Tag Archives: Superfriends

Indiepop roundup (Summer 2020)

Tangingugun – Yasui Jumon
Matsumoto, Nagano-based Tangingugun typically trade in laid-back pop melodies delivered through a hazy filter of psychedelic-tinted guitar distortion, the male-female twin vocal interplay between Saori Nakamura and Masashiro Nimi adding an enriching layer of texture to the sound — sometimes trading lines, others intermingled as harmonies, and on Kiri wa Hagureta slipping easily between the two. While there are moments where things step up to a bouncier tempo, as on second track Koumi-machi, the prevailing atmosphere is one of quietly sophisticated, summery melancholy.

Puffyshoes – I Might Be In Love
I wrote about this EP for the Undrcurrents blog’s Bandcamp roundup in June, singling out the simple economy of Puffyshoes’ songwriting in how they create ultra-short lo-fi pop nuggets by focusing in on the hooks and rarely getting diverted once the point has been made. I Might Be in Love also sees the band playing around with other songwriters’ material, as on their joyously ragged-edged cover of The Strangeloves’ I Want Candy, and it’s testament to Puffyshoes’ own songwriting that they can flit between the two seamlessly.

Sloppy Joe – Waiting For The Night Begins
It feels strange to be writing about Sloppy Joe almost ten years after their first album, With Kisses Four, with the same mixture of irony and giddy joy and with almost the same words, but here I am and here is Waiting For The Night Begins. And really it’s like not a moment had passed, which is to say that from the bat it sounds like the meticulous and loving work of a passionately devoted Smiths tribute band. To leave it at that assessment alone would be more dismissive than Sloppy Joe deserve though, and they wear their jangly 1980s indiepop influences so proudly, their love for the sounds, the tone, the inflections and melodic habits of the era running far deeper than Morrissey and Marr — fans of Aztec Camera, The Pale Fountains, early Orange Juice, The Monochrome Set and plenty more will frequently find themselves in a familiar place. Above all, the craftsmanship underlying these songs and their attention to detail is spellbinding, sweeping the listener up in the band’s obvious love for the music — originality be damned.

Half Sports – Intelligence and Delicious
Intelligence and Delicious is Half Sports’ first album since 2014’s Mild Elevation, although a couple of 7-inches have appeared in the meantime, and the propulsive opening Missing the Piece of my Miseries shows the band still have their peculiar cocktail of energetic melancholy, combining punkish 1970s powerpop with shoegazey scuzz and distortion, with the album taking a turn towards the hazier end of that spectrum on Emperor Soy Sauce and leaning on the rockier end on Isolated Facts.

Morningwhim – Talking to Myself / Smoke From Cigarettes
The first of a couple of new releases by Aichi Prefecture’s Morningwhim, this cassette single is perhaps the more immediately striking of the two, with Talking To Myself in particular pushing all the right bittersweet buttons from its heartache chord changes to the slight rough edges of the vocals’ celestial 4AD harmonies. That’s not to diminish the other side, Smoke From Cigarettes, though, which carries a similar scuzzy, jangly garage-shoegaze energy with just as much assurance. The cover art suggests a lingering influence from Pains of Being Pure at Heart, but from the evidence of this, Morningwhim have plenty to offer in their own right.

Morningwhim – Most Of the Sun Shines
In addition to the wonderful Talking to Myself / Smoke From Cigarettes cassette single, Morningwhim also released this 7-inch this spring, with a cleaner, less fuzz-inflected sound, the title track setting an acoustic guitar groove against a haunting synth string backdrop, while B-side Wandering turns up the jangle and chime. This single makes for more of a low-key introduction to the band than the cassette, but demonstrates that their sweetly melodic guitar pop songwriting talents run deep.

Various Artists – Miles Apart Records presents “Moments”
Drenched in nostalgia for times of which most of the featured musicians are too young to have their own memories, this cassette compilation from Osaka-based Miles Apart Records sits somewhere between indiepop in its classic, jangly, Byrds-influenced British 1980s roots and the more recent smooth, soft-focus synth strain where the indiepop venn diagram crosses over with city pop. At the murkier, more garage-influenced end are the likes of Pale Beach and Superfriends, whose respective entries Deadbeat and Fake Flowers have a reassuringly cheap, indie or alt-rock edge to their own particular brand of nostalgia, while Pictured Resort lie at the other extreme, their song Comfortable bittersweet and bathed in soft neon. An interesting entry is Cairophenomenons’ Spring (Moments ver.), its jangly, reverb-soaked guitar pop base elements employed to ends that play out with the sort of VHS-haunted atmosphere that other bands here use synths to evoke, and in the end, the sharper edges this setup gives them to work with helps to offset the cloying mellow their more synthetic peers often veer into.

Chris Jack – Miles to Go
Based in Oita in Kyushu, Chris Jack has a certain low-key notoriety as the guitarist and vocalist of garage rock band The Routes, but in this solo album he trades in the explicitly retro for a sound better characterised as classic with music in a timeless singer-songwriter tradition that could have been from any decade in the past fifty or more years. There’s a refreshing sense of space and warmth to the recording, aided by understated arrangements that may subtly underscore a phrase with organ here and there but mainly work to give the vocals and guitar lines space to walk their gently affecting paths.

Letters To Annika – Letters To Annika EP
Letters to Annika is the name under which Azusa Suga, better known from Tokyo indie rock band For Tracy Hyde, records solo work from his room, with this EP being mostly born out of the semi-lockdown conditions of pandemic Tokyo. Perhaps because of the speed and lo-fi recording conditions under which most of these songs were written and produced, during those curious weeks in April where the pandemic-led disruption to life was as much an interesting shift in perspective as a source of fear, there’s a lightness to this EP that feels both refreshing and somehow restless. Manifesting not only in the faintly washed out, shoegaze-tinged sound but also in the almost panicked urgency of the cranked-up motorik rhythms of songs like Love Song, Tidal and Wavelength, Letters to Annika mixes its reverb-drenched polaroid indiepop nostalgia with an immediacy or even urgency. Also worth attention is the non-EP single Summercrush, released in July, which makes an interesting companion to Letters to Annika, taking the EP’s fuzz and jangle and bringing in an on-trend wash of almost vaporwavesque VHS synth.


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V/A: World Awake

World Awake

Download, Ano(t)racks, 2013

Net labels are something the indie scene (in Japan at least) is still in the process of coming to grips with. In many ways, a net label has more in common with music aggregator blogs that simply introduce new music, functioning primarily as a taste curator rather than participating actively in its creation, and with the financial investment the label makes next to zero, the relationship between label and artist is fundamentally different. However, the boundaries are more blurred than that, and on the basis of this compilation, Ano(t)racks are certainly putting some excellent new music out there.

One of the advantages net labels have is that because money isn’t the same issue that it was, they can afford to take a more relaxed and eclectic approach to the artists they select, with less of the ruthless honing and focusing in on specific types of artist and cultivating specific audiences in real, physical live spaces. The Web allows them to float more freely and catch their audience more passively. Still, the online environment naturally acts as a kind of filter in itself, and where punk labels thrive in the alcohol-fuelled, claustrophobic intensity of small live spaces, the audience for a net label is more likely to be found surfing the web, semi-conscious at 2AM, so it’s natural that the sort of music a label like Ano(t)racks gravitates towards is suited to that listening environment.

Ano(t)racks are a self proclaimed twee pop label, and there’s nothing much on this compilation to dispute that, with the exception of Buddy Girl and Mechanic’s vampish, defiantly lo-fi Fanaticalia. Built around a riff that Patrick over at Make Believe Melodies rightly identifies as having been stolen wholesale from The Kinks’ You Really Got Me (to be honest, something that iconic barely counts as stealing now; like the chord sequence from Hang on Sloopy, it’s surely public domain by now) it makes occasional diversions into Rolling Stones territory but fundamentally, like much of Buddy Girl and Mechanic’s self-titled debut album, released earlier this year and sure to be one of Japan’s albums of the year come December, its closest cousin in terms of construction is Can, with the way the music slips and slides over the disorientating rhythm and the emphasis on trancelike repetition.

Eschewing the lo-fi approach and emerging as genuinely lovely indie rock songs as well as highlights of the album are The Fin.’s Floating in the Air and Come to my Party’s Paraffin Lover. I can sense a distant echo of Frozen Years by British pub rock legends The Rumour in the former somewhere, but more than that, it’s simply a pure rush of sentimental, timeless guitar pop comfort food. The latter also provides some tunespotting opportunities for new wave geeks, with the main melody reminiscent of Echo and The Bunnymen’s Bring on the Dancing Horses, although sonically it has a lot in common with Japanese turn-of-the-millennium alternative rock, in particular Supercar (and particularly the song Aoharu Youth), with its mixture of shoegaze, synths and electronic beats. Ghostlight’s Koi no You na Uso also harks back to the turn of the millennium like a more laid back, lo-fi take on Quruli’s C’mon C’mon.

There are more low-key, acoustic numbers such as the gorgeous Coastline by Genki Sakuradani and the quirky, banjo-based 1940s cabaret jazz of Annie the Clumsy’s Gold Crescent Moon, as well as the beach pop of Superfriends’ How True My Love Was and the decidedly Lennonesque blues of Slow Beach’s closing Surfin’ Day and there’s really not a duff tune among the eight tracks on offer.

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