Tag Archives: tepPohseen

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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V/A: Life is Music


Cassette, Touch Records, 2018

Kicking off with Fukuoka alt-rock band tepPohseen’s sprawling, ten-minute Joukei (which accounts for a third of the whole cassette’s running time), this seven-song cassette compilation of ‘90s-influenced lo-fi alternative bands from around Japan is a piece out of time with a music scene increasingly characterised by hyperactive bedroom beatmakers, slick-sounding, commercially-ambitious “city pop” and quirky so-called alt-idols. Getting past the rather generic title, Life is Music features all new recordings, but is still a collection proudly of its time. And that time is about ten years ago, with bands like Nagoya’s Sonic Youth-esque Free City Noise, Tokyo-based instrumental noise-rock band Fukuro, and the more sweetly melodic Joshua Comeback. It’s not strictly a genre collection, with Kobe/Osaka’s Merry Ghosts (the band formerly known as Trespass) calling back to the late-‘70s/early-80s postpunk era and Osaka’s Shoki no And Young (presumably an early lineup of stalwart local crazy horses …And Young) winding a coil of ’90s guitar distortion around a core of ’70s rock. At the same time, though, it’s a compilation that, despite being released in 2018 was, forged in the Japanese music scene of the early 2000s, when the band scene was defined in large part by the mainstream success of acts like Number Girl and Shiina Ringo back when she was still interesting. This compilation doesn’t offer much in the way of a path forward for Japanese underground rock, but it’s nonetheless a welcome reminder that those days were a period that produced a lot of the most interesting underground rock bands still playing today (and a lot more now sadly vanished).


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Top 20 Releases of 2016: No.3 – Narcolepsin – Mojo

Narcolepsin - MOJO

CD, Headache Sounds, 2016

The power of aggressive music to provoke has been a constant thread in the development of rock and various forms of electronic music and hip hop. The word “provoke” was the title of a Japanese postpunk-themed compilation album (No.20 in this list) this year, which, intentionally or not, raised an interesting question of what it means for music to be provocative in the 2010s.

Listen to a lot of early punk and, while you might understand on some intellectual level that this was shocking music in its original context, it rarely feels that way on a visceral level. The Clash might have bellowed, “No Elvis, Beatles or The Rolling Stones” but their music feels now far closer to those classic acts than it does to the kind of extreme music that followed fairly swiftly after them. Nowadays, even noise, which emerged in the ‘80s and remains through artists like Merzbow, Hijokaidan and Incapacitants some of the most sonically abrasive anti-music ever, is no longer really shocking as a stance: it’s simply a medium in which artists can operate, experimenting based on texture rather than melody and rhythm. The extremes of the noise path have now largely been charted. and if it doesn’t sound exactly conventional, it certainly has its conventions.

So what can a musician do nowadays to shake a listener out of their comfort zone if simply battering their ears with noise no longer works? One way is to irritate them, which is perhaps one of the reasons why many artists from the postpunk era who retain the greatest power to provoke are not those who used the raw power of sonic missiles but the insistent, needling irritation of a small child singing out of key as they repeatedly kick the back of your chair. The erratic, hysterical, amped-up fairground prog-psych of early Cardiacs annoyed the NME so much that they banned the group from their pages for ten years or more. The confrontational, droning, repetitive standup of punk-era comic Ted Chippington continues to be divisive even among the more esoteric fringes of the British comedy scene.

It’s that wilfully unbalanced, needling, insistent aural aggravation that is at the heart of what makes Narcolepsin such a silly, fun and challenging band. On stage, drummer Ami plays a minimal kit consisting of just a kick, snare and hi-hat, while synth player Popo Copy taps impassively away on a single note like an icier Ron Mael. In contrast, Naoki Sakata (formerly of tepPohseen — yes, this is another Fukuoka band) plays sax, two different guitars, and yaps away atonally like a confused, angry chihuahua.

Narcolepsin’s songs confound the traditional structures that some more nominally extreme music can at times unconsciously cling to, as in Equal, which teases you with the possibility that it has finished over and over again only to return laboriously to the start. Si builds layers of sax, scratchy guitar and playground taunt vocals over a relentlessly repetitive two-note synth part. The title track, meanwhile, takes delight in its rhythmical inconsistency, each instrument seeming to play along to an idiosyncratic beat of its own, Sakata’s vocals yowling incoherently in the distance.Equal (live)

While Narcolepsin employ many of the tools of progressive rock, with overlapping rhythms, deviations from standard rock chords and key, and an evident jazz influence, they are nonetheless distinctly postpunk in the way they present their chaos of sounds with the join still clearly on display, feeding a fractured, angular soundscape that plays out over the album’s short 21-minute runtime. It’s annoying as hell, but it’s also playful, silly and fun in how it teases you and mocks your expectations. Like all extreme music, it demands you step out of your comfort zone and approach it from their perspective, and like all extreme music, part of its appeal is the subsequent pleasure in being one of the ones who gets it.

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Top 20 Releases of 2016: No.7 – Sea Level – Invisible Cities

Sea Level - Invisible Cities

Cassette/download, Collective Noun, 2016

Post-rock as practiced in the Japanese alternative scene tends towards two main poles, with the fiddly math-rock of Toe on one hand and the endlessly climaxing wall of sound of Mono on the other. As the bassist in Macmanaman, Takeshi Yamamoto has plenty of form in working to split that difference, but switching to guitar with the band Sea Level, he charts a different path altogether.

Running at less than half the length of Macmanaman’s New Wave Of British BASEBALL Heavy Metal (no.13 on this list), Sea Level’s Invisible Cities nevertheless adopts a far less hurried pace. It is also an album that pays far more attention to texture, with the three-part Kubilai e Polo interspersing its ambient, wandering guitar, synths and samples at intervals throughout the album. Sea Level’s roots as an improvisational band show through in the overlapping, freeform nature of much of their sonic explorations, with the composition more apparent in how it’s all stitched together. The title and structure taking inspiration from Italo Calvino’s novel of the same name, the subdued Dorotea contrasting with Zaira’s building cacophony of overlapping sonic textures but both songs nevertheless reflecting the same metaphysical Venice of the mind viewed from a porch on a summer evening. Only the central Corpo really resembles a song in the conventional sense, although its fragile melody eventually gives way to freeform piano and the guitar’s distorted Robert Frippery — also, and perhaps tellingly, it’s the only track not named after part of Calvino’s book.

As the fourth Fukuoka band on this list so far, it’s tempting to view Sea Level as a further example of an extraordinary creative vibrancy in Japan’s southwestern extremities, and there’s some truth in that. However, the band are also evidence of the incestuous nature of much of that creativity. Yamamoto has already appeared on this list with Macmanaman, while he has also played with Sonotanotanpenz’ (no.9 on this list) Hitomi Itamura in the groups ruruxu/sinn and RIM and designed the cover art for tepPohseen’s album (no.15 on this list). Meanwhile Sea Level drummer Makoto Onuki has form as bassist in psychedelic rock band Semi and has also already made an appearance here with tepPohseen. Focusing so much on these acts populated by a tiny coterie of people certainly creates a skewed image of the city’s musical landscape, of which you are only seeing a peripheral corner here. However, combined with the fact that the city has a big enough scene to support their variegated explorations alongside a wealth of more conventional (and less interesting) pop and rock bands, that is also a big part part of why Fukuoka in 2017 remains such an interesting place for music.

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Top 20 Releases of 2016: No.15 – tepPohseen – Some Speedy Kisses

teppohseen - Some Speedy Kisses

CD, Gyuune Cassette, 2016

The music-of-last-year rundowns on this site invariably include a strong contingent from Fukuoka and Kyushu, and mostly this is a simple function of me having a lot of friends there and as a result getting more information about what’s going on. It’s also, however, because it’s a city that consistently has an unusually strong indie scene with a lot of distinctive and talented musicians. tepPohseen have been around forever, but this album on Osaka’s Gyuune Cassette label (it’s a CD — ignore the label name) is the first “proper” release that’s crossed my path. Some of these songs have been around in various forms since God was a boy, and — coupled with the fact that some of them hover around the eight-to-ten-minute range — this serves to add an unspoken caveat to the title Some Speedy Kisses of “but, y’know, also some really drawn-out, lingering ones”.

There is an interesting interplay between band leader Ryo Asada’s deadpan vocals and drummer Kumiko Shiga’s sweet yet matter-of-fact delivery. Long stretches of the album are instrumental though, and Asada certainly seems more comfortable letting his guitar do most of the singing. That’s also where he is at his most powerful in expressing himself, teasing out wails and fusillades both tortured and joyous, melodic and discordant, finicky and free.

There’s clearly a lot of something like Sonic Youth happening in the formative soup from which these songs emerged, not to mention odd little snatches of new wave (the bassline from Roka is straight out of New Order’s Blue Monday). It’s when they slow down and get into the serious songwriting that tepPohseen show their colours most strongly as children of the holy trinity of 2000s Japanese indie rock though, with Eisei / Yadorigi reflecting echoes of Supercar, Number Girl and Quruli, as well as drawing from the deeper well of Japanese rock songwriting dug by Happy End.


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