Tag Archives: She Talks Silence

Top 20 Releases of 2017: No.10 – She Talks Silence – Sorry, I Am Not

she talks silence - sorry, i am not

Download, AWDR/LR2, 2017

Combining twee pop, whisper-voiced, Velvetsy punk, and what they describe as “mellow noise”, She Talks Silence has for many years now been one of the most quietly impressive bands (now a solo project, since the departure of drummer Ami to focus on Prince Graves) in the Tokyo indie scene, although since 2011’s Some Small Gifts their output has been sporadic. The appearance of this more or less full-length album (nine songs in just under half an hour) has the feeling of something long overdue. Fortunately, it was well worth the wait.

Taking 2014 vinyl mini-album When It Comes as its base, most of the songs on Sorry, I Am Not date back several years (full disclosure: Long Ways first appeared on a compilation album I released in 2012) but the songwriting is so instantly recognisable that the years melt away into a thoroughly consistent whole. Compared to predecessors like 2010’s Some Small Gifts and 2010’s Noise & Novels, this new album is more rhythmically playful, opening with a clattering jungle beat straight out of 1995, although simple, kraut-ish drum machine beats like that on Holy Hands, Holy Voices and Walk Away remain the platform from which many of the most melodic moments launch themselves.

She Talks Silence could easily trade on fragile indie cuteness, but it’s the willingness to explore noise and discord that helps Sorry, I Am Not stand out as one of the year’s best. More Anti-Yourself wavers uneasily between melody and discord, Just Like War is characterised by a doom-laden claustrophobic paranoia that falls somewhere between The Birthday Party and Mezzanine-era Massive Attack, and the scuzzy There’s No is as close to a full-on punk rocker as you’re ever going to get from an artist like She Talks Silence.

The album broadly maintains a lo-fi production aesthetic, but She Talks Silence’s sonic range has clearly widened, with the closing The Moon (originally released on a split 7-inch with Towa Tei) sounding expansive and quite gorgeous. With Japanese indiepop becoming increasingly clean-cut, the fuzzed-out edges of Sorry, I Am Not mean this album couldn’t be more timely.

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Nag Ar Juna: Doqu

Nag Ar Juna have probably been around for a bit too long to really count as “hotly tipped” nowadays, and are perhaps better described as well-regarded mainstays or journeymen of the indiepop scene. Their 2012 album, the melancholically tweely titled How Many Friends Can Die Happily, came out on HNC’s White Lily Records, one-time home of Sloppy Joe, and the video for Doqu is directed with characteristically monochrome instagram delicacy by She Talks Silence.

The title track of this 12-inch is the more interesting, switching disorientatingly between keys mid-song and employing a wealth of eerie, psychedelic effects in the interludes. Distant, deadpan vocals treated with heaps of echo are pretty much a given in the Japanese twee/indiepop scene, but rather than sounding like a coy, affected cop out as the so often do, they are far more of a piece with the spectral aura the song radiates. The other side of the disc features the more upbeat jangle of Sasage, which is a worthy foil to Doqu, if rather more conventionally structured and lacking the title track’s edge of mystery and darkness.

 

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She Talks Silence: Just Like War

It’s been far too long since we’ve heard anything from lo-fi indie-postpunk duo She Talks Silence, so the news that they have a fresh album coming out soon is welcome. If this cut from the album is anything to go by, Ami and Minami seem to be continuing to develop the more discordant, almost psychedelic strain of their sound that we saw on 2012’s Long Ways. Just Like War sees the duo in full-on 80s 4AD mode with a grinding, almost industrial, minimal synth bass, and vocals that sometimes sound like English but might as well be Martian so distant and etherial are they. There also feels like a sort of stripped down echo of Mezzanine-era Massive Attack in there somewhere, although that may just have been an image implanted subconsciously by the appearance of the word “Angel” in the video, written on one of the girls’ hands. In any case, it’s great to have She Talks Silence back, and especially great to find them in such fine, dark, moody and gothic form. The forthcoming When it Comes album looks set to be one of the year’s finest… when it comes.

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CAR-84 – V/A: Dancing After 1AM

Dancing After 1AM

CD, Call And Response, 2012

This is part of a series of posts talking about music I’ve released through my own Call And Response label. I explain in a bit more detail here.

As 2012 rolled around, I started thinking it was time to do a new compilation. It had been four years since my last one, the Post Flag Wire covers album, and obviously I’d discovered a load more bands since then and picked up new audiences along with them, so it was time to lay down another marker about where Call And Response was. I settled on the title Dancing After 1AM in response to Japan’s absurd anti-dancing laws that saw a bunch of club owners arrested in 2011 and 2012, and completely devastated the club scene in Osaka. In Tokyo we weren’t affected, but on tour in Kyushu you could see the poisonous effect it had had on the club scene there. I added the subtitle “Japanese electric music in the year 2012” as a way of instantly dating it, and then wrote some text in Japanese for the sidecap/obi strip reading “Compilation albums are a waste of time because they’re already out of date as soon as they’re released”. I did a little illustration of a dancing policewoman with a hippy flower in her hair and N’toko contributed by designing the sleeve around my drawing. I kept it to Japanese bands, which meant the design was his only contribution, but I tried to get all the other bands from the label involved. Praha Depart were very much doing their own thing by this point though, and when I mentioned it to them, they gave the impression that it would be difficult to get any new recordings done. Zibanchinka agreed to do something and then promptly imploded, but vocalist Iguz was keen to keep things moving with her new band Futtachi, who contributed a thundering psychedelic monster of a track in Kaiko no Oto. (One other band I really wanted to get on the album was the brilliant blues/Krautrock band Buddy Girl and Mechanic, but they were absorbed in the recording of their own album, which they released finally in early 2013 and was one of the best albums of the year, so they obviously used the time well.) Neither Mir nor Hyacca had released anything for a long time, so getting them involved was essential for more than just their role as the heart and soul of the label. They both needed a kick up the arse to get on and do something. Mir had lost their drummer somewhere between their recording of Wire’s Mannequin for 2008’s Post Flag and 2010 when some electronic recordings they’d done as a duo emerged. It was from these sessions that the version of their perennial closing number Dance (which naturally closed out the album too) came from. I chose that over their excellent 2010 version of the song TV partly because of its appropriateness to the compilation’s title, and partly because Mir’s TV is a song I’ve over the years become very superstitious about. it’s a beautiful song and the 2010 version of it is brilliant, but there’s a sadness at its heart that starts sucking you into itself the more you think about it, and the closing refrain of “Sayonara, sayonara” feels way too much like tempting fate. In Hyacca’s case, the bassist, Seiji Harajiri, was by this time managing the coolest and best venue in Fukuoka, Yakuin Utero, and so he and his band used Utero and its PA engineer to record a new song, Uneko. Uneko was exactly the kind of thing I was looking for from them, both catchy and musically intelligent — the exact right balance of smart and dumb that only they can really pull off in this particular way. The video we later made for it where I filmed them with a cheap pocket camera just goofing around and getting drunk in a karaoke box was actually one of the spare ideas for Zibanchinka that their indefinite hiatus had left us with, and Hyacca attacked it with gusto. Looking to the label’s future, Hysteric Picnic went on to record an EP/mini album for Call And Response, while hopefully Jebiotto and Slow-Marico will follow in one form or another.Hyacca: Uneko There were a lot of other bands on DA1AM who were in similar positions, having been out of the recording game for a while and happy for the opportunity (and the deadline) that the compilation gave them. Extruders had just recorded a wonderful live album at a Buddhist temple, and were looking to go into the studio to record an album proper soon (the result, Colors, was another of 2013’s best) and so they came up with Collapsing New Buildings (translate it into German and see what you get) with its constant electric buzz running through the whole song in the background, causing me and the friend who was helping make the master copy to spend a while debating whether it was intentional or not (it was). The Mornings’ debut had been my album of the year back in 2011, and they were just starting to put together material for the follow-up (Christ alone knows what’s going on with that — I heard a full album’s worth of rough mixes last summer but no final version has yet emerged) so Fu-ji was what got them back into gear. Puffyshoes contributed the short and sweet girl-group garage rocket Oh My God, went on to have a busy 2013 and released a great cassette album before exploding in a shower of unfulfilled potential, while Otori recorded the brilliant Hanten (which is their best song and I’m incredibly smug that I got it), Anisakis did the XTC-esque Popcorn Bata ni Kuroi Kage, She Talks Silence gave the album the eerie Long Ways, and New House did the sampledelic Natural Blessings (the last song to arrive, just a couple of days before the album went off to press, and which much to my shame I misprinted as “Nature Blessings” on the jacket — and which also ensured I’d be an insufferable grammar nazi come time to print the Hysteric Picnic CD jacket the following year).She Talks Silence: Long Ways The main problem was in knowing exactly what was going to be on the album, and as with the New House track, right up until the final day or so it wasn’t completely fixed. It wasn’t just a problem for printing the track listing, but also for the CD itself. Bands like Futtachi and macmanaman delivered songs that ran to over seven minutes, and at one point there was real danger of it becoming a double album (I went as far as making an alternative track list where I worked out how the tracks would divide over two discs just in case). There were also moments where tensions ran a bit high. New House didn’t make a fuss over the mistake on the jacket, but one of the other bands (no, I’m not naming names: they did a very good song and it didn’t turn into any kind of feud) was very particular about every aspect of how they wished to be presented with tempers flaring on both sides. The problem of projects like this where everyone (myself included) is working pro bono is that you never have the cushion of money to fall back on, so everything comes down to self satisfaction, and often in a related sense to pride. In a small society like the indie/underground scene, however, the axiom of “don’t piss people off” is a solid general rule. It’s a contradiction of rock’n’roll and punk: both bands and labels are in it in the first place because they’re in some way dissatisfied or disaffected, but within the circle you find yourself, you often have to keep under control the same impulses that led you there in the first place. In addition to Hyacca, fellow Fukuoka crazies macmanaman (the best band named after a twinkle-toed former Liverpool winger in the whole world) recorded a live version of their song Michael, which I retitled Michael in Utero partly because it was recorded at a venue called Utero and partly because the combination of a Michael Jackson reference and a Nirvana reference amused me. Along with Tokyo postpunk trio Tacobonds’ superb Ane with its deft boy-girl vocal call and response (by now you must know how I dig that sort of thing) and slowly building dynamic tension, that made three superb recordings at Utero by the same engineer. You want to do good recordings cheap? Get yourself your own live venue and get the staff to do it.Tacobonds: Ane Still in Kyushu, Kobayashi Dorori and cynicalsmileisyourfavorite from Kumamoto are also on there. The former contributed an oddball nursery rhyme about whales called Shepherd, while the latter contributed the baffling Carnival. I’m still not sure what I think of Carnival now. It has so much going on, with the insistent dance beat, the post-hardcore shrieking, and you’ve got to admire the balls of the way the one guy just throws everything he’s got into his bit of the vocal melody with zero regard for whether he even gets close to the right notes. But at the same time, cynicalsmileisyourfavorite are one of those bands that are all about what happens in the moment. Carnival is usually a chaotic babble of freshly improvised nonsense, but for the recording they tried to work something out and make a proper song of it, and so while the results are, well, they’re something, they’ don’t quite sound like the band when they’re just left to be themselves. Jebiotto are a very similar kind of band in that regard, but their track, Deacon Punk, with its mad cat meows, dirty synths and semi-inebriated sounding vocals, treads that path more assuredly. But like I said, with cynicalsmile you can’t not admire the sheer weight of passion they hurl at it and for some reason I always come out of hearing Carnival with a smile on my face. I’m just not sure why.The Mornings: Fu-ji One of the biggest motivating factors for me while putting DA1AM together was the existence of Nagoya label Knew Noise’s wonderful Ripple compilation of local Nagoya bands. Throughout the production process I was listening to Ripple and my gradually forming compilation and comparing them. I would just not be beaten by this collection from one mere city (and not even Tokyo!) Pop-Office contributed to both Ripple and DA1AM, and it’s interesting that both they and Extruders off this CD went on to make albums for Knew Noise. In any case, both albums to me seem to come from a similar kind of taste, and I’ve been keen to make more connections in Nagoya ever since. On the current rate, Call And Response’s next proper compilation is due towards the end of 2015, which will be just in time for the label’s ten year anniversary. In the meantime, there were new Mir and Hysteric Picnic releases to think of.

Dancing After 1AM is available now from Call And Response’s online shop.

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Strange Boutique (May 2013)

My current Japan Times column discusses language in music. Language isn’t really a concern for English speaking musicians since the language of rock and pop and their own native language are the same thing, but the question of whether to sing in English or try parse rock into their native tongue is something non-English speaking musicians have to consider.She Talks Silence: Holy Hands, Holy Voices

I mention the Soviet Union as an example largely because at the time I was thinking about the column, I’d been reading Artemy Troitsky’s 1988 book Back in the USSR about the history of Soviet rock, and his remarks on the importance of Russian (and Baltic etc.) musicians learning how to make rock work in their own language(s) seemed to chime with my own research about the development of pop and rock in Japan. I’ve also worked, through Call And Response Records, with Slovenian musician N’toko, who writes music in both English and Slovenian with equal skill, and yet writes very different kinds of lyrics depending on the language he’s working in, stating that certain ideas or emotions don’t work as well in one language compared to another. This left me with all sorts of ideas to pursue, some of which coalesced into the article that was finally published, but please read the original article first, because it cuts to the core of my (admittedly pretty straightforward and mundane) thinking about the issue, where a lot of these points are really side discussions.YMO: Solid State Survivor

There were a lot of loose ends though, and there was some interesting discussion about it on my various social media ranting spots. On Twitter, one commenter drew comparisons with the debate that existed in the media in the 1970s over the relative virtues of Yuya Uchida (Flower Travellin’ Band), who sang in English, and Haruomi Hosono (Happy End), who sang in Japanese, over which was the right approach. As in my article, I think this idea that one approach is intrinsically the “right” one is silly. Uchida was aiming for overseas audiences and touring quite successfully off that, and the moment Hosono started aiming overseas (with YMO), suddenly his band’s songs were in English too.Plastics: Top Secret Man

In the new wave era, the Plastics tended to sing in English (although ironically, their most popular song overseas was probably the mostly Japanese-language Copy) whereas contemporaries like P-Model tended to sing in Japanese. P-Model’s debut album contained one English language song, Sophisticated, which at least in part was actually satirising the notion that singing in English was somehow a classier approach for musicians, and might be seen as a sly dig at the Plastics (although surely not an ill-intentioned one given that the Plastics’ Masahide Sakuma was producing the album).P-Model: Sophisticated

A friend on Facebook pointed out that nowadays, “…singing in English has absolutely nothing to do for the benefit of foreign listeners,” and this reminded me of an example from the singer Bonnie Pink, who I remember saying in an interview that her song Love is Bubble was named that way despite the grammar being all wrong, simply because it would be less confusing to the Japanese listeners that the song was primarily aimed at. This is the same as the approach of T-shirt and candy manufacturers, who appropriate English words for their half-understood impact, using them more as punctuation than as vehicles for specific meaning.

The same friend goes on to point out that among many Japanese musicians Bands from outside Japan aren’t viewed as potential peers or rivals, merely as fetish objects to be studied, deconstructed, and reconstituted or imitated in a ‘Japanese’ way.” This is interesting because it then becomes intertwined with the point that attracts many overseas fans to Japanese in the first place, and raises the issue of whether this kind of appeal is the result of simply appreciating cultural differences or whether there is something unhealthy and exoticising about it. To frame it one way, should Japanese musicians enter into the homogenising global music artistic space or should they focus on their own native environment and cultural peers? To frame it another way, should Japanese artists view overseas acts as peers or rivals, or should they remain inscrutable and aloof like good little orientals? It’s a tangled issue, but overseas fans of Japanese music should ask themselves these kinds of questions.Shonen Knife: I Am A Cat

This also links in with the brief point I mentioned in the article about how non-Japanese listeners tend to either find Japanese musicians singing in imperfect English cute or annoying. There’s a third category I suppose, which is that many of those who’ve been immersed in Japanese music for long enough tend to block it out because they’re so used to it. What I do find interesting is those musicians who sing in imperfect or limited English but make something artistic out of that. Shonen Knife play up their broken English because innocence and amateurishness are a cultivated part of their appeal, and they get away with it, somehow. Miila and The Geeks’ English is rarely incorrect, but they use their limited vocabulary as a set of restrictions that hones and focuses their lyrics into a sort of snotty punk minimalism. The English in Perfume songs is often pronounced in an exaggeratedly katakana fashion (“di-su-ko di-si-ko!”) which feeds into their electropop cyborg image (and no doubt conveniently makes their music easier to sing at karaoke).Miila and The Geeks: Want

Another area I didn’t get the chance to go into is that of Japanese-speaking foreign musicians in Japan. Pretty much all of them that I know sing in English, and while Japanese listeners would no doubt clap their hands with glee and squeal “Sugoooooi!” if they did sing in Japanese, I might be being tremendously unfair to people here, but it’s hard to see it being accepted as anything other than a performing monkey trick or some such gimmick. For English speaking listeners, there’s a different issue. While for a Japanese person, singing in English nowadays might sometimes provoke sneers to the effect that they were putting on airs, an English speaker singing in a foreign language for purely artistic reasons would seem far more alien and provoke much more widespread ridicule and accusations of pretension. For non-English speakers singing in a different non-English language, it’s perhaps different again. Italian singer Angelo Galizia of German new wave band The Wirtschaftswunder is an interesting case, singing in heavily Italian accented German. Quite what it meant to Germans I don’t know, although from a certain angle at least, it’s a great punk statement: “Fuck you and fuck your language! I’ll sing in it for you, but I’ll mutilate it any way I see fit!”The Wirtschaftswunder: Der Große Mafiosi

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Hyacca: Uneko

First up, I need to be clear that I’m not going to attempt to review this because I helped make it, but on the other hand, I love this band more than almost anything on Earth, so it’s obviously still an endorsement. Hyacca were one of the first bands I ever released on Call And Response Records and they’re regular features at my events when I’m in Kyushu and whenever I can get them up to Tokyo. I first met them in Fukuoka in July 2006. I’d just been through a rough patch and decided to take a trip for a few days to get away from it. I met up with Shuichi Inoue from the band Folk Enough, who I knew from his shows in Tokyo, and he invited a few of his musician friends along. The next thing I remember was waking up with a tremendous hangover and my pockets full of CDs by local bands. One of the CDs was a plain CD/R with just two Chinese characters written on it, that contained the best music I’d ever heard out of a Japanese band. Later, it turned out that this band was called Hyacca (literally “one hundred mosquitoes”, although there’s a pun on the Japanese word for encyclopaedia in there as well) and I started working with them.

The most recent thing they’ve done for me is the song Uneko, which they contributed to Call And Response’s Dancing After 1AM compilation album, released last October. Given the rather, um, easygoing pace at which the band work, this first new recording in three years wasn’t that unusual a time lapse, but I was determined that at least one song from the compilation would have a video made for it (actually She Talks Silence had already made a video for their song Long Ways, although the version on the video is slightly different to the album version). Since we had no budget, no time (just a couple of hours in the afternoon before their gig with Bo Ningen in Fukuoka), and no equipment apart from my wife’s small digital camera, this was never going to be a slick or professional looking shoot, so instead, I tried to go the other way entirely and make the footage exaggeratedly wobbly and unfocused. The key thing for me was that it should just look as if everyone was having fun and that it should show the band members naturally as the sort of people they actually are.

Most of it was shot in a karaoke box opposite the venue where they were due to play later, with some shots filmed later, at the izakaya next door (featuring cameos from a few other members of the Fukuoka indie scene and probably the backs of the heads of some of Bo Ningen, although honestly I can’t really tell). I want to point out at this juncture that as shitty and chaotic as the footage looks, I did have a pretty clear idea of how it was going to cut together as I shot it, and it’s to the great credit of Matt Schley, who did the tough job of editing it all together (and who also put together the video for Zibanchinka’s Nagisa no Hors D’oeuvres based on a similarly minimalist, no-budget concept), that he instantly saw what I was trying to do when he looked at the footage.

As far as the song goes, I don’t want to go on about it because you already know I love it, but I think it’s a great example of everything I love about Hyacca. They way they make music that’s structurally complex, almost math-rock, but play it with such energy and never forget to make it fun, always making sure there are neat little pop hooks or goofy ideas embedded in the arrangement.

As a postscript to this, you can see from the video that we got through quite a lot of beer in the karaoke box, and that may have taken its toll on the band, who went on to put in one of the most bizarre and chaotic live performances I’ve seen from them in years. Yeah, my fault.

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She Talks Silence: Holy Hands, Holy Voices

The core of this new song sees She Talks Silence in pretty familiar territory, with half-murmured, half-sung vocals and fuzzy guitars over a tinny, motorik drum machine — there’s something fanatical, almost hardcore in the band’s devotion to mid. It’s embroidered with some neat touches though, such as the rather affecting moment when Minami starts reaching for notes right on the border of her vocal range and her voice trails away to a near whisper, or the overlapping semi-harmonies that close out the song. They even flirt with guitar solos at a couple of points, albeit with characteristically fuzzed-out minimalism. As the video helpfully informs us, this is mellow noise, and if it’s a sound that hasn’t moved on notably from where the band were on last year’s Some Small Gifts mini album, their songwriting is still clearly holding up admirably.

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