Tag Archives: Takeshi Yamamoto

Top 30 Releases of 2020: No. 30-26

2020 was a year in which I both discovered and experienced music primarily from the confines of my home, cut off from the thrill and physicality of the live show and the intangible thread that ties the recording to that experience. I also spent a lot more time and money exploring new releases from overseas this year, which brought their own revelations and frustrations about the strengths and weaknesses of the Japanese music scene. So all that may have added up to me listening to music in slightly different ways last year, while spending most of it locked indoors (live events continued in a limited manner around Tokyo and elsewhere in Japan, but I mostly steered clear, producing a few audience-free shows for live broadcast and curating some home recording projects to raise money for local venues) created its own psychic pull towards both ambient sounds and those that held out the angry promise of parties to come. The slow drip, drip, drip of deaths, some hastened by COVID-19 – Gabi Delgado Lopez, Cristina, Ennio Morricone, Harold Budd, Andy Gill, Tony Allen, among too many others – brought an unintended poignance to some of the new music I heard last year as well.

Meanwhile, Japan embraced online music in a way it had previously been slow to accept, with quiet times in the live scene seeing a lot of Bandcamp releases, either by bands or in the form of compilations put together by struggling venues. Streaming subscription services like Spotify grew too, with some bands seeming to find them a more acceptable partner for the physical releases than Bandcamp, which perhaps has a less professional image to some and threatens to chip into physical sales for others. For what it’s worth, I’m resistant to Spotify’s model of making us all unpaid salespeople, driving listeners to their service, so if you want to find any of this music there, you can search it yourself and enjoy at your leisure, but the only links here are basically going to be Bandcamp or sometimes YouTube. I know it’s annoying, but carrying all these snotty, impotent principles about ownership of music infrastructure is annoying for me too, so live with it as I have to. Ha.

Anyway, on with the countdown.


30. Limited Express (Has Gone?) – The Sound of Silence
Limited Express (Has Gone?) are are by now reliably deranged mainstays of the Japanese punk and underground scene, and this short mini-album or long EP is a welcome check-in with some new material from the band, its breakneck, easily-distracted, chatterbox party-punk coming quite comfortably off the back of their last full-length, 2016’s All Ages. The title of the album comes from the Simon and Garfunkel hit of the same name, which might seem like an odd reference for a frantic punk whirlwind like Limited Express, but they nonetheless tackle the song with a surprisingly straight cover to close the album. Whatever their reason, it hangs poignantly in the midst of the personal isolation and closed venue doors that many in the music scene find themselves dealing with (although Limited Express themelves have been one of the more energetic bands on the circuit in hurling themselves into shows where possible). The song’s lyrics also speak to an undercurrent of political voices that are increasingly unsatisfied with being unheard on a range of issues as the pandemic crisis persists, which may point to interesting times ahead as the music scene in Japan reassembles itself.


29. Ziguezoy – Cherish Your Teeth
Sitting somewhere between European minimal synth letter-jumbles like NDW, EBM etc. and Japanese multicoloured techno candy vomit, Ziguezoy is a theatrical force of nature onstage and an anarchic explosion of megaphone barks, unforgiving mindless beats and anime synth sparkles on record. Cherish Your Teeth revels in cheapness but the broad strokes it daubs these songs in are nonetheless powerful, atmospheric and well balanced, with third track 114,198,239 demonstrating a deceptive subtlety even as the closing Mo-da-finil drags the EP screaming back into defiant DAF territory (Sex Unter Wasser to be specific). More than anything, Cherish Your Teeth is a fierce and gloriously trashy party waiting for us whenever we escape from pandemic times.


28. Takeshi Yamamoto – Gaslight
A more focused effort than his 2019 solo album Somewhere, Gaslight’s ideas radiate out confidently through four long tracks rather than its predecessor’s fragmented collection of ideas. As a result, it loses some of the appeal found in those two-minute ambient quirks but instead, those little ideas now glow and resonate in bolder-strokes as Yamamoto develops each into a richer and more encompassing embrace, still both delicate and simple. There are people doing more elaborate and technically intricate things with ambient and drone in the Japanese underground, but the shimmering warmth of Gaslight appeals precisely because of how plain and unembroidered it is.


27. LLRR – < = >
The six songs of this EP make for a release that’s short and sharp yet never repetitive, intricately and precisely structured yet explosively energetic. With origins that share ex-members with similar bands like Otori and O’Summer Vacation, there’s a familial resemblance in the manic, shrieking art-punk nuggets they produce, and it’s done superbly here. The only problem with < = > is that it’s currently more of a streaming services thing rather than something you can own (update: just found that Japanese download site Ototoy sells it, as does iTunes, so you can at least own a digital version if you hunt it down). Fingers crossed for a physical edition this year though, because this is marvellous.

More about this release here.


26. Forbear – 10songs
Perhaps the sweetest, sharpest and most to-the-point Japanese indie rock album of the year, 10songs rides the line between Bob Mouldesque (Bob Mouldy?) punk-derived fuzzy pop-rock and shoegaze through its run of scuzzy, hook-laden, two-and-a-half-minute nuggets.

More about this release here.

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Sacoyans – Yomosue

Sacoyan is a singer-songwriter from Fukuoka, debuting in a band form here under the name Sacoyans with a hometown supergroup backing lineup featuring Miwako (Miu Mau) on drums, Seiji Harajiri (Hyacca) on bass and Takeshi Yamamoto (Sea Level, Macmanaman, various solo works and what sometimes seems like every other band in Fukuoka) on guitar. Sacoyan’s songs tend towards emotionally wrought balladry in an early Shiina Ringo vein, with the band lineup filling them out and pumping them up with some scuzzy 1990s alt-rock energy. It’s interesting being far enough away from the 1990s that its sounds have claimed a musical territory of their own distinct enough that an album like Yomosue can be confidently called retro. The guitar sounds lean a little bit Oasis in places, a bit Swervedriver in others, and the hard stop the final track JK pulls at the end of its closing feedback freakout is straight out of Supercar’s Three Out Change playbook. It stands on its own beyond the MTV2 nostalgia of its guitar fuzz thanks to the sort of solidly crafted pop-rock songwriting that would have been a crossover J-Pop hit had it only landed in an era when the planets were more favourably aligned for this sort of music.

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Wolf x Takeshi Yamamoto – Upsilon

Takeshi Yamamoto is a seemingly omnipresent figure in the Fukuoka music scene, playing in bands like Macmanaman, Kelp, Sea Level and many more. He released his first solo album, Somewhere, last year, which was one of this site’s gorgeous ambient highlights of 2019, and at the start of 2020 he came back with a new collection of spacious soundscapes in collaboration with fellow Fukuoka-based musician Wolf of Acid Mothers Temple. Where Somewhere would occasionally use short tracks to focus in on small sonic details, Upsilon is more concerned with the big picture, divided into three movements — long tracks that give the album a wider, looser, more expansive feel. This perhaps reflects Upsilon’s origin as a live improvisation session, albeit one extensively worked on in the studio subsequently, and it retains the exploratory atmosphere of two musicians working around each other in the moment. Fundamentally an ambient record, Upsilon isn’t afraid of pushing into broad crescendos that seem to fill the sonic spectrum or disorientate with disjointed analogue samples and occasionally harsh psychedelic episodes, just as it is content and confident enough to settle back into its own luscious, gentle mindscapes for long periods. And it’s here perhaps that Upsilon really deviates from pure ambient music: despite its gentle pace, it has progressive rock’s constant need to push forward on a journey, drawing the listener through different sonic territory that toys with their sense of comfort — Upsilon is filled with beauty in which you could easily lose yourself, but it is nonetheless an album that wants your attention.

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Top 25 Releases of 2019: No. 5-1

Puffyshoes - Flower

Cassette, self-released, 2019

5. Puffyshoes – Flower
Released together with a home made zine, this cassette collection of seven rough-edged 60s girl group-via-Ramones pop tunes (clocking in at a bit over nine minutes, with only the opening Let’s Fall in Love scraping past one and a half minutes in length) is maximum DIY in both its execution and its wider, thematic meta-nostalgia for the already nostalgic sounds of past generations of indie/twee-pop tape-dwellers. Puffyshoes inhabit their fantasy world so completely that it never feels less than completely real, and the devastatingly simple, infectiously catchy, tremblingly fragile pop tunes that make up this EP drive that point home more effectively than I ever could.

Groundcover. - ██████

CD, Less Than TV, 2019

4. Groundcover. – ██████
(Text taken from my personal blog)
Throughout their multiple shifting, contracting and expanding lineups, Groundcover have been one of Tokyo’s most consistently interesting noise-rock bands, combining roots in hardcore and post-Boredoms junk with a drift into expansive sonic territory. ██████ is the culmination of that evolution, retaining the raw riffs and explosive energy that characterised their hardcore days but wedding it to via the rhythmically tight, increasingly dub-influenced sound system band leader Ataraw Mochizuki has built up around him over the years. The result is an album that builds up immense, triumphant, richly layered walls of sound, deployed with impressive control.

OOIOO - Nijimusi

CD/vinyl, Shochy/Thrill Jockey, 2019

3. OOIOO – Nijimusi
Despite having been at it for the best part of the past 25 years, OOIOO remain as inventive and inspired as ever, lurching dementedly from one idea to another, linking the experimental extremes of post-punk and progressive rock with the sort of drunken fluidity that can only really come from total mastery of their oddball craft, with echoes of both Gong and the Raincoats in equal measures colouring this endlessly delightful album. It’s wild, fun, fundamentally dedicated to the unexpected, and overall a powerful and accessible exploration of completely unrestrained musical imagination.

 

Takeshi Yamamoto - Somewhere

Download, self-released, 2019

2. Takeshi Yamamoto – Somewhere
Sometimes it feels like Takeshi Yamamoto is singlehandedly holding the Fukuoka music scene together, playing in what seems to be at least half the bands in the city (Macmanaman, Sea Level, Kelp, Sacoyans and more), not to mention DJing, doing design work for fellow Kyushu scenesters and generally turning out an endless stream of new releases and collaborations. Despite all this, Somewhere is Yamamoto’s first solo release, and it’s gorgeous. Composed mostly of ambient and drone-based soundscapes, it carries a lot of similarities with some of Yamamoto’s work with post rock collective Sea Level, but where Sea Level endlessly circle eclectically around an implied but never quite described centre, Somewhere is far more comfortable in its sonic identity. Between tones and drones that shimmer like silk in the breeze, Yamamoto picks out gentle guitar melodies here, introduces rippling sequencer patterns there, builds rich or even dirty layers competing sounds, or pares them away to sparse near-nothing, water trickling quietly at the edge of hearing.

 

Former Airline - Rewritten Memories by the Future

Cassette, Moss Archive, 2019

1. Former Airline – Rewritten Memories by the Future
(Text taken from my personal blog)
Released as a limited edition cassette in February, Japanese artist Former Airline’s Rewritten Memories by Future is an album born out of a cauldron of 1980s experimental and underground influences but doesn’t remain bound by them. Crash and Learn recalls the claustrophobic rhythms of Liaisons Dangereuses, drawing out and developing the origins of acid house from its chatter of electronic bleeps. Meanwhile, the artist’s love of krautrock and shoegaze – ever present on the album – is expressed most strikingly on the gorgeous closing The Angel Between Two Walls. Through the album, analogue glitches, drones and intrusions of noise act as the cement holding this sonic structure together.

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