New Japanese Vibes (20) – yuichi NAGAO ‘White Wind’

yuichi NAGAO’s attention towards various sonic palettes is spoken clearly through his spellbinding music. Evocative of the dream-like sound world of Slow Magic, ‘White Wind’, the latest track to come out of PROGRESSIVE FOrM record label’s SoundCloud, speaks for both the futuristic and nostalgic. The track is laden with a rich array of cosmic synth colours, hazy ambient effects, heart-pounding drumbeats (drawing from techno, dub and downtempo influences) and heavenly vocoder samples, all weaving through each other to radiate a beam of polyrhythmic sonic bliss.

Other Info/Context

  • yuichi NAGAO studied under Japanese jazz musician 菊地成孔 Kikuchi Naruyoshi.
  • His music’s inspirations stem from things like surrealism art and the soundtrack to the anime film 銀河鉄道の夜 Ginga Tetsudou no Yoru (‘Night on the Galactic Railroad’).

© Isaku Takahashi

ヤセイコレクティブ YASEI COLLECTIVE

Starting life in America back in 2009, ヤセイコレクティブ Yasei Collective moved to Japan to launch their name. Taking influences from jazz, afrobeat, electronica and hip-hop, the instrumental quartet boast a vibrant musical character, cooking up an electro-pop sound world that is highly entertaining and unique in the Japanese mainstream.

SUNDAY’ from the band’s debut album Really Real Live Vol. 1 speaks for their reputation as a noteworthy force in the music scene. Although the track starts off with a nice and simple synth-pop groove with the neon-tinged vocals of斉藤拓郎 Saitou Takurou, it belies the sonically turbulent journey the track takes in the 7-minute window. Saitou’s vocals maintain a common momentum, while the musical interest lies in the surrounding instruments and textures shifting between various tempi and colours (from easygoing downtempo to skipping afrobeat propulsions and glimpses of krautrock).

CHAT-LOW’ is an archetypal result of Yasei Collective’s variety of influences they list up on their profile information. Led by the heavily android-processed vocals of Saitou. One listen will navigate the listener through a roller coaster of musical expressions like the futuristic rhythms and textures of techno, the danceable funk grooves (evocative of artists like Jamiroquai) and the vigorous distortion and clamouring drums of punk rock.

Yasei Collective are equally mesmerising in a live context. So Far So Good is their latest album released (to celebrate their 5th anniversary), and this digest video testifies the band’s interest towards a potpourri of musical flavours, as they embrace experimental ideas in ‘Tabaco’, a Bonobo or Lapalux­­-like electronic universe in the subdued vocal moment of ‘Muddy Ship’ and strongly improvisational free jazz solos in ‘Tonight’.

Yasei Collective have come to epitomise the idea of a totally unique artist. Their wide-ranging musical tastes, their flavourful sonic palette and their strong ensemble camaraderie makes them a band destined for greater success.

Other Listening:

© Isaku Takahashi

New Japanese Vibes (19) – かしわ Kashiwa ‘Gero’

A newcomer in the Japanese music scene, かしわ Kashiwa is full of surprises judging by their intriguing tracks like ‘Gero’ from their new album Psychedelic Earth.

Its dreamy yet pulsating alt-rock façade is found in the jangling guitar arpeggios and chords, persistent bass bedrock, strident drum line and occasional glittering piano riffs. Yet offsetting the rock foundation is a catchy vocal melody that would be fit for any pop/rock hit, but instead is heavily submerged in colourful android filters.

You read the description and one is likely to feel muddled. But let the sounds float through the audible universe and one may discover a unique charm about Kashiwa.

Other Info/Context

  • In order to buy the album, customers need to send their relevant details (e.g. name, address, purchase method etc.) to their independent record label email address.

© Isaku Takahashi

パスピエ – Passepied

The conceptual background that lies beneath synth-pop band パスピエ Passepied is perhaps the key to their success. With a band name that refers to the final movement of Debussy’s Suite Bergamasque, the all-female five piece blends the musical aesthetics of impressionism and the retro but modern grooves of synth-pop/new wave/electro-pop to mould an entrancing sound world unmatched by peers.

Passepied plunged into the music scene with tracks like フィーバー ‘Fever’ from their debut album 演出家出演 Enshutsuka Shutsuen (‘Director who appeared’). Although one may argue that this is one of their modest numbers in terms of sonic interest, there is plenty to engage the listener’s audible senses. A quirky, exotic melody from the laser-coloured synths gets the motor going alongside an energetic rhythm section. The undeniably infectious marmite-quality of 大胡田なつき Ogoda Natsuki takes the driver’s seat for the greater part of the song, particularly the colourful chorus enriched by a wacky harmonic progression that exudes a slightly narcotic effect. (Perhaps the tonal ambiguity captures their interest for impressionist ideas).

Passepied’s sound has progressed dramatically from their debut. Attuned to the likes of Sakanaction, ‘MATATABISTEP’ glorifies in an unashamedly retro sonic universe. From beaming synth oscillations, rich harmonies, the rhythmic kick from the guitar, bass and drums, and the nostalgic-sounding melody from Ogoda’s sugar-coated voice, this track absorbs the colouristic qualities of 70s disco and new wave and radiates a sparkling and seductive musical explosion.

Equally enticing is the multi-coloured effects oozing out of とおりゃんせ ‘Toryanse’, named after the traditional Japanese nursery song. Delay-filtered guitar chords, a celeste-like hook, a ticking clock pulse and woozy synth harmonies cast a magical sonic cosmos until the incredibly kitsch vocal melody (infused with Japanese melodic inflections) and the rich rhythm section (that includes guitars, organ and drums) elevates the song’s catchy personality.

With an overriding interest towards impressionism, Passepied has built a strong relationship between the syrupy character of cutesy pop and the varicoloured overtones of synth, new wave and electronic styles to produce an inventory of fetching tunes.

Other Listening:

  • S.S
  • 裏の裏 Ura no Ura
  • トロイメライ Toroimerai

© Isaku Takahashi

New Japanese Vibes (18) – ACO 未成年 ‘Miseinen’

Celebrating 20 years in the musical mainstream, Japanese singer ACO previews 未成年 ‘Miseinen’ (‘under age’) from her new album Valentine.

Boasting a musical personality influenced heavily by downtempo, trip-hop and electronica, ‘Miseinen’ is a dramatic change in style from her early days. The track shines in a gentle soul vibe led by the whispering vocals of ACO and guest singer 岸田繁 Kishida Shigeru (from alt-rock band くるり Quruli) and supported by a folk-coloured rhythm section. Although the surface of the song is tender and serene, deeply embedded in the song’s vibe is a seductive ambience that pulls the listener into a world of sonic paradise.

Other Info/Context

Valentine was released on December 16th.

© Isaku Takahashi

New Japanese Vibes (17) – SHERBETS ‘Stealth’

From the energetic personality of Blanket Jet City, vocalist/guitarist 浅井健一 Asai Kenichi took a different turn with his new band SHERBETS from the late 90s. Stirring up a mysterious atmosphere, ‘Stealth’ is the latest track SHERBETS have previewed from their new album CRASHED SEDAN DRIVE.

Drawing on ambient influences while maintaining a steady rock idiom, ‘Stealth’ exudes a similar sonic ambience to British rock bands Muse and Radiohead. A gentle guitar line and flowing synths sets the scene, gradually making way for the sombre vocals of Asai and the rest of the rhythm support. The haunting space rock overtones ripple softly through the song, disturbed with bursts of sonic shock waves (from voltage-charged guitar riffs to riotous drums and cymbals) and sudden breakdowns left with ethereal synths.

Other Info/Context

  • CRASHED SEDAN DRIVE will be released on January 20th 2016.
  • Asai also plays in three-piece rock band Jude.

© Isaku Takahashi

Sugardrop

Shoegaze has often been a creative platform in which to convey a distinctive character in the Japanese music scene. Tokyo band Sugardrop stimulates an instantly recognisable nostalgic sound world that from a first listen, one may mistake them for a classic indie rock band from the West.

‘Love Scene’ captures to great magnitude the characteristic ‘wall of sound’ aesthetics of shoegaze. Clamouring distortion, dronal effects, jangling guitar harmonies and hazy vocals echo Western precursors like The Jesus and Mary Chain, but simultaneously the pulsating drums offset the fuzzy backdrop and thrusts a garage rock propulsion that boosts the sonic energy and makes it an enticing listen.

Equally effective is the liberal atmosphere of ‘Girl Friend’. The track embraces a rowdy textural universe full of crashing drums and guitar distortion, while the introspective quality of the vocal melody counters the vitality of the voltage-laden backdrop with a breath of chilling air. It is an interesting experience where the track is engaged in full of verve, but at the same time one can trace a slight vulnerability or serenity particularly from the vocals.

Sugardrop’s ability to inject a touch of ethereal sonic ideas in a dynamic alt-rock idiom is encapsulated in ‘Paranoid Girl’. The energy stirred up from electric guitar harmonies blasted through masses of warped effects and the tumultuous rhythms and percussive timbres from the drums are in a quality and level of its own. However, filtering the whole track is this shimmering nostalgia from the misty vocal presence and the overall production, resulting in a sound world that is both catchy and eccentric.

It is clear that the cultural impact of shoegaze in Japan is of great significance, and with the likes of Sugardrop sustaining its importance, the future of shoegaze is in good hands.

Other Listening:

  • 1,2,3,4,5
  • You Need Someone
  • Aoi
  • Walking On The Light

© Isaku Takahashi