Tag Archives: Oversleep Excuse

Top 20 Releases of 2014: No.11 – Oversleep Excuse – Slowly Better

Slowly Better

CD, Ricco Label, 2014

When I reviewed Oversleep Excuse’s Slowly Better last summer, I spent most of the review talking in a roundabout way about how diverse and difficult to define it is, and looking back on what I wrote then it’s hard for me not to read that as an admission of my failure as a writer. Writing in the heat of late July, Slowly had all the languid, shimmering, lazy charm of a slow summer day, but revisiting it on a brisk January morning, the chiming piano intro to the title track glistens like frozen dewdrops, and imbue the album from the opening chords with a crisp, wintery melancholy.Slowly Better

All of which is to say that even where I could bring myself to pin the album down, I managed to be wrong anyway, just as I’m also wrong now. The truth of Slowly Better is that it is musically rich enough that different facets reveal themselves on multiple listens and depending on what mood you approach it with. The themes that do crop up over and over again, of nostalgia and loss, are emotions that inhabit the moment in which they exist so thoroughly that they colour their surroundings in their own image, and Oversleep Excuse’s music has the power to do that in a way that turns with the seasons.Oyu no Hana

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Oversleep Excuse: Slowly Better (album)

Slowly Better

CD, Ricco Label, 2014

Often classified under the twin labels of post-rock and electronica, Oversleep Excuse are an odd fit for their assigned category, with their songs tending to be relatively pop in their structure and the band producing most of their sounds live. With that in mind, this full length album and the band’s first on a “proper” label

Opening track and lead promotional video Slowly Better (which I wrote about last month) provides better preparation for what to expect with its insistent lead piano, shuffling drums and steel drum interludes. On songs like It’s Alright you can hear a bit more of where the electronica references are coming from, although the skittering beats and Mice Parade-esque layers of sound are still by and large being created by the band live and in many cases acoustically. It perhaps says something of the extent to which electronic music has sought to recreate the warmth of acoustic sounds that genuine acoustickery like this finds itself dragged back into the electronic category. In any case, what makes Oversleep Excuse hard to categorise for labels and record shops needn’t concern those of us enjoying it, and it rewards the listener with 45 minutes of placid, summery pop, led by chiming, cascading guitar and steel drum courtesy of vocalist Matthew Guay and underpinned by Adam Gyenes’ versatile, slippery drumming.

The album shows a lot of diversity over its fourteen tracks, with the band using those core elements providing a consistent mood but employing them in intelligent and varied ways. Again, a lot of the credit here has to go to Gyenes’ drumming and Guay’s multi-instrumental talents, but Oversleep Excuse are an ensemble and a look at the liner notes (or the video for Oyu no Hana for that matter) reveals a plethora of instrument swapping (keyboard player Mami Matsuzaka is a supremely skilled drummer in her own right, while Gyenes is an excellent guitarist), while bassist Kazumoto Shoji is a quietly remarkable background presence throughout.

Given how long Oversleep Excuse have been around, it feels strange to be calling Slowly Better a debut, and all that time spent playing together both live and in the studio shows in the confidence and musical richness on display. A highlight of the year so far and coming just in time for the height of summer, its release is perfectly timed.

EDIT: Adam from Oversleep Excuse pointed out to me yesterday that it was Matsuzaka who played drums on most of the album while he himself primarily played guitar. Again, this really reinforces the extent to which the members chop and change instruments (everyone except Shoji has a go on drums at some point in the album).

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Oversleep Excuse: Slowly Better

Tokyo-based indie quartet Oversleep Excuse might sound a bit familiar to regular readers of this blog, and if so, you can probably chalk that down to the presence of vocalist Matthew Guay, whose other band Glow and the Forest have graced these pages in the past, and who has over the years developed both a vocal style and a set of songwriting habits that mark his influence in quite a distinctive way. You get the sense that in its own purely melodic (and melancholic) terms, Slowly Better would serve perfectly well as a Glow in the Forest song, but at the same time, Oversleep Excuse are a band with four members, who each exert an influence over the group’s sound. The most obvious and distinctive characteristics that set the Oversleeps apart are the way the piano sits at the fore and the appearance of steel drum interludes. More subtly, but in a way perhaps more importantly, Adam Gyenes’ drumming lends a completely different texture to the song, not simply driving the song forward but rather stroking it, like waves lapping against the shore with the song riding their ebb and flow. The song is a taster from the band’s new album of the same title, which looks well worth checking out.

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Glow And The Forest: Pheromone Chemicals

Pheromone Chemicals

CD/Download, self-released, 2013

Foreign musicians based in Tokyo exist in a peculiar sort of half-world. Not having done their time in the university band circles, dead Tuesday nights at pay-to-play live venues, and local music scene event ladder, they often appear disorientatingly context-free and difficult to pin down musically to musicians who have grown up in the local scene, which makes them hard to book. There’s also often a lingering suspicion that they might just up and leave at a moment’s notice, which can make organisers reluctant to invest the time in the gradual process of introducing them to and helping integrate them into the scene.

Perhaps partly as a result of this, a little micro-scene of bands based around a core of foreign musicians has built up, often playing at foreign-owned bars, to a more generally party-friendly crowd than the often gloomy but more dedicatedly music-orientated fans that populate the alternative scene. It’s a strange little bit of segregation and it’s hard to know whether it’s just a setup that’s grown up to everyone’s benefit (or at least to no one’s loss) out of different people wanting different things, just as how mod, punk, technopop etc. have all gravitated into their own exclusive scenes, or if it contains embedded in it a problem.

All this is really just to point out what a rarity a musician Matt Guay is in the Tokyo music scene in that through his band The Oversleep Excuse and now Glow And The Forest he’s managed to work himself over the years into a position in the Tokyo alternative scene where he’s seen just as a musician rather than as an American musician.

Pheromone Chemicals is Glow And The Forest’s second release and continues in a similar vein to their self-titled 2010 debut, both albums featuring nine tracks worth of falsetto-voiced jangly guitar rock delivered by a stripped-down power trio setup and with the emphasis on melodies and whimsical lyrics.

The opening one-two of the driving Suspension Bridge, with its heart-surge chorus, followed by the short, simple and lyrically fragile Banker is a powerful intro to the album, with the latter’s final line leaving the listener hanging poignantly in midair. Sometimes, however, Guay’s lyrics bring him to awkward places, and the line “Your smile makes me take my clothes off,” delivered with with a heart full of passion and earnestness might leave some wondering quite how seriously he means to be taken.

The third song, Monster, more or less establishes the range that Pheromone Chemicals is going to cover, with a more middling pace and a dynamic built around lulls and spine tingling climaxes, and it also sets the album’s outlier in terms of length, coming in at a bit over four minutes. For the most part, Glow And The Forest’s songs are admirably restrained, preferring to hover around two and a half minutes, which as any 1960s pop songwriter would have told you is how long songs should be.

Closing track Aliens performs the neat trick of bringing the whole album together in one song, combining poignance with propulsive, percussive guitar and a powerful sense of ebb and flow. With a low-key opening, it picks up pace and flowers into something poppier and more uptempo, whilst retaining a sense of when to switch a chord change one beat out of the rhythm or simply change and start playing what sounds like a completely different song altogether. It’s the album’s most complex song, but in many ways the most rewarding and a fitting closing track.

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