Picks of the Week #17

Kicking off 2017 with an anthemic number by J-rock group BUMP OF CHICKEN. GO’ from their 8th album Butterflies glides through the musical stratosphere with sparkling energy and purity in equal measure. The sumptuous mix of euphoric vocal melodies, jangling guitar riffs, radiant EDM synths and resonant stadium-rock vibe awakens a Coldplay-like character and shines their distinct alt-rock personality to full bloom, just as the Japanese audience like it. Find out more about BUMP OF CHICKEN in my blog post here.

  • 星野源 Hoshino Gen – 恋 ‘Koi’

Arguably one of the biggest hits by singer-songwriter星野源 Hoshino Gen, 恋 ‘Koi’ (‘Love’) excited the nation last year with its buoyant, retro-coloured J-pop vibes and infectious choreography. The song’s foot-tapping beats, sumptuous strings, caffeine-infused guitar riffs and Hoshino’s joyful vocals provided the perfect companion for the TV adaptation of the romance shojo manga series 逃げるは恥だが役に立つ Nigeru wa Haji da ga Yaku ni Tatsu.

The rhythmic propulsion of rock and minimalism collides with the melodic intricacy of jazz in Fox Capture Plan’s new track ‘Acceleration’. Relentless drum and bass lines and perpetual piano riffs drive through the musical motorway at unstoppable pace, but the trio also experiments with hypnotic sample and timbral effects to immerse the listener in both familiar and different sonic realms. This track features in their latest mini album color and monochrome 2, in collaboration with fellow jazz group bohemianvoodoo. Find out more about Fox Capture Plan in my blog post here. 

© Isaku Takahashi

Picks of the Week #5

  • Hearsays – ‘Talking Across The Room’

Gorgeous 70s/80s vibes ooze out from Hearsays’ music, including ‘Talking Across The Room’. Upbeat and tranquil in equal measure, the four-piece indie rock band based in Fukuoka fill an evocative sound world with reverb-laden guitars, dreamy riffs and harmonies, driving drum pulse and wistful male-female vocals, taking their listeners as well into the nostalgic musical journey.

  • ゆだち Yudachi – ‘(die staadt) Norm’

Music has the power to transport listeners to otherworldly experiences. ゆだち Yudachi coaxes a smooth, ethereal soundscape in their track ‘(die staadt) Norm’ from their first album 夜の舟は白に折りたたまれて The Night Boat is Folded in White. Filled with glassy synth harmonies, tranquil guitar lines, rippling crescendos and beautifully languid vocals, the track will hypnotise listeners in a blissful musical trance.

  • 宇宙コンビニ Uchuu Konbini – ‘Pyramid’

The intricate rhythms and propulsions of math rock and prog rock collide in ‘Pyramid’, a track by Kyoto-based three-piece “progressive pop” band宇宙コンビニ Uchuu Konbini. Above the precision-engineered rhythmic drum patterns, time signature changes, lush harmonies and colourful guitar timbres lies Ohki Emi’s feathery and wistful vocals rippling away with elegance and emotion. ‘Pyramid’ embodies the true qualities of post-rock awesomeness.

© Isaku Takahashi

Jizue

Alongside bands such as Toe, Fox Capture Plan and Mouse On The Keys, Kyoto-based four-piece band Jizue has all the fundamental qualities to work their way into the hearts of contemporary jazz, post-rock and math-rock enthusiasts.

Kyoto is the city of beauty in many ways – its historical culture, landscape and the people. One cannot help but imagine traces of Jizue’s close connection to the city being manifested in their wonderful blend of smooth melodic and harmonic ideas, minimalistic soundscapes and sumptuous jazz backdrop. This is true none more so than in ‘Sakura’ from their self-titled EP in 2009. This particular track uses Japanese pentatonic flavours in its opening piano solo, gradually building up in rhythmic energy and texture towards a final burst of sonic bliss full of bright guitar effects, piano harmonies and dazzling drum lines.

Similarly, ‘pray’ from their 2012 album Novel dreams up a delicate atmosphere with twinkling piano melodies high in the stratosphere, ambient-coloured guitars and a gentle pulse that slowly brews like cloud drifting through the sky. The track gradually plunges into a final coda driven by a dazzling electric guitar solo line, inciting the piano and drums to swell sonically and emotionally before dying down with a final few notes.

shiori’ relies on an even more minimalist core, rushing through an adrenaline-rushed propulsion mainly driven by perpetual piano figurations. The track streams through its harmonic progressions and textural variations like a seamless river, and the band navigates their way through a central section full of intricate rhythms, colourful timbres and rhapsodic passagework before preparing for a final rush and a militaristic drum line charging towards the tranquil conclusion.

Jizue’s enticing and forward-thinking musical ideas lend itself to multiple listens. Their strong passion for post-rock, contemporary jazz, and their desire to experiment will surely grab the attention of listeners craving for something different.

Other Listening:

  • Sun
  • Home
  • Rosso
  • Kotonoha

New Japanese Vibes (41) – 蒼い芝生 Aoi Shibafu / The Blind Kids ‘bond’

Two alt-rock bands蒼い芝生 Aoi Shibafu and The Blind Kids mark their close musical and personal affinity in their new track ‘bond’.

The Nagoya-based bands bring elements of math rock and post rock to kindle a rich and youthful band sound with radiant guitar riffs, intricate rhythmic tapestry, voltage-charged timbres against gentle jangling colours, subtle harmonic embellishments and boyish vocal tones. As the title suggests, Aoi Shibafu and The Blind Kids harness their similar musical identity while working through their individual voices.

© Isaku Takahashi

 

New Japanese Vibes (28) – origami jp 車窓から ‘Shasou Kara’ EP

Newcomers in the math-rock scene, origami jp released their 2nd EP車窓から Shasou Kara (‘From the train window’).

Packed with intricate rhythmical details, multi-coloured textures, harmonies and full of originality, origami jp captures the essential qualities of math-rock to maximum capacity with subtle elements of Sigur Ros’ dronal post-rock language infused in their palette (particularly in the opening of title track 車窓から ‘Shasou Kara’ (‘From the train window’) and marked by the distinctively British indie rock personality of guitarist and main composer Ono Shun (who spent his childhood in Hampshire, UK and was influenced by their music), which is heavily pronounced in ‘Trains’.

Other Info/Context

  • Shasou Kara EP will be released on February 2nd, their last release before their hiatus.

© Isaku Takahashi

TOE

TOE is a name that many post-rock and math-rock enthusiasts will be familiar with. The musical wizardry from this quartet not only just captures the rhythmically intense, mechanistic character of math-rock, but also has a keen eye for calm melodic ambiences that would perhaps draw resemblances to the nostalgic sound world of Sigur Ros.

Their debut album The Book About My Idle Plot on a Vague Anxiety absorbs the listener in a world where Steve Reich minimalism meets alternative rock. The most impressive thing is the way TOE manages to construct a body of music that is musically attractive, thought provoking and action-packed with only the bare necessities of a typical rock line-up. Listening to tracks like ‘I Do Still Wrong’, ‘Metronome’ and ‘Everything Means Nothing’ is enough to show off their exceptional performance abilities and manner in which they juggle with electrifying rhythms, irregular gear-and-piston structures and enchanting melodies to produce something that sounds epic but liberating in equal measures.

The camaraderie between each member is very special and unmatched by other post/math-rock artists. ‘New Sentimentality’ is a great example in which every player of the quartet is cast a spotlight; each instrument plays a significant role in the creative formula. The motoring force set by the rhythmically exciting drums and the groovy bass line stirs up the vitality of the song, while the rich chords and arpeggios from the acoustic and electric guitar and the charming sparkling tones from the Rhodes piano injects a ‘feel-good’ atmosphere to the track.

TOE’s latest album Hear You released in July 2015 is noted for its addition of vocal lines, in a plot to subvert their purely instrumental idiom. While the album itself, particularly with songs like ‘Song Silly’ and オトトタイミングキミ ‘Ototo Timing Kimi’ (literally translated as ‘The Sound and Timing You’) may have swung the musical pendulum towards a funky hip-hop or R&B style, perhaps it is effective in enhancing their musical palette. As a result, tracks like ‘Boyo’ maintain the band’s trademark musical identity, but also benefits from a slightly jazzy inflection to develop their sound.

TOE’s existence in the Japanese music scene is of great significance. Their dynamic musical identity and their appetite for precision and creative urgency will continue to serve them well.

Other Listening:

  • Two Moons
  • Commit Ballad
  • Ordinary Days

© Isaku Takahashi