It was around the time of their eighth album, 2005’s Nikki, that I gave up hope for Quruli. Shigeru Kishida had decided to try to make the band into this generation’s Happy End, leaving behind the experimentation and playfulness that had made The World is Mine such a glorious generational masterpiece in favour of earnest, wistful, sentimentally-tinted folk rock songs that just didn’t really seem to go anywhere. It was the perfect music for a generation whose greatest ambition appeared to be gently jogging on the spot and I hated it.
Which is why Liberty & Gravity feels like such a breath of fresh air. The folk influences remain but they take their place in a more eclectic mix. It’s still whimsical, but it’s also musically ambitious, playful and fun, rich in little musical nooks to explore without ever letting its complexity get the better of it.
The video is by award winning director Jun Tamukai (Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s Ponponpon), who is someone whose work I find unaccountably annoying – I think it’s got something to do with the choreography’s combination of ostentatious goofiness and self-consciously mannered presentation – but which people otherwise seem to insist on finding adorable so feel free to ignore grumpy old me on that point. Another gripe I have is with the way the YouTube clip’s accompanying text refers to the song’s parent album as the band’s eleventh, when it is in fact their thirteenth. This may seen like an insufferably nitpicky point, but it’s symptomatic of something I find quite poisonous in the Japanese music world: the way all indie releases are traditionally airbrushed from a band’s official history once they sign for a major label. So let’s just take a little moment here to say fuck you Victor Entertainment. Done that? Good.
Naturally none of that should be allowed to detract from the song itself, which is bright, catchy and brash enough that it even gets away with having a rap section. It’s also great to see that even this deep into their career, Quruli still retain the capacity to surprise, charm and delight. If only they showed it more often.
Filed under Reviews, Track
What’s the timespan it takes for nostalgia to start making a tangible influence on the music scene? Apparently about 15 years judging from this short, fuzzy stab of alt-rock. Now I’m going to take a huge leap here and suggest that Suichu Zukan have listened to one or two songs by the the band Quruli, particularly from their early 2000s period. The band name is a portmanteau of the song Suichuu Motor (from 2002’s The World is Mine) and the album Zukan (released in the year 2000) and the most obvious tribute you could pay to the band’s best and most creative period. Dive deeper and their web site and video are littered with the sort of sketchy illustrations and paintings that characterised Shutoku Mukai’s Number Girl artwork, while the sounds on Nami also recall some of the shoegaze-inflected indie rock on Supercar’s 1998 debut Three Out Change. Most bands hate being explicitly linked to the influence of other bands, but when they make it this obvious, they can have no complaints.
Instead, what this tells us is something of the nature of the music scene’s cycle of influence. The decade after Supercar, Quruli et al was characterised by their direct influence: artists from among their immediate contemporaries and those who grew up under the shadow of their immediate pop cultural influence. What seems to be happening now is that the music of that early 2000s generation is becoming seen as explicitly “old music” and something distanced enough to safely pay explicit tribute to. Their influence remains strong, but its nature seems to be changing, and Suichu Zukan seem to be an exemplar of that.Suichu Zukan: Nami
Of course musically those turn-of-the-millennium bands were themselves heavily influenced by US and UK alternative and indie rock, and that shows through in Nami too. This is a good thing, because 90s alt-rock was ace and hasn’t stopped being ace at any point in the interim. The song has a neat little break in the middle where the vocals and guitar dip into a decidedly Quruli-esque faux-Asiatic melodic lick before all the effects pedals kick back in again and it’s all Hüsker Dü tussling with Ride again all the way to the climax. Suichu Zukan are a band that are very hard to hear in any context other than that of their very obvious influences, but while there is absolutely nothing original about this song at any level of its creation — in the video they even do that thing of filming the band pretending to play their song on a beach, which has featured in every Japanese indie video of the past decade — the zone in which it places itself is one where they would be hard pressed to put a foot wrong, and they carry it off very successfully. The phrase “does exactly what it says on the tin” has rarely been more appropriate.
Filed under Reviews, Track
My April column goes back a bit to the early 2000s and takes another look at some of the classic alternative music that came out in Japan at that time. I remember not being particularly impressed by Supercar’s Highvision at the time, and falling between the mighty Futurama and the emotionally burned-out hymn to alienation that was Answer, it’s in a bit of an awkward position, but actually listening back, it stands up with the best of their oeuvre.
The World is Mine, on the other hand, was always a striking piece of work, and Quruli’s subsequent career has only emphasised further how groundbreaking a piece of work it is. Similarly, Num Heavymetallic is an album whose significance was pretty clear even at the time.
Quruli: World’s End Supernova (live)see the original here) (
The most amazing thing listening to these albums ten years later is the sheer breadth of what these three bands thought they could get away with, and the extent to which their labels indulged them. Of course there are bands making similar things now, but that’s the point: they’re just following a trail already blazed by Supercar, Quruli and Number Girl. There’s a problem here too, which I didn’t have space to go into in the article, which is that the long shadow these bands cast could be catching Japanese alternative rock in a state of arrested development, crowding out new ideas from the mainstream.
Number Girl: Num Ami Dabutz
Another thought I didn’t have space to go into concerns the influence of Supercar. While there are plenty of bands in the alternative scene who sound like they’re following Number Girl and Quruli (although few who are following the mad, eclectic spazz-out of The World is Mine), Supercar don’t seem to have so many direct followers. Partly, this might be because this kind of indie/electronic crossover material is more difficult to copy, which would also explain why Quruli imitators tend to take after their folk-rock and emo influenced stuff than their electronic material. Another thought I had was that Supercar’s popularity and influence seems to be more apparent in the “mature” noitaminA-type anime world and related music scene, where emotionally washed-out music that harks back to childhood continues to teeter on the brink of dreams that Supercar themselves may have woken up from long ago. Certainly the anime world was the first place Miki Furukawa and Koji Nakamura’s new band Lama stopped off at when they formed last year.
Lama: Spell (No.6 anime opening):