Category Archives: MUSIC

Top 25 Releases of 2019: Extra

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There was of course a lot of Japanese music in 2019 that I didn’t listen to or that otherwise got left out of my top 25 rundown. There were a couple of releases in particular that I liked a lot and on another day might have been included, so first up, here’s a look at a couple of my additional favourites.

CD, Holiday Records, 2019

Bulbs of Passion – Low Life
Tokyo indie rock band Bulbs of Passion have been plugging away in the background of the local scene for the best part of the past decade, with a solid catalogue of songs, although as far as I know the only available recording of them before this new EP was 2016’s The Very Best of Bulbs of Passion. For a band named after a Dinosaur Jr. song, Bulbs of Passion’s music has an unexpectedly light touch, the title track soaring out of the traps, kept aloft by billowing reverb, while Slap bounces along poppily on its off-beat. The closing Hurt, meanwhile nods to The Jesus & Mary Chain’s Just Like Honey before once again being launched skyward, powered by the band’s seemingly endless reserves of giddy enthusiasm.

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Cassette, Instant Tunes, 2019

Yokoscum – Last Month’s Music
An incessant hiss of distortion that may have originated in a guitar, an eerie throbbing electronic pulse, some devotional wailing, metallic hints of a pop melody, occasional gasps of confused desperation. DJ, event organiser and experimental musician Yokoscum’s Last Month’s Music cassette EP is an intriguing little creation, combining lo-fi noise and industrial with vaguely religious sounding mantras and letting the repetitive, insistent nature of both feed each …continue reading

    

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 …continue reading

    

Top 25 Releases of 2019: No. 10-6

O'Summer Vacation - Wicked Heart

CD, self-released, 2019

10. O’Summer Vacation – Wicked Heart
Navigating multiple lineups over the past few years, 2019 finally saw the chronically unsteady O’Summer Vacation finally unleashed an album’s worth of their particular brand of brutally short, jagged nuggets of breakneck bass-led shrieking. If you’ve seen the band live, you’ll know exactly what to expect from Wicked Heart. There’s a clear parallel with Melt-Banana here, although it’s the sparser 1990s Melt-Banana that O’Summer Vacation recall more than the richly layered guitars, blast beats and electronics of their more recent material. With no guitar to thicken up the sound, it’s left to Hirofumi Miki’s bass to carry much of the sonic burden, coaxing all manner of unexpected sounds from his instrument with the help of an array of effects and loop pedals. The results are a fierce, frenetic and raw twenty minutes of propulsive, surf-tinged bubblegum hardcore.


Gotou - Gotou

CD, self-released, 2019

9. Gotou – Gotou
(Text taken from my personal blog)
Hailing from Hokkaido, Gotou did what so many promising Japanese underground bands do and released a marvellous album before immediately going on indefinite hiatus. It’s a shame, because this album really is something special. Drawing from the gloomier end of post-punk and German new wave, the vocals scrape the lower end of the singer’s range in a way that pays clear homage to Malaria! (the band declare this openly in their Twitter profile and even cover Malaria!’s song Your Turn to Run on the album) but while it may not be blessed with an overabundance of originality, this album stands out as something distinctive in the Japanese underground scene.

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Top 25 Releases of 2019: No. 15-11

transkam - ep2

Casseette, Zot Redcords, 2018

15. Transkam – EP2
OK, so I’m cheating a bit with this one, as it’s a late-2018 release that I didn’t get my hands on until deep into 2019, but I didn’t want to let a new Transkam fall through the cracks. On this cassette EP, progressive/post-rock trio Transkam expand on the trancelike, metronomic sound of their 2016 album Blueshade of the Omegasound, starting out more or less where they left off with the track Gnosis, before pushing away with the swirling, shoegazey Ex, and then pulling back into something far sparser, subtler and more daring with the seven-minute Mathvoid. Between these three tracks, Transkam scope out fresh territory within their familiar instrumental setup, exploring not only richer sonic textures but also making more effective use of space.

As an additional note, not listed on the track listing, but somehow downloading together with the others as a fourth track in the version I bought was also the unexpected surprise of the band’s achingly romantic cover of the icy-sweet Ai no Kobune wa Uchikudakarenai by Japan’s greatest unknown band, Mir (full disclosure, an earlier mix of this song was released on a 2015 tribute album via my own Call And Response label). I’m not sure whether this additional download is exclusive to the cassette edition of the album, but in any case, hearing the song here in the context of Transkam’s more customary sound made for a disconcerting but charming swerve to the left at the end of the EP.


the neso - my world

CD, self-released, 2019

14. The Neso – My World
Despite almost completely changing …continue reading