figure – “Parakalein”

Figure, the solo project of Tottori-based musician Masanobu Hasebe, provided one of the more pleasant discoveries of the year, a new 6-track release titled “Parakalein”.  The EP, which was released in both digital and cassette formats by Kobe indie label, Sauna Cool, is the first release from figure in four years.  It’s a collection of washed out lo-fi indie pop tunes, spread out in layers over a backbone of snappy electronic drums.  “Parakalein” hits the sweet spot where indie pop and shoegaze combine – something that’s been both popular and perhaps a bit contentious among some bands but undoubtedly successful in the Japanese scene.  While there’s not a bad track on the EP, “True Bosom” is the highlight of the release – a blurry mishmash of jangly melodies, synths, and reverb-drenched blaring guitars.  The six-minute “Mary” is a more uptempo, melodic pop song with an ultra-catchy chorus.  It’s some well-written, charmingly-produced dreamy melancholy from an artist that will hopefully get some more attention from here on out.

You can pick up “Parakalein” via Sauna Cool’s Bandcamp page.  Cassettes are available, but limited to 100 copies.

Acidclank – “Addiction”

When Osaka indie-rock shoegaze band Acidclank popped up in 2015 with its debut album, Inner, the band showed a tremendous versatility in sound. The record essentially felt like a lo-fi exploration of 90s UK indie music, drifting from shoegaze to psych to pop.  On each of the two singles that followed, the band continued to give different looks into its wide range song-writing capabilities.  Acidclank’s latest full-length effort, Addiction, is more of the same, drawing on a variety of influences and styles, but featuring enough consistent elements that it never feels weird or disjointed.

There are some familiar titles in the track list, including a buffed up version of “Clever” from Inner and both of the singles that were released last year.  Just like the first album, Addiction features some very shoegazey tunes, highlighted by “Turning” and the very Loveless-inspired “Sleepwalk”.  On songs like “Wrong” and the aforementioned “Clever” Acidclank delivers some noisy but danceable indie rock, while “Disease” feels like a nod to Death Cab’s Transantlanticism.  Throughout the album, you get a lot of different but high-quality looks, as the band has shown a knack for consistently crafting catchy, well-written songs.  But Addiction really shines when it gets super trippy, particularly on “This Time” and “Overdose”.  The former has a very Dark Side of the Moon vibe to it with a slow-paced, steady groove setting the foundation for layers of spaced out guitars and reverb-soaked vocals.  “Overdose” is pacier, more of a free-form psych track with guitars, atmospheric synths, and harmonized vocals all blanketed over a droning bass line, waxing and waning in intensity.  While the album as a whole is consistently very good, these two tracks are the standouts.

Addiction CD versions can currently be found on Amazon is currently available on most streaming platforms.  You can purchase it via iTunes as well, and an LP version is due out at some point in the next month.  You can also check out some of their earlier work at Bandcamp.

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Tokyo’s Luby Sparks is back with its second release of the year, a four-track EP titled “(I’m) Lost in Sadness”.  The EP, which was produced by Yuck’s Max Bloom , is Luby Sparks’ first release since bringing in new vocalist Erika Murphy.  With the band’s sweet melancholy still present, the new music takes a turn toward a more shoegaze sound, something that was hinted at with the release of hazy lead single “Perfect” last week.  “Cherry Red Dress” is a stunning, moody dream pop tune and the title track is an epic seven minutes of layered guitars and well-harmonized twin vocals.  The EP wraps up with a heart-wrenching cover of haunting Mazzy Star number “Look On Down From The Bridge”.  While Luby Sparks’ self-titled debut full length effort from earlier this year is still sitting comfortably at the top of my 2018 release list, “(I’m) Lost in Sadness” hits home in a bit of a different way, showcasing the band’s ability to craft gloomy, nostalgic tunes using tremendous depth and texture.  And while the loss of original Luby Sparks singer Emily was sad news, Murphy has shown she’s a perfect match for what the band does.  These guys continue to show that they can write songs with the best of them with yet another top notch release to their name.

“(I’m) Lost in Sadness” is  available to stream on Apple Music and can be purchased on iTunes or via nitrosulphuric.  Below is the video for “Perfect”.

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Instrumental post rock/shoegaze four-piece Ulm has spent the last year or so establishing its place in the Nagoya scene thanks to impressive live performances alongside some of the bigger names in shoegaze and shoegaze-adjacent alt rock circles. At the end of July, the band released its first recorded material, an EP titled “After Dark”, which was recorded and mixed by Muscle Soul frontman Tomoaki Taguchi. Over the course of the EP’s three tracks, which span almost twenty-four minutes, Ulm offers a lot of what you’d expect from a post rock album with dreamy lulls crescendoing into huge guitar explosions. In each phase of an Ulm song, there is a wonderful harmony between the two guitar parts, whether it’s clean, mellow arpeggios woven tightly together or heavy, distorted leads soaring alongside one another. The EP’s title track in particular is a good example of what cinematic post rock should sound like, and the transitions between parts are smooth and tight. While a lot of the post rock segment of the Japanese shoegaze scene has gone away in recent years, Ulm have brought some of it back and done so really well.  It’s a good showing from yet another impressive young act from Nagoya.

The CD is currently available at Nagoya’s File-Under Records (which ships internationally). Below is a link to some sample audio from Soundcloud.

concrete twin – “Re:boots”

Tokyo-based shoegaze outfit concrete twin is back with its first release in two years, a two-track EP titled “Re:boots”.  Originally the solo project of Kazuya Okada, concrete twin has remained a consistent but underrated member of the current Tokyo shoegaze scene over the last year or so.  Okada, who also currently performs with better-known Chiba shoegaze band plant cell, has been making music for concrete twin – originally known as Guruwa Vail – since 2008.  In 2017, he recruited members and the band started gigging in the Tokyo area, appearing multiple times at monthly Koenji HIGH shoegaze showcase Total Feedback.  After losing a few members recently, Okada rebooted the lineup with bassist/keyboardist Fumio and drummer Zenn.

“Re:boots” is a bit more subdued in terms of pace than concrete twin’s previous EP release.  “Accelerator” is a swirly, dreamy mess of guitars and sunken, blippy synths.  “Door” is much larger and more chaotic, and I can’t help but think about how much bigger it would sound with real drums.  The vocals on both tracks sit right at that perfect point of being unintelligible but present enough.  While the latter track is a really solid concept, “Accelerator” is a legit gazey dreamscape that is also executed well on the recording.  It’s hard to imagine concrete twin’s sound not being incredible in a live setting.

You can pick up concrete twin’s latest release at the band’s newly created Bandcamp page.  Physical copies of their material are also available at their shows.

S A W A G I – “Forget-Me-Not”

Nagoya newcomers SAWAGI have arrived, bringing their dark blackgaze sound to a local scene that had already boasted a tonally diverse shoegaze scene.  The band formally announced its formation just last month, one day after releasing a two-track demo EP titled “Forget-Me-Not”.  The EP is very much a demo with some somewhat distracting programmed drums and the sort of mixing you’d expect from a demo, but there is some real promise here.  The EP’s title track crescendo’s nicely from an unexceptional verse to a lush, heavy chorus.  While the clean guitar strums over the chorus are sort of off-putting, the mix of the massive guitar wall, tinny screams, and a soaring guitar lead work tremendously well together.  The other track, “Zephyranthes”, is more of a speedy, proggy black metal track.  It’s unspectacular – those drums just get sillier sounding at a higher tempo – but I like the consistency of the vocals over the two tracks.  Considering the EP was composed and produced by one person and released the day the band officially formed, the flaws can be overlooked.  There’s enough to pique my interest here.  Also, this studio clip the band posted on Twitter is really promising (props for the Mayhem shirt, too):

 


SAWAGI is getting ready to make its live debut next month at the YURAGI LANDS release show at Nagoya’s Tsurumai Daytrip.  You can pick up their EP for whatever you’d like to pay on Bandcamp:

Asia Roundup: Three New Releases From Boring Productions

Shenzhen, China-based indie label (316) 272-0295 just put out a trio of physical releases, including a vinyl version of the stellar debut full-length, Phantasms, from Manila dreamy indie pop outfit The Strange Creatures.  The   record was three years in the making, during which the band welcomed in vocalist Megumi Acorda (whose brilliant solo work you can find here) and ran into some other obstacles.  But the album is finished and it’s here to be heard in all its jangly dream pop glory.

The other releases include a pair of 7″ versions of previously released material out of Indonesia.  The first is three tracks of hazy synth-laden dream pop from Depok-based duo The Sweetest Touch titled Too Many Dust, Too Many Haze.  The Sweetest Touch keeps it short and super sweet on the EP, crafting simple but catchy reverb-soaked electronic pop tunes.

Odd Gesture‘s debut EP Odd Fucking Gesture EP, which was originally released this past February, got a much welcome physical release as well.  The twee-punk effort is a harsh-but-catchy throwback to early MBV, tonally abrasive and well textured.  There’s even a playful diss track directed at Indonesian indie pop mainstay Sharesprings.

It’s worth taking a dive into the rest of the Boring Productions catalog, which is loaded with tons of shoegaze and bedroom pop gems from all over the place.

Foilverb & Sourin – “The End of Whitenote”

Japanese chiptune producer Foilverb has teamed up with shoegaze unit Sourin – perhaps better known as the solo project of monocism’s Tomoya Matsuura – to put out an interesting new collaborative EP titled The End of Whitenote.  With Foilverb’s tendency toward darker, somewhat cinematic chiptune tracks shrouded in non-8-bit instruments and Sourin’s shoegaze backed by chaotic electronic drums and synths, the pairing is a very logical one and the result feels right.  The End of Whitenote is unsurprisingly dark and dramatic, perhaps more along the lines of chiptune post rock than the familiar chipgaze standard of The Depreciation Guild.  Intro track “Funeral Song” is as good a blend of chiptune and shoegaze as there is, with the 8-bit blips sitting comfortably under the blanket of guitar noise and echoing falsetto vocals without getting too distracting.  The mix is solid.

You can pick up the EP via Foilverb’s Bandcamp page.  Check out Sourin as well (the first album is spectacular).

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This past April, Japan’s best-known and by far its longest-running shoegaze event, Total Feedback, celebrated its 10thanniversary.  Since 2008, the event has been synonymous with the Japanese shoegaze scene, showcasing a combination of veteran and up-and-coming bands from all over Japan.  In the spirit of promoting the current players in the scene, the show’s organizer and frontman of quintessential Japanese shoegazers Cruyff in the Bedroom, Yusuke Hata released the Total Feedback compilation on his Only Feedback label on October of the same year.  This week, almost exactly 10 years later, a follow-up comp appropriately titled Total Feedback 2018 will go on sale.

Listening to the original 2008 comp, you can get a feel for where the shoegaze scene and specifically Total Feedback as an event were at the time.  Bands like Luminous Orange, Plastic Girl In Closet, mash, and My Dead Girlfriend were all regular participants at the monthly shoegaze gathering – Luminous Orange and mash also frequently appeared at Yusuke’s Only Feedback event held at CLUB Que years earlier.  Total Feedback 2018 is similarly a well-curated introduction to Japanese shoegaze in 2018, not only providing a good, albeit Tokyo-centric, introduction to Japanese shoegaze, but also showing how it’s branched out internationally over the past ten years.

Total Feedback 2018 is billed as “an Asian shoegaze compilation”, featuring a handful of bands from Taiwan (Doodle, U.TA, and DoZzz) and China (RUBUR).  Based around Total Feedback and fellow Japan-based shoegaze event Kyoto Shoegazer, the domestic scene has crossed over with promoters such as Luuv Label (best-known for organizing the East Asia Shoegaze Festival in Shanghai) and Taiwanese shoegaze promoter extraordinaire Shoegazemania, creating a strong community on the eastern part of the continent (it’s worth noting that Hong Kong, while not represented on the compilation, has also been involved in this cultural shoegaze exchange).

The Japanese lineup on the compilation boasts a good mix of old and new bands.  Cruyff in the Bedroom, broken little sister, and Lucy’s Drive are the veterans of the bunch, while groups like cattle, plant cell, and SPOOL, and Al Van She’s Coming represent the new wave of Total Feedback performers. Polarizing shoegaze idol group dots also have a song on the comp, and while their contribution to the overall scene may be questionable to some, they are without a doubt an important part of its story.

With regard to the music itself, Total Feedback 2018 is unsurprisingly strong start to finish.  The Cruyff track is a banger, and the songs from plant cell, DoZzz, RUBUR, and Doodle are particular standouts.  Cattle’s “Kaleidoscope” is a welcome return to shoegaze from a band who drifted to more of a power pop sound after an excellent debut EP.  Even the dots track is perhaps their “gaziest” yet.  Though you tend to hear quite different styles of shoegaze coming out of different countries – Japan tends to produce a more melody-heavy sound while you often get thicker or more textural shoegaze from Taiwan and China – the flow of the album is very smooth while still showcasing each band’s unique qualities.

Just as the Total Feedback event has been as important a part of the Japanese shoegaze scene as anything else over the past 10 years, Total Feedback 2018 and the original 2008 compilation act as significant snapshots of the genre’s development in Japan.  The two compilations bookend a decade of change and development in the Japanese scene, while also representing the one event that has consistently remained as its core.

To celebrate the release there will be a three-leg Total Feedback event featuring bands appearing on the compilation, with the first show taking place in Taipei at PIPE on October 14th and the final two shows at Koenji HIGH on October 27th and 28th.  See the flyer below for all of the details.

Total Feedback 2018 comes out on October 10th via Only Feedback Records, and is currently available for pre-order at Amazon(JP), Disk Union, and Testcard Records (Bandcamp).

Here is the official trailer:

YURAGI LANDS – “Soleil”

YURAGI LANDS has emerged as one of the more promising additions to the Japanese shoegaze scene since forming late last year, though it’s not at all surprising if you haven’t heard of them. The band hails from the small town of Fujioka in Gunma prefecture, and, until recently, has rarely ventured outside of the area.  If you’ve stumbled across their two-track live studio demo on YouTube, you likely weren’t impressed and moved on without thinking much.  YURAGI LANDS has been hard to find and easy to overlook for most of the past year.  However, with the release of their new EP, Soleil, the band is making an effort to branch out and establish its name in the domestic scene.

Over its four tracks, Soleil is a solid showcase of what YURAGI LANDS does.  On “need it” and the EP’s title track, you get a pretty, billowy shoegaze sound that reminded me a bit of another current Japanese shoegaze standout, softsurf.  “Soleil” is probably the song that will attract shoegaze fans the most with its dreamy, explosive, sway-inducing chorus.  “Mahou-tsukai”, on the other hand, features loose, wonky guitar leads woven together into something that feels more like Angel’in Heavy Syrup-esque psych rock.  “Kuuki no Naka Ni” has a similar vibe, trippily building into a sweet, foot-tapper of a chorus.  The female vocals throughout the EP have a nice balance.  They’re soft, but not too soft, with a sort of piercing cuteness to them that works well within the range of what the band does.

The EP is pretty good on its own.  Though far superior in terms of quality to the first demo, it’s still a little rough around the edges.  If you want to get a basic idea of what YURAGI LANDS can do, you should definitely check it out.  There’s enough there to show that this is a band with a lot of potential.  If you want to really see YURAGI LANDS at their best, you should absolutely catch them live.  Their live sound is much bigger and more dynamic than any of their recorded material so far.  With an EP release tour currently underway and stretching into December, there are a lot of opportunities to see YURAGI LANDS perform.

Unfortunately, there isn’t so much as a sampler of Soleil streaming anywhere, and the band currently has no plans to upload any audio.  Below is a clip of YURAGI LANDS set at Nagoya’s Tsurumai Daytrip from this past January where they played at Chaos Recommend’s Chaos Meeting event.  Being a live video presumably shot with a camera, it doesn’t do their live sound – or Daytrip’s genius sound man – justice.    If you’re interested in buying the EP, you can do so for a very reasonable 500 yen at File-Under Records (international shipping is available).