few things that there wasn’t really enough space to go into over on the JT piece. Firstly, to expand on the comparison with the 7586 Nagoya Rock series, I feel that Ripple is kind of being pitched as a sort of “export-ready” compilation, focussing on bands who are going to be, or at least sound, familiar to non-Nagoya audiences. These are the kinds of bands that could support a good, offbeat, John Peel style UK indie band on the Nagoya date of a small Japan tour or that could satisfy a small crowd of Tokyo indie hipsters. It generally avoids the really esoteric, psychedelic or quirky acoustic stuff and keeps centred on stuff that satisfies some wider, more generic kind of cool. A compilation that says, “Look, Nagoya can do this too!” rather than, “Look what Nagoya can do that you all can’t!”

This isn’t a criticism, and in fact it’s something that’s close to what I try to do with my own music promotion activities in Japan. There’s enough stuff that sells itself on its quirkiness and wackiness, and Japanese music is already cursed enough by the perception of its pop culture as mad and (ugh) inscrutable, so it’s good that there’s someone out there showing that Nagoya participate in national indie pop culture on a level playing field with Tokyo, Fukuoka, Kyoto etc. just as I would hope that Japan itself can compete with the UK, US etc. on those same terms. Sure, express your uniqueness, but don’t wall yourself in. This compilation is a small but important part of maintaining that balance.

One reason it all hangs together so well, I suspect, is that so many of the bands share musicians. There seems to be some kind of crossover between various members of Nicfit, Free City Noise, Sika Sika, 6eyes and Dororonika at least, and those bands are very much at the core of what makes this album tick.

There are some bands that I didn’t mention, so sorry Dororonica but your track was a great piece of raw, uncompromising, jazz-inflected prog-punk, reminding me a bit of fellow Aichi punk-noise types The Act We Act. Jubilee’s track was a solid piece of high-octane punk too.

I drew a contrast between the 80s UK-style indiepop of The Moments and the 70s Japanese-style folk music of Yoshito Ishihara. You can hear The Moments’ track on their Soundcloud, here:
And you can get some idea of Ishihara’s more rambling, freeform style in this rather distant live clip recorded at London’s Cafe Oto:

Possibly my two favourites from this were Freedom and Free City Noise, and I was able to track down some interesting clips of them. This one of Freedom doesn’t feature their track from Ripple, but it’s interesting in its own right. Experimental and imaginative, but still fun and approachable.

Freedom: Noise Disco

It’s certainly reminiscent of Kansai stuff like Afrirampo and particularly the kind of thing Ni-Hao! were doing six or seven years ago, but it’s carried off with aplomb and a lot of charm.

Free City Noise have a full half-hour set online and it really is very good, as long as you take “very good” as meaning “exactly the same as Sonic Youth”, which let’s face it, is as comprehensive a definition as you’ll ever need.

Free City Noise live at Bar Ripple (appropriately)

I say in the review that Ripple makes a good jumping-off point for some of the other bands in Nagoya and Aichi, and you can find out about some of them in a pair of articles I wrote for The Japan Times last year. I’ve also written about Pop Office on this blog twice, so check those out too.

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