Aichi prefecture’s Noiseconcrete has appeared on this site a few times as one half of the duo Noiseconcrete x 3chi5, setting his abrasive inclinations at the nexus of noise, hardcore and industrial off against vocalist 3chi5’s otherworldly vocal wanderings. On this EP we find him unfettered by the soft/harsh dynamic of his other project and diving straight into the pandemic chaos of 2020 with explosive vigour. There have been a few tracks emerging from the Japanese underground that touch on the COVID-19 crisis, especially as more artists adapt to life making music under the radically changed circumstances the scene and its infrastructure finds itself in, but none tackle it as relentlessly and head-on as this EP, which weaves samples of news reports and political statements blandly announcing the creeping disintegration of normal life with short, intense bursts of apocalyptic machine hardcore and tortured electronic noise. The only track that pushes past 90 seconds or so is 3-mitsu, devoted to Japan’s “three Cs” catchphrase of avoiding closed spaces, crowded spaces and close contact — three rules that essentially shut down the entire punk and hardcore scene, which makes it perhaps telling that it’s the only track that really diverges from a hardcore sonic dynamic, instead building through a menacing crescendo of drone as a cacophony of overlapping voices builds in the background. Released at the beginning of May at the peak of Japan’s initial state of emergency, this EP is an eerie and atmospheric reflection of the creeping panic of the pandemic’s early days, infused with its own dry and occasionally goofy sense of situationist wit.
Tag Archives: Noiseconcrete x 3chi5
15. Transkam – EP2
OK, so I’m cheating a bit with this one, as it’s a late-2018 release that I didn’t get my hands on until deep into 2019, but I didn’t want to let a new Transkam fall through the cracks. On this cassette EP, progressive/post-rock trio Transkam expand on the trancelike, metronomic sound of their 2016 album Blueshade of the Omegasound, starting out more or less where they left off with the track Gnosis, before pushing away with the swirling, shoegazey Ex, and then pulling back into something far sparser, subtler and more daring with the seven-minute Mathvoid. Between these three tracks, Transkam scope out fresh territory within their familiar instrumental setup, exploring not only richer sonic textures but also making more effective use of space.
As an additional note, not listed on the track listing, but somehow downloading together with the others as a fourth track in the version I bought was also the unexpected surprise of the band’s achingly romantic cover of the icy-sweet Ai no Kobune wa Uchikudakarenai by Japan’s greatest unknown band, Mir (full disclosure, an earlier mix of this song was released on a 2015 tribute album via my own Call And Response label). I’m not sure whether this additional download is exclusive to the cassette edition of the album, but in any case, hearing the song here in the context of Transkam’s more customary sound made for a disconcerting but charming swerve to the left at the end of the EP.
14. The Neso – My World
Despite almost completely changing their lineup since 2018’s New Me EP, The Neso are still rocking the same line in Au Pairs/Delta 5-style post-punk with no loss in quality. The xylophone that they had already introduced on a couple of songs now stands alongside all the other instruments on a more or less equal footing — never really feeling completely necessary, but at the same time adding a unique element to a sound that otherwise draws from a lot of familiar elements. Most importantly, The Neso’s core elements of blank, disaffected vocals combined with surprisingly catchy hooks, choruses and harmonies are here in force, and their streak of releasing top quality EPs on an annual basis is still going strong.
13. Deracine – Deracine
The appearance of this third album from oddball hardcore punks Deracine (or “Delasine” as some places are now spelling their name) and their first in more than ten years last autumn was a welcome surprise and they don’t seem a day older than when they last left us. Eleven micro-bursts of camp, bass-led, sampling-assisted hardcore in nineteen minutes, containing a heady mixture of anti-consumerist, anti-establishment agit-prop and wilfully dumb shitposting nonsense, this album (which confusingly has the same eponymous title as the band’s first album) is the rush of joyous, dadaist, lo-fi, anarchist party energy we all need.
12. The Omelettes – The Omelettes
Originally from Oita in Kyushu, I initially had The Omelettes down as essentially an indiepop band, and the selections of songs they’ve chosen to represent themselves with online tends to lead the curious listener to that conclusion, but on this belated self-titled and self-released debut album they reveal themselves as something stranger than that. There is a rich seam of fairly straightforward 90s alt-rock in here, but it’s offset by something more experimental and rhythmically unpredictable — a dynamic that’s at work in the two competing sections of the song Mitsubachi, one part stop-start staccato guitars, the other a fuzz-laden indie rock chorus. In a music scene where pop-orientated acts tend to be very pop and experimental acts tend to be very experimental, it’s a rare delight to see a group like The Omelettes who treat the more offbeat aspects of their arrangements exactly the same way as they treat the moments of outright pop (even if they hesitate to share the former online). It’s interesting to note the role of Hajime Yoshida of Fukuoka-based avant-rock legends Panicsmile in recording the album, and the way his own band’s work often embodies a struggle between pop and experimental elements forms an interesting parallel with what The Omelettes are doing here (albeit from a far more experimental starting point), but on this album the precise recipe of their sound remains very much their own.
11. Noiseconcrete x 3chi5 – Trick Passport
Squeaking over the line at the end of the year, Nagoya duo Noiseconcrete x 5chi5 released this fascinating remix album, in which a handful of beatmakers deliver their own takes on Nx3’s songs. This album could have been an exercise in unnecessary and untidy self-indulgence, but the results are uniformly intriguing, with 3chi5’s ghostly, witchy vocals working as a constant element around which a diverse range of rhythmical approaches — from skittering, minimal beats to industrial and EBM to drum’n’bass — work their necromancy.
It’s always hard to tell if it’s the scene as a whole or just me as a listener, but it feels as if music in Japan is becoming ever more fragmented and compartmentalised. It goes through cycles, for sure, but the impression I get is that it’s at a particularly introverted point in one of those cycles at the moment. We see it going out to shows, where bands increasingly play in the same venues with the same kinds of lineups, and I can feel it happening to me too. Where, in the past, I would have paid some glancing attention to recent pop releases, the only J-pop album I listened to this year was Babymetal’s Metal Galaxy, which I couldn’t get through more than a minute of. In the past, it was interesting to look through similar year-end roundups by Make Believe Melodies and Beehype and see where some crossover might be, but this year neither of their lists made any impact on me; it feels like we’re all in our bubbles (although Tokyo Dross continues to listen quite widely). I’m pretty comfortable in my bubble though, and the nature of the Internet is that it’s often more useful if people know what they’re going to get. In this case, what you’re going to get is a view of 2019 from a pretty militantly underground/alternative perspective, with increasing numbers of limited-run cassette and CD-R EPs, but even within those limitations there were plenty of new Japanese releases that I enjoyed in 2019.
25. V/A – Noise Three City Story
Noise Three City Story is a compilation cassette EP featuring, as the title implies, one band each from three different cities. Tokyo act Soloist Anti Pop Totalization, whose Instant Tunes label released this, along with a couple more of this year’s most interesting releases, bookends the EP with his Daniel Miller-esque minimalist synths, while Nagoya’s Noiseconcrete x 3chi5 unleash five minutes of glorious industrial noise topped with 3chi5’s diving, twisting and swooping vocals. The third contributing act is Hernear from Sendai, an electronic project of Kamata from post-punk band Waikiki Champions, which channels DAF-style EBM through thumping techno. The whole EP is brutally lo-fi, but the raucous industrial pulse running through it gives it a fierce energy that can’t help but appeal.
24. Hazy Sour Cherry – Tour de Tokyo
On Tour de Tokyo, indiepopsters Hazy Sour Cherry deliver 25 minutes of extremely effective, bouncy Shimokitazawa-esque garage-twee that feels like bands in the 1990s imitating cassette indie acts of the 80s imitating beat music of the 1960s. Coming out from UK label Damnably, who were also behind Otoboke Beaver’s 2019 album Itekoma Hits, it’s representative of a growing trend of Japanese groups bypassing the moribund local indie market and connecting with fans via overseas labels (and presumably-re-importing whatever buzz they get and banking it with local audiences), and it’s easy to see how these sunny, energetic two-minute blasts of ramshackle guitar pop are well placed to appeal to audiences both at home and abroad.
23. Former Airline – Nu Creative Dreads
One of two excellent albums released in 2019 by sonic bedroom scientist Former Airline, Nu Creative Dreads is the artist’s take on a dub album, albeit filtered through his own particular setup, featuring banks of synthesisers and cassette loops. With its hyperactive basslines and beats against a background cacophony of psychedelic guitar and synth squiggles, this instrumental album is a disorientating listen at times, but a rich one nonetheless.
22. Demon Altar – Demon Altar
Emerging from the cinders of Tokyo post-punk/new wave stalwarts You Got a Radio, Demon Altar trade in scuzzy, distortion-drenched, gothic post-punk that leans into the darker fringes of You Got A Radio’s later work and pushes it further into Birthday Party/Jesus & Mary Chain/Joy Division territory, assisted in this general darkening of tone by the insistent drum machine beats. There’s still a sort of melancholy romance to the melodies though, the guitars swirling around the baritone vocals as they intone their cryptic or just plain indistinct mantras. It’s wilfully rough, but there’s something infectious in the combination of the beats’ relentless, driving, robot energy and the music’s insistent, melodramatic air of gothic gloom.
21. Tawings – Tawings
Tawings are one of the hot new things in Japanese indie right now, with a handful of singles to their name and a lot of the right people as fans (indie royalty DYGL and rising stars Luby Sparks among them), so this debut album from upper-tier indie label Space Shower puts them in a strong position going into 2020. The opening Statice will come as a bit oif a surprise to anyone familiar with their previous material’s shambling yet angular Delta 5-isms, coming in overglazed with Cranberries-does-dreampop synth-laden lushness, but the Devo-esque Poodles swiftly brings a much needed dose of nonsense to proceedings. Invisible still shamelessly rips off The Cramps’ Human Fly, but Tawings have been playing it long enough that it feels like it belongs to them by now (plus songs that end with explosions are always good). Recent single Suisen is another mainstream-ready tune drenched in washes of lush synth, and honestly it’s pretty good, but the band still sound most themselves when they’re charting a ragged, discord-scattered route through brittle post-punk melodies Like UTM, Listerine, Hamburg, and the closing Dad Cry.
With its unique fusion of industrial, noise and trip hop, Noiseconrete x 3chi5’s debut album Sandglass/Suna-Ji-Kei was my album of the year for 2016. Just a year later Shisou no Transit stakes a strong claim for itself among 2017’s best, picking up where its predecessor left off with twelve more tracks of eerie melodies, stomach-rattling beats and explosions of noise.
It covers more sonic ground this time round though, as evidenced by the run of tracks that takes you through the delicate piano of Ruten Orgel and the sinister clockwork atmospherics of Regulation into the more familiarly earsplitting harsh noise of Mephisto no Hai and the freeform melody of Magic Mirror Room. 3chi5’s voice shifts more frequently between background and foreground too, reciting her poetry along meandering melodic lines right up close on Tokunai Kouri, echoing from a distance on Jack O’Frost, and through a wall of distortion on Strange Prosperity.
Like a lot of second albums, it’s really a refinement of the original rather than a radical leap in a new direction, but it’s nevertheless a refinement that sees the duo mapping out more territory with confidence and to powerful effect.
Despite being one of Japan’s largest cities, despite lying neatly right in the centre between Japan’s two biggest metropolitan areas, Nagoya feels like a strangely isolated city. Perhaps it’s the curse of those freeways and Shinkasen lines, which make it a bit of a flyover city for bands playing the Tokyo and Osaka/Kyoto areas that makes Nagoya such a cultural island. Bands who are hot names in every major city between Tokyo and Fukuoka mean nothing in Nagoya, while peripheral acts from elsewhere can sometimes command huge audiences. It is a city of over two million, with a gravity well encompassing nearby cities such as Gifu, Toyota and Yokkaichi, but it behaves like a small town, with a few key spots and scene figures seeming to exert a huge influence over the musical conversation the city has. And the reverse is true too: a band can grow up fully formed in Nagoya without even the most powerful indie music antennae in the rest of the country picking up even the faintest signal. When I visited Nagoya last year, I dropped by a couple of these key spots — File-Under Records and Bar Ripple — and both places were buzzing with the same recommendation: Noiseconcrete x 3chi5’s debut album Suna-Ji-Kei (or Sandglass as the band themselves call it in English).
On first glance, this duo fits into the growing format of noise guy + girl vocalist that seems to be have been gaining ground over the past couple of years as the fashion kids get hip to noise. We’ve visited this general territory before with Jun Togawa and Hijokaidan’s Togawa Kaidan project (No.10 on this list) and there are occasional similarities in how Noiseconcrete x 3chi5 play with the borders between voice and noise. On Don’t Hate Me!, 3chi5’s vocals are contorted and raw, entwined with the harsh slashes of noise, while on the closing Dake her breathy utterances alternate with vocalisations that blur the line between human and machine. Also like Togawa Kaidan there are moments of vocal-less pure noise that interrupt the proceedings, with the two-part Behemoth no Yume.
Nevertheless, while Togawa Kaidan (and many of the pop/noise crossover records that have sprung up playing off the subcultural appeal of idol music) is interested in the tension between pop and noise, Suna-Ji-Kei tends to treat melody and noise as two dimensions of the same thing that are fundamentally at home with each other. When the noise elements of Ernst no Gensou scream into the frame like angry rockets, and the vocals tilt towards them with an edge of distortion, but elsewhere 3chi5’s delivery rings out clear, delivering her abstract poetry through bluesy improvisations that oscillate portentously around a couple of core notes against a backdrop of sparse industrial beats, simple chimes, and drones.
While the most obvious musical touchstone on first listen might be a trip hop act like Portishead, an even sparser FKA Twigs might be a more appropriate comparison. Dig deeper, however, and there’s also a thread linking what Noiseconcrete x 3chi5 do back to postpunk. Just as the original trip hop scene shared some of its roots with the jazz- funk- and dub-influenced Bristol postpunk scene, there are perhaps echoes in Suna-Ji-Kei of the gothic-edged, Joy Division-influenced postpunk that Nagoya bands like Zymotics/Vodovo, Sekaitekina Band and most recently WBSBFK trade in, not to mention the more obvious noise and hardcore influences. This is reflected in the members’ own roots, with Noisconcrete sharing close connections with the Nagoya hardcore scene, and 3chi5 also performing as part of the postpunk/experimental rock band Ghilom.
What Noiseconcrete x 3chi5’s music shares most particularly with postpunk is the way it seems to be reconstructing the jagged shards of other musical genres in a way that still allows you to see the join. The resulting album is at once dark, minimal and harshly industrial, but also captivating, melodic and beautiful. Most of the people I spoke to in Nagoya were in no doubt what their album of 2016 was, and Suna-Ji-Kei makes a strong case for best thing released in the whole country.