Tag Archives: Phew

Top 25 Releases of 2018: No. 10 – 6

qujaku - qujaku

Vinyl, So I Buried, 2018

No.10 – Qujaku – Qujaku
Leading lights of Japan’s current wave of noise-rock, Hamamatsu-based Qujaku’s debut album is a powerful statement from a band who are now really starting to grow into their ambitions. In the past, there has often been a nagging sense that Qujaku were playing over the heads of their audience to some imagined stadium rock crowd that they were imagining just over the horizon. Recently, however, they’ve learned to modulate their performances better and channel their strengths to suit the spaces they’re in, without compromising their more expansive tendencies. On this self-titled debut they proudly peacock across its two discs with swaggering gothic elegance, from the frankly ludicrous 20-minute opener Shoku no Hakumei to the cracked, fragile closing Sweet Love of Mine.Qujaku – Yui, Hate No Romance

ryo asada - code

CD, Gyuune Cassette, 2018

No.9 – Ryo Asada – Code
Veering from free jazz to acoustic balladry to a capella harmonising to minimalist synthpop (although mostly the former two to be honest), this “debut” album by Fukuoka artist Ryo Asada isn’t really a debut, as he has been playing and occasionally releasing with the band tepPohseen for years. It has the feeling of a debut though in the hyperactive, unfiltered way it tries to be everything, in love with every musical possibility it discovers. It’s one of the strangest Japanese releases of the year, and perhaps strangest in how much fun it is.Ryo Asada – Timetrial Again

jim o'rourke - sleep like its winter

CD, Newhere, 2018

No.8 – Jim O’Rourke – Sleep Like it’s Winter
In addition to the five releases in his Steamroom series that he put out over the course of 2018, Jim O’Rourke released this wonderfully eerie piece for new ambient/drone-focused electronic label Newhere Music, which in many ways feels like he took one of his Steamroom releases and then built on and refined it. Seeing him perform it live, it’s clear that the piece we hear on this record is really just a point in the evolution of O’Rourke’s experimental soundscapes. In the ever-shifting topography of O’Rourke’s music, however, this release stands as a significant landmark.

5kai - 5kai

CD, self-released, 2018

No.7 – 5kai – 5kai
Emerging in Kyoto out of the ashes of the short-lived Lego Chameleon, 5kai’s debut album is a stark mix of post-hardcore and math-rock that manages to be both icily, almost confrontationally reserved while at the same time allowing a sort of fragile, melancholy beauty to filter through in the sparse melodies and plaintive vocals. The intelligent, rhythmically complex arrangements ensure that the minimalist components keep leading the listener through fresh patterns and makes this album one of the year’s most accomplished debuts.

phew - voice hardcore

CD/Vinyl, Bereket/Mesh-Key, 2018

No.6 – Phew – Voice Hardcore
The release of this album by eclectic experimental former postpunk artist Phew straddles the edge of 2017 and 2018 (The Wire included it in their 2017 best) but is included here mainly because I wanted to include Phew’s also excellent analogue synth album Light Sleep in my top albums of 2017. Voice Hardcore might seem a misleading title depending on the associations the word “hardcore” has for you, being an album much of which is characterised by spectral ambient drones, but it’s nonetheless brutally uncompromising in its core creative premise, that every sound on the album is one created by Phew’s voice. The undulating choral tones she layers on many of the tracks sometimes stand alone, but on others they form the backdrop to disconcerting yelps, tortured utterances and simple phrases repeated, looped, overlapping. 2018 also saw Phew working with London-based Ana da Silva on the excellent Island, but Voice Hardcore stands as a singularly unique and fascinating record from one of Japan’s most reliably distinctive artists. (NOTE: The CD edition features 9 tracks, while the vinyl and download editions feature 6.)

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Best of 2017 – More great sounds (3) – What does the rest of the internet say?

This site isn’t the only place on the internet that attempts to rank the best Japanese music of the year, and depending on where you look, you can get a very different picture of the music scene. This is of course very right and proper, because the Japanese music scene is broad and diverse, covering every genre you know and dozens you don’t. I’m not going to include any J-Pop-focused sites here, since I don’t really follow any of them, or even know if any of them made year-end rankings, but here are what a few other writers have come up with.

Beehype (top 20)
Beehype gathers new music releases from all over the globe, but it has a discrete Japanese ranking covering the top 20 Japanese music releases of the year. Beehype is probably the best place to go to get a general sense of the kinds of Japanese music the Japanese music consensus is gathering around, with artists like Satoko Shibata, Oomori Seiko and Tricot all making an appearance, although it deviates into a few interesting oddities of its own, like the recent album by Osaka jazz-skronk trio Oshiripenpenz.

Make Believe Melodies (top 50)
part 1 | part 2 | part 3 | part 4 | part 5
Make Believe Melodies, written by Japan Times writer Patrick St. Michel, tends towards soft-edged dance music and the gentler strains of indiepop and singer-songwriter music, but as the most extensive list among all the Japanese music countdowns here, there’s a fair variety on display around that theme. This list touches on indie-branded idols Maison Book Girl, rapper Zombie-Chang, the manic synth-pop funk of Chai and the pachinko machine noise of Pachinko Machine Music, along with MBM regulars like Taquwami and LLLL.

Muso Japan (best shoegaze and dreampop)
This does exactly what it says on the tin, focusing on shoegaze and dreampop, and while these genres in Japan can encompass slightly different material to what they do in the West, Muso Japan doesn’t stray far from its remit. Having such a narrow focus means that they can dig a little deeper than another site might, singling out material by lo-fi acts like FogPark, and Nurse alongside shoegaze scene veterans like Cruyff in the Bedroom, Shelling and Caucus.

Tokyo Dross (unranked list of 16)
Another list by a Japan Times contributor, this time James Hadfield, whose preferences lean towards more experimental rock and electronic music. There are more crossovers with my list creeping in here, partly because as the Listing Season drew in, we spent some time frantically sharing and picking over each other’s recommendations in private. His decision to include Phew’s Voice Hardcore despite it not being officially released until 2018 is legitimised perhaps by The Wire’s earlier decision to do the same.

Zach Reinhardt
Top 10 EPs & mini-albums

Top 20 albums (20-11)

Top 20 albums (10-1)

Zach’s lists also tend to have a lot of crossover with mine, as I think we both have very similar biases towards skronky art-punk and oddball avant-pop. One key difference is in the appearance of a lot of Call And Response stuff in Zach’s list (P-iPLE, Tropical Death, Looprider and the Throw Away Your CDs… compilation, all of which were disqualified from mine), and perhaps a little more washed-out indiepop/dreampop. Basically, though, if I missed something, it’s highly likely Zach caught it, and vice-versa.

Summary:
For anyone looking for areas of consensus, the crossovers between these various lists throw up a few recurring names. Cornelius’ Mellow Waves appears several times, topping the  Beehype list and getting honourable mentions in a few others, while Ryuichi Sakamoto’s Async, Phew’s Light Sleep, Endon’s Through The Mirror and For Tracy Hyde’s He(r)art were all rated very highly in more than one list. Miu Mau’s Drawing made appearances in most of the lists, while the Throw Away Your CDs Go Out To A Show compilation that I produced made an appearance in every list except my own (disqualified because I made it) and the Muso Japan list (wrong genre), so I feel validated in saying that’s a great record. Elsewhere, She Talks Silence, Crunch, BLONDnewHALF, Hikashu, Tofubeats, Oshiripenpenz, Sapphire Slows, Suiyobi no Campanella, Mondo Grosso, Tricot, Oomori Seiko and Satellite Young all made multiple appearances.

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Top 20 Releases of 2017: No.2 – Phew – Light Sleep


Phew has already staked a claim for one of 2018’s best with her latest release, Voice Hardcore, an album formed entirely of her own distorted vocalisations, but it was within a very different set of restrictions that she composed one of 2017’s finest albums, the analogue synthesiser-based Light Sleep.

The analogue electronic sounds inevitably draw comparisons with acts like Suicide, Laisons Dangereuses and the more electronic extremes of krautrock, as well (of course) with Phew’s own early ’80s work with Ryuichi Sakamoto, Conny Plank and members of Can. It’s also clear that she has a more sophisticated relationship with the technology now, manipulating waves and pulses with subtlety and assurance as she chants her eerie mantras over the chuntering rhythms of antique drum machines.

There is a kind of mirror structure to the album, with the opening New World and the closing Antenna both featuring drums that kick and splutter intermittently over a drone that gradually builds and fills out. In the former, it is accompanied by a pulsating synth bass that propels it forward, while the latter takes the form of a more ambient coda. The second and penultimate tracks, CQ Tokyo and Echo, also mirror each other, with insistent, Suicide-like rhythms underscoring Phew’s vocal incantations, hysterical and panicked on the former, dry and emotionless on the latter.

There’s an intimate sense of the bedroom recording to Light Sleep, but at the same time, it’s an undeniably expansive record. Throughout the record, Phew crafts a series of unforgiving yet entrancing alien landscapes from what seems to be a mountain of synthesisers, drum machines and effects. The emphasis on analogue equipment gives the otherwise icy music a kind of warmth, while the range of sonic textures she coaxes from her boxes of magical tricks is hypnotic and full of wonder.

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