きのこ帝国 – Kinoko Teikoku

The popularity of shoegaze and dream pop in Japan has translated in the growth and wonderful array of shoegaze practitioners (even a record label, DEAD FUNNY RECORDS, dedicated to numerous bands creating under the genre’s spotlight). We turn our attention back to the alternative rock genre with きのこ帝国 Kinoko Teikoku (meaning ‘Mushroom Empire’).

The rather peculiar name of the band parallels the band’s distinctive musical character. While their debut full album Eureka inclines towards a more indie-centric groove (some tracks perhaps drawing comparisons to bands like Vampire Weekend or The Kooks), there is a wealth of shoegaze characteristics penetrating their tracks: an interest for various textures highlighted by the piercing guitar overtones and clamouring distortion in 平行世界 ‘Heikou Sekai’ (‘Parallel World’), vivid expression of dream pop from the delicate and dreamy vocals of Chiaki Satou infused with reverberant surf rock guitar refrains in 風化する教室 ‘Fūka suru Kyoushitsu’ (‘Weathering Classroom’), and the cloudy, droning introduction and narcotic guitar effects in the chours of ‘Another Words’ conveying ‘wall of sound’ aesthetics.

夜が明けたら ‘Yoru ga Aketara’ (‘If It Dawns’) from their first ever record is Kinoko Teikoku at their most compelling. Brimming with melancholy and dazzling beauty, the most impressive thing about this particular track is the way the quartet manage to stir up a myriad of colours under great harmonic constraints (the song alternates between two chords). It opens with jangling guitar arpeggios gently simmering away, eventually throwing in meandering vocal melodies and blaring guitars and drums with crackling distortion, conducting intense fluctuations in dynamics and textures, and all comes crashing down with a brief high-octane noisy conclusion.

Songs like ‘Flower Girl’ and ‘You Outside My Window’ glorify in production work that is perhaps unrivaled by any other band in Japan. The slow-burning atmosphere of ‘Flower Girl’ is enriched by wispy reverberating vocals by Satou, minimal drum patterns, subdued guitar pulses, ethereal piano-like melodies and sporadic sonic samples, all coming together to paint a sparkling soundscape in the listener’s imaginary senses. The song culminates in a rich wall of harmonies from amplified guitars and shattering drums and eerie vocal samples gradually warped into hysteria. ‘You Outside My Window’ on the other hand is shoegaze with garage rock propulsion steering the treadmill. The way Satou’s vocals in the introduction are positioned within the stereo field enhances a sense of intimacy between her and the listener, and that interest towards panning renews energy like no other, a personal favourite being the final instrumental exchanges before the final chorus where the guitars and bass cluster towards the center and disperse back to their original position in the field.

Kinoko Teikoku have a creative instinct that only they can engineer to perfection, but they also have an infectious quality that makes them very appealing to the wider audience. To be able to find the balance between artistic integrity and commercial appeal is something very rewarding.

Other Listening:

  • 海と花束 Umi to Hanataba (‘The Sea and the Bouquet’)
  • 24
  • ロンググッドバイ Long Goodbye
  • WHIRLPOOL
  • 退屈しのぎ Taikutsu Shinogi (‘Killing Time’)

© Isaku Takahashi

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