Category Archives: MUSIC

STRAM – All Happy

Among the steady drip-drip of young, well-dressed Japanese bands with a vaguely post-punk aesthetic, Stram are interesting at least for the particular niche of old UK indie sounds they recall. Where a lot of their contemporaries, for better or worse, settle for a sonic universe that doesn’t deviate too far from a sort of eternal imaginary Joy Division, Stram’s debut album (recorded by Ryo Shibuya from Klan Aileen) takes you on an entertainingly camp tour through their glam cabaret, with Yutaro Kaneko’s vocals reaching for the melodramatic whine of Suede’s Brett Anderson on second track What Dream Does Idiot See? and other moments in the album recalling the oddball indie meanderings of bands like Mansun or British Sea Power, the gothic drapery of The Horrors, the circus bounce of half-remembered next big things like The Zutons. All of which makes All Happy a joyously messy album that frequently flirts with questionable taste and a constant uncertainty as to just how seriously the band are taking all this glam camp (glamping?) nonsense — for all the fun they seem to be having, they are also constantly a whisker of self-importance away from turning into Muse. Be that as it may, this album — in all its scuzzy, operatic theatricality — is a gift in gloomy times.

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Mai Mao – Three directions

Bassist Shizuo Uchida and guitarist Kyosuke Terada are commonly seen faces in the anarchic Tokyo experimental scene, each of them wandering a jittery yet fluid path between projects and one-off collaborations that trend heavy on the free improvisation. And that’s what you get with Mai Mao, recorded at underground-leaning Tokyo live venue Kagurane in early 2020, just as the pandemic state of emergency was falling over the city. In Three Directions, the duo create, and proceed to explore, a sparse, spacious sonic landscape of glistening, sharp edges, depthless yawning crevasses and uneasy creatures of shadows. The 18-minute track also comes in the form of a video by Yutsuki Suyama, whose liquid drop painting throws another eerie dimension on the music’s ghostly explorations.

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Nisennenmondai – S1 / S2

Experimental trio Nisennenmondai have spent the first two decades of the 21st century taking an already stripped-down sound made of krautrock motorik and Sonic Youth noise squalls, then paring that back into an immaculately wired one-note (literally) disco, before starting to cut away even the vestigial hints of formal structure that lingered on in the beats. And its somewhere in this process that this new EP finds the band, drums slowly emerging into a spectral scream of effects, like the ghost of one of their tightly wound kraut-disco infusions from years gone by desolately clawing at the veil between that lost party world and 2020’s pandemic-locked half-life. It’s perhaps these faintly detectable reminders of a rock band lingering on within the subtle waves of finely balanced tones that keeps the tension at the heart of Nisennenmondai’s music alive, even as they peel back its layers to reveal the echoes within.

Sales from this release go to help one of Japan’s most well loved experimental music venues, Ochiai Soup in Tokyo.

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