Tag Archives: The Mornings

Top 20 Releases of 2014: No.13 – The Mornings – Idea Pattern

Idea Pattern

CD, Hariental, 2014

You can only make your debut album once. The Mornings were the young band on the scene for long past the time they could actually legitimately be called a “young band”. They built their reputation as a furiously energetic and hard-working live band, at times playing eight or more shows a month around Tokyo, and on occasion hospitalising themselves through their onstage acrobatics. With songs like Opening Act and Mad Dancer, their 2011 debut Save The Mornings was a document of that extended adolescence.

While Save The Mornings was, as with most bands in the Japanese alternative scene, essentially a 30-minute live set translated more or less directly onto an album, its delayed follow-up, Idea Pattern, is something designed much more as a coherent piece of music and then translated into the live environment afterwards. This means what while Save The Mornings was fizzy, fun and carefree, Idea Pattern carries a bit of extra weight: it still knows how to have fun, but there’s a gravity and sense of purpose to it now, where every note, every wail, every sheet-metal-cutting screech seems to have been placed there by design (the word “idea” in the title is intended in the sense of Plato’s theory of forms rather than the conventional English sense). The presence of electronic producer Goth-Trad behind the desk points towards a more precise and carefully constructed approach to their chaos, and in particular Idea Pattern treats the bass in a more programmed way rather than it sharing space, battling with the guitars in a sonic moshpit. On closing track Bass wa Mori, the bass throbs and bubbles beneath the surface of the song in an almost EDM-ish fashion.Kechangerion (live at Shimokitazawa Shelter)

Kechangerion (I have no idea what that word’s meant to be) and Green Metal employ insistent and even at times motorik rhythms that settle into grooves for longer than they would ever have permitted themselves before, the songs forming furiously zigzagging lines rather than indiscriminately (but nonetheless brilliantly) vomiting forth a hundred different colours all at the same time. Even on songs like Onaka no Itaiteki and Fuji, which are structured in a way that largely resembles their older material, there is a coldness and sense of space that wasn’t there in the white heat of their debut.

What this is all to say, basically, is that The Mornings are growing up, and Idea Pattern is a more mature work that the band have clearly slaved over. It is the sound of a band moving on from just trying to express themselves in a moment in time, and trying to put their skills to work tapping into the minds of their listeners as well. It’s a work not just of energy and passion but of curiosity and exploration.VSCOM

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Strange Boutique (October 2014) – Reviews: The Mornings, “Idea Pattern”; Halbach, “Halbach”; Otori, “I Wanna Be Your Noise”

For my October column in The Japan Times, I wrote about skronk in Japan. There was a sort of twin focus, with the article functioning on two layers. The first was a sort of meta-discussion about the language we as writers use when talking about music. It was all very clever and interesting, so go over to The Japan Times web site and have a read now.

The second layer, as you should have noticed by now, was that there was a sort of freak confluence of albums by some of Japan’s skronkiest artists released over the period of about a week at the end of last month, which is kind of the hook I used to justify writing the column in the first place and the springboard for the whole discussion of skronk and language. Now if at this point you’re scratching your head and asking, “Yeah, but what’s skronk?” then you haven’t read the original article. Go do that now.

Those releases were Idea Pattern by The Mornings, the self-titled, self-released debut album by Halbach, and I Wanna Be Your Noise by Otori. Since the publication of my column, I’ve had time to listen properly to all of those albums, so as an addendum to the original piece, here’s a series of short reviews of each album.

Idea Pattern

CD, Hariental, 2014

The Mornings’ 2011 debut album Save The Mornings was a rocket powered rollercoaster of an album, but you can only make your debut album once and it’s clear that they’ve moved on in the three years it’s taken them to come up with Idea Pattern. It opens with Fuji, which is very much in the pattern of the first album, but as the album progresses, a growing preoccupation with sonic texture and the interplay between the three vocalists becomes clear. The tempos have been brought down and there is a greater emphasis on melodies, although the melodies are themselves employed more as a textural element to be dropped in and out at will than part of a coherent, classically structured song.

In fact the overwhelming impression of Idea Pattern is of music that has been written along the lines of electronic music rather than rock. To return to the theme of skronk that kicked this whole thing off, this is really an extension of something that is part of skronk’s nature. Because of the atonal nature of the guitar sound that characterises skronk, that causes a deliberate disruption to any attempts to make a classically melodic pop song in the mode of, say The Monkees or Sex Pistols. Most skronk isn’t completely freeform though, and so what the no wave and postpunk bands did to ensure their music was internally consistent was focus on the rhythm, incorporating influences from dance music.

What The Mornings and many other bands do is take this a step further and start fucking up and disrupting the rhythms as well, and combined with the way Idea Pattern brings the bass closer to the top of the mix, it’s easy to imagine that the group were influenced in some way by the beats and drops of dubstep, albeit filtered through a decidedly art-punk lens. It’s music that revels in its inconsistency, delighting in twisting the listener this way and that, but while Save The Mornings seemed set on doing this on sheer force of will alone, Idea Pattern seems to be attempting to tap into a more generalised kind of energy, letting itself be carried along on grooves, floating on airwaves. It still does this within a structure of mathematical precision, but it’s a fascinating attempt – a parallel in music of what Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie did in the visual arts – to reconcile the band’s distinctly non-organic style with a kind of natural rhythm they find around them.

Halbach

CD, Abel, 2014

Halbach’s eponymous debut album is a mess. This is fine, because Halbach themselves are a mess and anything else just wouldn’t be them. Collected together from a mixture of studio and live recordings spanning a couple of years and a number of member changes, this album may leave you a little confused about what sort of band they are, but at the same time it gives you a pretty accurate picture of what kind of band they are. I’m saying they’re a confusing band.

Like The Mornings, there’s an obvious influence of electronic music on their approach, filtered through some similar postpunk, avant-garde and hardcore influences, but while The Mornings are fastidiously mathematical, Halbach are more expressionist in their approach – if The Mornings are Mondrian, Halbach are Kandinsky. They lay out their intentions with the sprawling, distortion-laden psychedelic noise groove of Flux Capacitor, before launching into the growling, Stooges-with-turntable-scratching hardcore of Norway.

That sets the tone for most of the rest of the album, with flurries of junk noise that combine the devilish revelling in sonic vomit of early Boredoms with the bubblegum hardcore aesthetic of Melt Banana, shot threw with a meandering love of dance music and dirty garage rock riffs. The curveball comes at the end, with the live tracks Bass and Thara cap off the album with a series of spiralling NDW/EBM-style sequencer patterns that they then proceed to mutilate – but never completely destroy – with feedback. If this is where the band are now, it’s an intriguing place to be and could become a platform for something really special in the future.

I Wanna Be Your Noise

CD, Gyuune Cassette, 2014

Otori’s I Wanna Be Your Noise is another debut album, and like Halbach it collects material spanning several years – anyone with even a passing familiarity to their live performances, demos and compilation appearances over the past few years will be very much at home with the songs on this album. Where it really is the absolute opposite of Halbach is in how tightly honed and consistent in tone and overall sound it it all is. This is partly due to the way Otori recorded all the songs anew specifically for this release, but more than that it’s in how, just as Halbach’s chaotic mess of a record is a reflection of their own anarchic quality, I Wanna Be Your Noise is a product of Otori’s own laser-guided focus.

Unlike both The Mornings and Halbach, Otori are much more firmly rooted in the sonic vocabulary of the 1970s New York no wave and there is no obvious influence of dance music (at least of the electronic variety), but sonically it is every bit as skronky and atonal, and as a result, it still relies a lot on guitar texture and rhythm to give the songs their core dynamic. In fact through its own propulsive, singleminded rhythmical brutality, I Wanna Be Your Noise is probably the most purely dance-orientated album of the three albums under discussion here. In its guitar sound, it’s every bit as explosive and exploratory as The Mornings and Halbach, but where the former’s approach is layered and the latter’s is unhinged and anarchic, Otori’s guitar parts are a work of crisp, clear, almost surgical violence, deployed with a mixture of pinpoint precision and unashamed virtuosity.

All three albums are well worth checking out and showcase the depth of the talent pool that still exists in the underground and alternative scene of Tokyo. Taken together with a slew of other terrific new releases this year from Convex Level, Panicsmile, Buddy Girl and Mechanic, Hangaku and more, 2014 is shaping up to be a rather fine vintage for underground music in a postpunk/new wave vein.

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Ten Years of Live Music in Tokyo Part 5: Tropical Death Metal

The newest band on the bill for my ten year anniversary event (September 27th just in case you forgot, kids!) is also one of the bands I have the most deeply rooted relationships with: Tropical Death Metal. The show on the 27th is their first ever performance, but all members are or have previously been involved with projects connected with or related to things I’ve done, so perhaps the best thing to do would be to go through the group member by member.

Guitarist Eugene Roussin has recorded for Call Ant Response twice as part of the magnificent stoner rock trio Human Wife, producing covers of electro idol trio Perfume’s song Game and most recently Black Sabbath’s Paranoid.

Bassist Shingo “Rally” Nakagawa you should already know through his past life as a member of The Mornings, whose debut album Save The Mornings! was my album of the year in 2011 and their song Fuji featured on Call And Response’s 2012 Dancing After 1AM compilation. Nakagawa and The Mornings have since parted ways, but a second Mornings album is due to come out very soon and Nakagawa has been active with another band, the drum machine postpunk/mutant disco of Han Han Art, who also contributed a cover of Paranoid to Call And Response’s free Valentine’s download compilation.

Drummer Sean McGee is active in a number of bands, most relevantly for the purpose of this blog the post-rock band Henrytennis, although he is a familiar face in a number of Call And Response-related projects either as a member or guest musician, including his own solo project which is currently in the works.

Lastly, the band’s other guitarist Ryotaro Aoki has been all over the place. I recently wrote about his new project Looprider on this site, he appeared on three tracks on my Sabbath/Paranoid covers compilation, he produced the Quit Your Band! zine with me, and Japanese indie fans with memories that stretch back a few years will remember him from the terrific Kulu Kulu Garden.

Tropical Death Metal then is the work of these four musical hired guns — Call And Response Records’ version of the Wrecking Crew, Swampers or Funk Brothers — and it’s obviously very exciting to have them debuting the material they’ve created together at my event. The band have recorded this demo as a taster.

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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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The Mornings 2011 debut album now available to listen for free

Nothing new about this since the album came out in two years ago (actually not in 2010 as mistakenly claimed on the band’s Soundcloud) but The Mornings have put the whole of their debut album up online for anyone to hear in full. The main reason for them doing this is probably to give people going to South By Southwest a chance to hear them. It also draws a line under the material, which The Mornings are gradually replacing with new songs as they work on material for a new album, hopefully for release within the year. Anyway, This gives you a chance to hear why Save The Mornings was my top album of 2011 a year ago, and why Make Believe Melodies also had it in their top ten. Since The Mornings’ material doesn’t seem to allow embedding, you’ll have to go over to their Soundcloud page to listen to the album, but it’s well worth it for anyone who likes raw, fierce, stupendously silly, madly fun, loud, fast, messed-up skronk.

Check out Save The Mornings in full HERE.

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Top 20 albums/EPs of 2011 (numbers 1-10)

Several days later than promised, but here’s the top ten of my Japanese music of 2011 (No.11-20 is here). Again, I’m allowing some Korean stuff if it’s a proper Japanese release, and again I’m not being fussy about what counts as an EP, a mini-album or an album — it all goes in. Obviously, this is just a personal list of what interested me out of the limited range of what I actually heard this year and I didn’t include any of those bizarre “objective” measures that people keep moaning to the Japan Times complaints department that I don’t include. Anyway, on with the list:

Boundee, CD

10. She Talks Silence: Some Small Gifts

Precariously poised on the edge between the barely-produced lo-fi indie ethos of early 80s British DiY music and the kind of Tokyo hipster scene that’s well-connected enough to bypass the dirtier fringes of the live music circuit and parachute straight into the 3000yen a ticket, 700yen a beer range of venues, She Talks Silence are the sort of band that could be unbearable to an indie snob like me who generally requires years of slumming it in dives out of a band before I grant them my seal of approval. And if that sounds like a strange way to introduce a band I’m trying to convince you are in my top ten of the year, I apologise, but She Talks Silence’s position is at the heart of what I find frustrating about them. They’re like the beautiful, intelligent, talented girl who’s dating a jerk who doesn’t appreciate her [Disclaimer: their actual boyfriends are really cool]. Their music is delicate, sweet, lonely, charming, violent and tremendously affecting, with Fragment one of the most beautiful songs I’ve heard all year and Dead Romance edged with a series of particularly sharp thorns, and yet there is a terrible and selfish sense that they belong to someone else, that they float in a fashion environment too superficial to understand what’s so great about them, and worst of all, the gnawing knowledge that the only real problem is my own snobbery. In any case, Some Small Gifts is a near flawless example of lo-fi indiepop melodymaking that also demonstrates flair and artistry with more awkward, off-centre song construction.

Self-released, CD/R

9. Tsumugine: Tsumugine

This three-song, EP by the performance art collective Tsumugine (a group with a curious penchant for live performances in isolated countryside road tunnels, among other places) is basically fifteen minutes of eerie “instrumental” vocal music, with the musical wing of the group’s a capella utterances creating distorted tones and monastic harmonies that I would have thought certainly the work of studio effects had I not seen them perform a lot of this stuff live with only a couple of microphones. Some harmonica is thrown into the mix on the eight-minute final track, but the range of tones and sounds of the vocal performers is so diverse that it’s utterly in keeping with the rest of this atmospheric little CD.

Self-released, CD/R

8. Hysteric Picnic: Hysteric Picnic EP

Like Pop Office, Hysteric Picnic are clearly influenced by 1980s British new wave bands — in this case Joy Division and maybe The Jesus and Mary Chain feature strongly, with something of Young Marble Giants in the tick-tock-tick-tock drum machine rhythms that underpin many of their songs. However, where Pop Office distinguish themselves with quirky embellishments or a slightly off-centre approach, Hysteric Picnic charge right in, glowing with conviction, dirty and lo-fi as you like, and bursting with great tunes. They don’t spend hours polishing their songs to a burnished sheen, but neither is the roughness an affectation: it’s integral to the band’s sound, present in the Wire-like slashes of guitar, explosions of feedback and anguished vocal yowls of Chinese Girl. The way they combine that with sublime melodies and harmonies, best displayed on Persona, is what makes this EP such an extraordinary debut.

Nayutawave, CD

7. Girls’ Generation: Girls’ Generation

Another Korean one, but as with 2NE1 in the previous post, I’m counting it since it’s a Japanese release, this time sung entirely in Japanese, that was released and promoted just like any J-Pop album.Girls’ Generation is quite simply the most accomplished, polished, catchy collection of three-minute pop gems I’ve heard in ages. You can read my review here, and I’d just add that the failure of both Perfume’s JPN and Girls’ Generation’s own The Boys to even come close sadly seems to drive home what a one-off combination of bubblegum pop fizz and modern electropop sophistication this album probably was.

Take a Shower Records, CD

6. Tacobonds: No Fiction

Boom! Badaboom-booooooom! Badabadabadabadabadabadabada-boooooom-bangbang-boom-B-P-M-4!-bangboombang-a-bang-ratatattatatatata-tat-Bang!-Skreeeeeeeee! FICTIOOOOOOOON! Read it here.


Penguinmarket, CD

5. Uhnellys: To Too Two

Another one I’ve already reviewed, Uhnellys are a smart, funky, sophisticated, genre-hopping psychedelic jazz-hop duo and this was probably the album that combined technical accomplishment, energy, intelligence, invention and mainstream (admittedly in a fairly limited, indie sense) appeal better than any other I’ve heard this year.

Second Royal, 10-inch Vinyl

4. Friends: Let’s Get Together Again

Reviewed this one too. This is an album that I wasn’t sure about at first, but especially since getting my hands on the vinyl release, it’s risen in my estimation. The duvet of feedback that envelops most of the melodies works for me, noisenik that I am, and once you get past the bristly exterior, there’s a juicy melodic centre that tastes of The Beach Boys and all the rest of your favourite summer guitar pop tunes. Apparently now renamed Teen Runnings, Friends are a prickly, awkward band, and this album captures that aspect of them with a perhaps unintentional degree of honesty.

Bijin Records, Double CD

3. Nisennenmondai: LIVE!!!

Another one I’ve reviewed. To date, the definitive recorded document of one of Tokyo’s most striking bands, LIVE!!! is instrumental Kraut-noise trio Nisennenmondai at their best. Fan is a magnificent example of how you can repeatedly bang away on a single note for fourteen minutes and somehow keep it exciting through dynamics alone, and along with fellow death disco masterpiece Mirrorball, it forms the centrepiece of the album. Ikkyokume is Stereolab’s Golden Ball at 3x speed and rippling with unhinged energy and Appointment might be a lost Daniel Miller instrumental from 1981. There are lots of bands in Tokyo who play drawn-out instrumental jams, but none as skilled at manipulating the dynamics of such minimal sounds in such an accessible and downright fun way.

Naturebliss, CD

2. Tyme. x Tujiko: Gyu

Not being tremendously familiar with Tujiko Noriko’s prior work, it’s hard for me to place this within her overall canon, but this album, sneaking in just at the end of the year is a simply stunning collection of avant-pop and electronic soundscapes. I’m going to be a twat here and compare it to Bjork and Kate Bush, and I admit I’m largely doing this because it’s a magnificent, weird pop album with ethereal sounding vocals by a woman with an odd voice. HNC tried a similar thing recently with her rather fine I Dream I Dead, but this album eschews HNC’s instagram faux-retro lo-fi flicker in favour of more confident, sophisticated multi-layered synth-artistry, which elevates it to another plane productionwise. As a general rule, the earlier tracks edge more popwise while the album begins to skew ambient as it progresses, but I’m not going to single out tracks since this is a rare album where absolutely every song is truly lovely.

CD, Take A Shower Records

1. The Mornings: Save The Mornings

Quite simply nothing this year could quite touch spazzpunk quartet The Mornings’ debut album for sheer, irrepressible energy. There are other bands making faintly similar kinds of music but The Mornings beat them all by being faster, more intense, just more full of wow. The first moment of Opening Act wakes you up, eyes saucers, mouth grinning with delight, and everything that happens from that moment onwards just makes your grin stretch wider. Amazon Surf is what Devo would have sounded like if they’d been a hardcore band, Mad Cheergirl pushes drummer Keika’s vocals to the front, while on Mad Dancer, synth/vocalist Ponta and guitarist Junya trade lines against a rhythmical backdrop that constantly threatens to collapse before leaping back to attention, Drug Me sees the group taking on the Dead Kennedys and winning, and so on and so on. It’s an exhausting listen, like gorging on a mixture of sherbet candy, raw chilli and hard liquor, and it leaves you similarly battered and physically defeated at the end, but 26 minutes of moment after moment of unbridled, explosive joy will do that to you. Give in.

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Bossston Cruizing Mania: Loaded, Lowdead, Rawdead

CD, Take a Shower records, 2011

This review first appeared in Japanese on Goblin.mu

No one could accuse Tokyo alternative/postpunk band Bossston Cruizing Mania of being wastefully prolific. “Loaded, Lowdead, Rawdead” emerges more than seven years after their third album, 2004’s “Comic/Saisei/Cynicism”, and coming up to twenty years since the band formed in the 1990s. Nevertheless, as lynchpins of the Tokyo underground live music scene they have been a constant fixture, so whatever you do, don’t call it a comeback.

Bossston Cruizing Mania share something in common with jazz/progressive/hip hop/alternative duo Uhnellys, with Esuhiro Kashima’s lyrics forming rambling narratives that snake in and out of the music. However, while Uhnellys’ Kim prefers the snappy, cinematic cut, cut, cut of a Martin Scorsese movie, the stories Kashima tells are more abstract and discursive, taking in topics as diverse as YouTube, socialism and Super Mario Brothers and employing a looser delivery, like a Japanese version of Mark E. Smith.

Kanpekina Kakurega

There are also similarities with Shutoku Mukai’s early Zazen Boys-era spoken word rants, although given that Bossston Cruizing Mania pre-date both Zazen Boys and Number Girl, it’s likely that any influence that there might be flowed from Kashima to Mukai rather than the other way round. In fact, rather than Mukai, it’s another late-90s Fukuoka scene figure, Panicsmile’s Hajime Yoshida, who exerts a more direct influence on “Loaded, Lowdead, Rawdead”.

Yoshida produced the album, and it was his band’s arrival in Tokyo that together with Bossston Cruizing Mania formed the core af a particular corner of the Tokyo music scene that emerged in the late 1990s and influenced a generation of bands, mostly centred around Akihabara Club Goodman (where first Yoshida and now Kashima have driven the booking policy) and latterly around Disk Union’s Take A Shower Records. Without Bossston Cruizing Mania and Panicsmile, bands like Tacobonds (also produced by Yoshida), The Mornings and more would probably not exist in their present form.

This is music that combines the sonic sensibility of British postpunk, U.S. no wave and 90s alternative rock with a mindset that forms part of a distinct Japanese rock lineage going back through 80s weirdos like Aburadako to the disenchanted post-hippy 1970s underground scene that eventually melded with the nascent punk scene. There are parallels with Pere Ubu, particularly in the first half of the album, for example the repetitive minimalism of “Low Down”, there are echoes of the postpunk dub of Jah Wobble and Public Image Limited on “Who is Next” and “Citibank”, as well as the brutal, uncompromising funk-punk of The Pop Group as on “Go On to Be Child”.

Citibank

Nevertheless, these are sounds that are so worn into the Tokyo alternative scene that they have become part of the fabric of the city; at least partially divorced from 70s Cleveland, London or Bristol, but rather than a fashion-conscious affectation, they have found a new home tattooed into the concrete of venues along Tokyo’s Chuo Line and beyond, buzzing with urban frustration, alienation and paranoia.

The jerky skittishness and sparse production are powerfully discomfiting but also relentless, which makes it a difficult album to swallow in one gulp. Contemporaries like Panicsmile would often find ways to break up the harshness of their more experimental and raw moments with, admittedly self-mocking and deconstructive, approximations of the occasional pop song, while the 25-to-30-minute mini-album is becoming the delivery medium of choice for many current underground bands.

Who is Next

Especially given the long gap since “Loaded, Lowdead, Rawdead”‘s predecessor, one wonders if Bossston Cruizing mania might be better off releasing their material more frequently in more easily digestible chunks. On the other hand, and perhaps decisively, it’s difficult not to respect the band’s uncompromising commitment to the ideal, and with the carnivalesque “It’s 4AM in Lynch” they even indulge the listener by rounding the album off with something that sounds almost happy.

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