Picks of the Week #26

  • DENIMS – ‘FOOLS’

The no-nonsense funk-rock vibes of ‘Fools’ by Osaka-based four-piece DENIMS has the sonic power to radiate a bit of sunshine in the foreboding chills of autumn. Its crisp comping, rainbow-coloured chords, twanging guitar riffs, groovy bass line and tipsy vocal melodies gather to both punctuate the stereo field and resonate with the listener’s desire to bop along with the beat.

  • FIVE NEW OLD – ‘By Your Side’

Neighbours to Osaka, pop-rock trio FIVE NEW OLD formed in the Kobe region of Hyogo prefecture. Despite having played around in the music scene for only seven years, their song ‘By Your Side’ is an emblem of their unique pop-rock personality they’ve firmly established as their own. The band channel their love for the Western band sound, and gospel-like backing vocals and retro synths wind the clock back to the 80s/90s while further enriching the feel-good air of the song.

  • 向井太一 Mukai Taichi – ‘Can’t Wait Anymore’

A sumptuous hybrid of electronica, dance and ambient music revolve around the stereo in向井太一 Mukai Taichi’s new song ‘Can’t Wait Anymore’. The track has the infectious quality and sonic sharpness to amplify Tokyo’s neon-light jungle, but also has the intimacy to appreciate through your own headphones. ‘Can’t Wait Anymore’ features in his new album BLUE, due to be released in November.

© Isaku Takahashi

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New Japanese Vibes (76) – Ryota Mikami ‘Wedding’ Album

Ryota Mikami, co-founder of independent record label Vegetable Record opens up a hypnotic musical world in his latest album Wedding. Taking samples that range from Mozart to Bon Iver and the Bill Evans Trio, each track sees nostalgia meet the future, and invites the listener’s senses to dip into a universe of heavenly vocals, pounding beats, glistening harp harmonies, sumptuous synths and otherworldly sonic effects. Each track is unified in thematic ideas, but at the same time carry their own enticing narratives and personalities.

Other Info/Context

  • Wedding was released on August 15th.
  • Vegetable Record’s other co-founder is Shotaro Hayashi.

© Isaku Takahashi

New Japanese Vibes (45) – Athena ‘rain grain chaining’

Electronic music is a catalyst for stirring up new, exciting and futuristic sound worlds, and Tokyo-based producer Athena’s new track ‘rain grain chaining’ is just one of many tracks to coax listeners in entering a realm of exotic colours.

rain grain chaining’ slowly develops from a two-chord riff and stuttering beat to a dazzling, cosmopolitan sonic city, filled with a wide spectrum of synth colours and melodic ideas zigzagging their way in a serpentine style, and driven by a more intricate and pulsating rhythmic body that perhaps personifies the rain intensifying by the second.

© Isaku Takahashi

New Japanese Vibes (39) – House Of Tapes ‘Twinkle Colors’

House Of Tapes’ new track ‘Twinkle Colors’ seduces the listener in a glistening world of electronic colours. Based in Nagoya, the Japanese producer/track maker expressed his intentions to create a “cute song that blends a toytronica element with electronica”. From the opening riff, the tone is set. A vibrant array of synth harmonies, sparkling percussive effects, twinkling high range melodies and an infectious beat collide like particles in space to radiate a bright and wonderful sound world.

Other Info/Context

  • House Of Tapes will perform at this spring’s Nagoya-Elektronic-Fes 2016 alongside other electronic artists.

© 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

80KIDZ

80KIDZ, consisting of duo Ali and Jun (formerly a trio when Mayu left in 2009) have caught the attention of various global musical hubs with their exhilarating music that pertains both to the conventional principles of electro/dance/rave styles and the ever-growing interest and appetite for original and innovative musical personalities.

Their first album This Is My Shit back in 2009 is a seminal work of the Japanese duo, most notably for attracting the eye of Pete Tong from BBC Radio 1 leading to a segment of his radio show In New Music We Trust dedicated to a closer exploration of 80KIDZ’s music. ‘She’ and ‘Miss Mars’ were two of three tracks to feature in the segment. ‘She’, featuring the fluid vocals of AutoKratz is a piece of seductive electroclash, motored by a powerful four-on-the-floor drumbeat, recapitulating piano arpeggios and a dazzling array of synth patterns and textures. ‘Miss Mars’ induces a similar irresistible foot-tapping groove, but is tinged with shades of chiptune timbres in the choppy synth lines. Both of these tunes would be equally harmonious in a laser-filled rave atmosphere.

Weekend Warrior, their second album has a captivating quality that is equally impressive as their previous effort. Subtle contrasts in character between individual songs gives a fine variation when one is navigating through the musical labyrinth. As a comparison, ‘Prisma’ with its neon-tinged synths perpetuating through a bright melodic phrase coordinated with an equally infectious squelchy bass line and bustling drum rhythms and samples provoke a rhapsodic sensation. One track later, ‘I Wish’ intrudes the album with a much more contorted, dizzy affair with quirky vocal samples manipulated tonally and texturally stirring up a spectral undertone, and seesawing synth layers, bass lines and fluctuating drum patterns making the listener endure a more volatile sonic experience.

Some of 80KIDZ’s most recent material has seen the duo occasionally venture into introspective territories, such as ‘Apollo 80’. A ghostly ambience from the piano figure laced with quivering echoes in the backdrop introduces the track, and this sense of long-windedness stretches through the whole journey with a gentle propulsion hardly associated with the duo’s trademark electro-pop aesthetics. Perhaps this piece is emblematic of their different creative intentions surrounding the album TURBO TOWN, in which this piece features.

The appeal of 80KIDZ’s intoxicating music has not only enriched the Japanese electronic music landscape, but transcended cultural boundaries as audiences of various cultures look forward to the Japanese duo embarking on more fresh and exciting sonic adventures.

Other Listening:

  • Esquire
  • Flying Buttress
  • Nautilas
  • Red Star
  • Lightwaves

© Isaku Takahashi

Daisuke Tanabe

Music is its own special world where innovative thinking and creative breakthrough is celebrated. The Red Bull Music Academy graduate Daisuke Tanabe exhibits a unique sound world that intertwines between the infectious beats of hip-hop and techno, the seductive melodies of jazz and the innovative and abusing sonic textures that is indebted to electronica and IDM.

The intricate details Tanabe feeds into his creative output in tracks like ‘Paper Planes‘ is enough to engross the audience in an exclusive, otherworldly realm. This particular track from his latest album Floating Underwater glorifies in glittering bell samples, a stumbling and stuttering beat line that somehow manages to keep a consistent momentum, and ripples of woozy, alien-like synths fluctuating through the stereo field at the end, giving an inconclusive effect to the tune.

While he is creatively engaged in the same periphery of the musical universe as similar artists like Lapalux, Shigeto or Shlohmo, Tanabe retains a keen eye for groovy energy in his tunes. ‘Night Fishing’ opens with an unwinding audio sample that rustles through the first minute, with the one-off interruption from a chirpy flute motif and interjecting distortion samples. The groove of the track kicks off suddenly with an array of enchanting synths, multi-layered samples with a subtle metallic quality, short, ethereal vocal utterances and a foot-tapping trip-hop drum beat.

His long-term relationship with the UK music scene (fostered by his time spent in London and at the RBMA) has made him a well-known figure in the UK electronic music environment, leading to collaborations with British producer Kidkanevil (Gerard Roberts). Kidsuke, the name of the project they created takes the listener through a journey where childhood recollections and a distorted ‘film noir’-esque setting run in parallel. There is the apparent use of a music box sample in ‘Frogs in a Well’ that meanders through the track, and is continuously disturbed with sonic reprimands (in the form of sporadic vocal breath and pixelated glitch samples and riffs). It’s trailblazing music that paints a childlike reflection voyaging across a mythical sound world with malformed sonic creatures.

The name Daisuke Tanabe is surely part of the modern-day canon of radical and challenging popular music in Japan. His highly individual sonic inventions embrace a variety of stylistic branches from hip-hop to electronica to avant-garde to create a unique blend of relentless, sedative and teasing music.

Other Listening:

  • Artificial Sweetener
  • Alice
  • Singing Grass
  • Vestige

© Isaku Takahashi