Since emerging from the wreckage of dreadfully named indie-dance band The Brixton Academy, Nile Long seem to have stripped themselves of their former band’s indie baggage and come back slicker, smoother and more intensely, unapologetically dance. Last year’s See Your Eyes was a confident slice of danceable 80s synthpop, but Rush to the Groove goes a step further and sees the band swimming in seas of pure, molten disco. Some awkward (but really rather charming) dancing in the video aside, this track confirms Nile Long, along with the excellent Give Me Wallets, as one of Tokyo’s leading purveyors of chilled out neon discopop.
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This Saturday, new Japanese indie music web site Kiwa Kiwa is organising a music festival at Club Asia and I previewed it for The Japan Times. Over on this blog I focus mostly on the leftfield extremes and the poppier idol music extremes and generally avoid the kinds of indie bands that are actually popular. The main reason for this isn’t that most of them are shit so much as that most of them are just OK. If I ever think of something interesting to say about Buffalo 3, I’ll say it, but that’s not going to happen until they stop sounding like a kind of dead-end Hoxton indie band circa 2004.
What’s interesting about this event is that I think it does do a good job of laying out a map of what the Tokyo indie scene sounds like in the year 2012 that’s free of the art-punk snobbery of people like me or the chillwave/beach pop fetishism of other aspects of the indie scene. That stuff maybe important creatively, but none of it is really that important to audiences at this time. There are good bands like Uhnellys, Africaemo, Vola & The Oriental Machine, Give Me Wallets and Nile Long at Kiwa Kiwa Festival, but more than that, it’s a good summation of what’s happening in the real world of Tokyo indie.
I never really got The Brixton Academy. It may have been down to the awful, try-hard London hipster wannabe band name, because whenever I saw them there never really seemed to be anything in particular wrong with them. Something never really clicked though, musically or conceptually. It felt like there was something formless and meandering about them without the compensation of the kind of unexpected turns or raw minimalism that characterise the best experimental music. They were all right, and if I’d put in the effort, I might have come to genuinely like them, but I didn’t and as a result, when they split up, it barely even registered with me.
Now assuming that they weren’t planning to become mountaintop hermits, this was never going to be the end for all the members concerned, and sure enough, Nile Long have now emerged from the wreckage with this rather fine piece of 80s styled synthpop and its Apple-fetishising video. It’s one of those songs that sounds like something you’ve heard before and it’s been tormenting me exactly what song it is (seriously, suggestions below, please). I’m getting lots of Erasure/Yazoo period Vince Clarke (the synth from Don’t Go and the beat from Chains of Love), New Order and The Pet Shop Boys (pretty much the whole of the album Actually) are in there somewhere, but I can’t put my finger on exactly what.
The problem is that all this hunting through 80s synthpop classics it set me off on ended up putting Nile Long in some pretty unassailable company and sat next to Clarke, Tennant et al at their finest, “See Your Eyes” sounds like a demo for a more polished and melodically developed song rather than the finished item in itself. Which is unfortunate because in the company its most likely going to sit (that of the group’s contemporaries in Japan’s indie rock scene) this really is a cut above most of the posers.
The vocals wisely stick to prodding the listener with hook after hook, augmented by equally hook-laden backing vocals and synth/sequencer loops. The way they hold off on the introduction of the guitar until half way through the song is a well-worked application of an old trick too, and it helps add to the feeling of meeting an old friend that the song creates with this barrage of familiar but effective motifs. In the end, See Your Eyes is simple and catchy enough to stand out from the pack, and it demonstrates a commendable dedication to developing the group’s songwriting in a more commercial direction without descending into J-pop mulch.