Tag Archives: Yokan System

Top 20 Releases of 2015: No.17– Praha Depart – Sweet Wave

When writing about synth duo Yokan System’s Whispering for the previous entry in this 2015 rundown, I mentioned that, in Tokyo at least, members Mai Yano and Tsukasa Kameya are perhaps better known for their work with a band called Praha Depart. These things are relative of course, and from any meaningful cultural perspective no one has heard of either band, especially since Praha Depart more or less abandoned playing live a few years ago.

Nevertheless, the band (the trio’s lineup is completed by Loolowningen & The Far East Idiots drummer Jumpei Yamamoto) still exist sporadically, with the roots of this album going back to studio sessions in Ljubljana three years ago, which they developed into complete recordings after returning to Japan and promptly left unreleased for almost a year.

At this point I should declare an interest: I released Praha Depart’s earlier Dot. EP/mini-album in 2012 via Call And Response Records and heard the initial recordings for Sweet Wave a long time before its release. This is an album that had the timing been right, and had the band theirselves been more active, I might have ended up releasing, thus disqualifying it from appearing here. As it is, time dragged on, the band moved on, and the album was at risk of being forgotten, and so Praha Depart seemed to dump it almost apologetically onto their Bandcamp, perhaps for any international fans driven there by the flutter of press Yokan System were by then receiving around the release of Whispering.

While there are a few similarities, mostly down to Yano’s voice, comparisons between the two bands are largely meaningless. Praha Depart are a power trio with a full band sound, developed from sparse postpunk roots into something far richer and more multilayered.

Opening track Rhumba has echoes the tribal postpunk of Pulsallama or Rip Rig & Panic, and in particular of Praha Depart’s own earlier Portrait Man, kicking the album off with a link to the group’s past, before moving into the more restrained, melodic title track whose wandering, stuttering bass line recalls the prog pop of Roxy Music’s Out of the Blue.

Elsewhere, Sweet Wave’s music ranges from the rhythmically complex Swan to the richly textured, emotionally wrought closing Dreamer. Praha Depart express some ambivalence about this album, being a work that to them expresses only their current state rather than pointing the way towards the future, and with this release they seem to hope to draw a line under this stage in their life as a band. Something of this shows in the music, which is so richly developed and finely honed, delivered with such confidence and familiarity by the band that it leaves a sense of something so thoroughly and comprehensively expressed that there is nowhere left for them to go along this particular route. Still, while the album may in spome ways feel like a coda, it is at least a triumphant one – perhaps more an exclamation mark than a full stop.

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Top 20 Releases of 2015: No.18– Yokan System – Whispering

yokan system - whispering

CD/Download, Ample Play, 2015

Released on Tjinder Singh’s UK-based Ample Play label, this album by a Japanese duo probably better known in Tokyo as two thirds of the sporatically active postpunk-influenced art rock band Praha Depart is something of a spectral presence in the Japanese music scene.

There are enough similarities to The Knife’s early work to make the comparison valid beyond the simple fact of the two duos’ boy-girl synthpop dynamics. Yokan System temper that glacial edge though, delivering their music from behind a misty, lo-fi veil, the vocals and synths both adding ambiguity to the sound with a layer of sonic whispers just beneath the music’s surface, while Mai Yano’s vocals lean more towards Cocteau Twins-esque 4AD etherea than Karin Dreijer Andersson’s tormented Kate Bush-like yowl.

In the songwriting, Yokan System are poppy while skirting clear of outright pop songwriting, building their tracks from hooks, drum and sequencer loops and repetitive, mantric vocals in a way that betrays some of Yano and Kameya’s postpunk and krautrock-influenced roots.

Hanging somewhere between dance music and ambient, without ever really committing to be pop music either leaves Yokan System in an odd place in terms of pinning down their sound. The title track’s cascading guitar evokes something of Kyoto-based Japanese chillwave pioneers Hotel Mexico’s breakout international track Its Twinkle, while the propulsive dreampop of the opening Kyo Kyo Ra kicks off the album powerfully. Each track contains within it the seed of something the band seem intent on never quite delivering, drifting dreamlike from one little sonic world to the next without ever resolving the puzzle of the last – like whispered promises that never fully reveal themselves, the promise of the unknown contains within its mystery a beauty of its own.

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Yokan System: A Dream You Never Wake Up From

In advance of their early 2015 European tour, synth duo Yokan System have a new video for the tune A Dream You Never Wake Up From, out from UK label Ample Play Records (that’s Tjinder Singh from Cornershop’s label). It finds the duo reinforcing their identity as purveyors of sometimes brutally minimal synthpop, with a lot of the pop removed and a side order of eerie, electronic psychedelia added, like early Human League via the Cocteau Twins. It’s a short track at two minutes that builds and ebbs away through the addition and subtraction of mantric vocal layers rather than any sort of traditional pop structure, which only adds to its tantalising mystique. With the duo’s other project, the more rock orientated Praha Depart, on a pretty low-key tip lately, Yokan System’s current state of activity and forthcoming album is getting the full attention and focus of two of the finest indie talents in Tokyo right now.

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Yokan System: Sasurai Tutu Sasayaku / Tete

Yokan System are a new electronic duo formed by Tsukasa and Mai from psychedelic postpunk/alternative band Praha Depart. They’ve been jamming and experimenting as a duo on and off for a long time now in between Praha Depart’s semi-regular jaunts to Europe and the United States but with Yokan System they seem to have formalised their project and these two tracks are the fruit.Sasurai Tutu Sasayaku

Both Sasurai Tutu Sasayaku and Tete are built around looping melodies, with the former track taking Tsukasa’s cascading guitar line, a repetitive synth chime and adding Mai’s overlapping, chanting vocals over the top of a stumbling beat. Tete forges ahead and builds relentlessly to the end where Sasarai allowed the beat to drop out for a moment before the climax, adding a more straightforward and insistent dance beat with bass synth straight out of the gloomiest days of the late 70s and early 80s (think The Human League’s Being Boiled). There are clear parallels with Liz Fraser’s layers of unearthly vocals in The Cocteau Twins (Yokan System would sit well on 4AD’s 80s roster, while Praha Depart would fit in better with its 90s lineup), as well as perhaps interesting echoes of Japanese composer Yoko Kanno’s 90s diversions into eastern European choral music, which stands in contrast to Mai’s emotionally raw delivery when singing with Praha Depart. In that sense, Yokan System are a side project in the very best sense of the word, complimenting the members’ other work and neither seeking to replace it nor contenting itself to sit in its shadow.Tete

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