Sunday, April 15, 2018

Nagoya Record Club : one+one - snazzy female/male duos

I noticed that this week I happened to pick up music belonging to groups with a single, female vocalist and a male producer, namely Capsule and dip in the pool. I don't really want to argue for an integrated connection between them besides this basic observation on their personnel--my purchases were not intentional, seemingly unconsciously, and happened by chance--but they nevertheless make really cool music, which is fundamentally why I picked these up ini the first place.
 The first is the now well known project of Yasutaka Nakata of Perfume and Kyary Pamyu-Pamyu fame, Capsule. I was first introduced to Nakata's post-Shibuya-kei sound via Capsule's albums during his early days on his own self produced label Contemode that gave rise to a number of other interesting projects he produced, my other favorite being the short lived Coltemonhika. I've always had a soft spot for Nakata's early work with Capsule that was electro-pop, bossa-nova, and a bunch of other genres cleverly fused together to serve as the perfect soundtrack to boutique shopping in Tokyo before he gravitated to the more electronic based club music he is now associated with. A few 12" records came out to accompany Capsule's early albums but I was never the biggest capsule fan back in the day and neither was I in possession of a record player. A few years ago I purchased portable Airport at Disk Union in Ikebukuro but haven't seen another record from this period of capsule since; I did, however, get the 12" for their more recent club track Musixxx/I'm Feeling You. The other day someone seemed to have traded in a bunch of the early releases to Banana Records' main store in Sakae, so I picked up the two I didn't have and could actually afford: Idol Fancy and Space Station no.9 (Cutie Cinema Pre-Play's 12" was just way too expensive). The latter is a collection of four tracks from the album of the same name, which is a bulk of the short LP anyway, and the tracks on Idol Fancy can be found on Phony Phonic save for the extended remix of Weekend in My Room on its B-side. Even if early Capsule isn't everyone's cup of tea, I for one really appreciate the album art as well for its minimalist design that was also a product of the previous generation of Shibuya-kei artist and their love for European easy listening records and design. They look really cool on the shelf.

A few weeks ago in Okinawa I picked up a CD by dip in the pool, a sparse, melancholy electro pop group from the 80s with the same sort of member roster as capsule. A smartly dressed male/female duo, the group was recently brought to my attention because a foreign label released a 7" of one of their older songs, "On Retinae." It's quite good, and definitely part of the YouTube fueled mining of 80's gems from Japan. The CD is a pretty lengthy collection of their songs and some bonus tracks and B-sides.

Even before these two releases, I found on my shelf the pickings from a previous record store excursion: a 100yen copy of a Pizzicato Five a television's workshop e.p. You can probably guess that Pizzicatto Five is also a male/female, producer/vocalist combination, and one that has more connection to Capsule than dip in the pool. I think Capsule was widely regarded as the sort of second coming of Pizzicato Five and its quite evident in both the sounds and aesthetics of their early releases. PF are, however, one of those bands I don't really know about despite them being really important, so I'm sure leaving them out of this blurb is fine: sources are probably everywhere about them and they even officially released a bunch of their music here in the US and abroad--my sister knew about them when their song was featured in an episode of Futurama, and she also bought me one of their albums when she saw it at a used CD shop back in Guam.

I'm sure a ton of other memorable and more popular duos are out there--not many come to mind, however, and not many compare to how cool both dip in the pool and Capsule look on the covers of their albums. It's quite brazen how both members of dip in the pool appear on their cover but, while not completely invisible, Nakata was usually not as prominently featured on capsule releases until a little later. He barely makes an appearance on these records I have but then again the packaging is pretty sparse to begin with...

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Chill, catchy, tunes make 雀斑樂團 Freckles' latest album the perfect drug for melancholy

Last summer I jumped over a number of language hurdles to get my hands on 不標準情人 Imperfect lover, an album by a band called 雀斑樂團 Freckles who hail from Taiwan.

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Japan had just reached the peak of its treacherously hot and humid summer months and the neon colors of the minimalist, 80s-esque cover art seemed to fit perfectly. The album arrived promptly at my dormitory but it seemed to fly over my head at the time; maybe there was a lot going on for me both personally and musically. Nothing really left a lasting impression on me with the exception of the title track that led me to the band in the first place.

This groovy little track never left me and trust me, I didn't want it to. I couldn't get over how soulful it was, so light and fun, and that infectious little chorus was so catchy I caught myself singing along a couple of times. Sure, they were shuffled into the dreaded city-pop genre of stuff but I couldn't help but feel like that was a little too convenient, too simple a denomination, and just a way to lazily group them into the collective of bands they had shared the bill during gigs in Japan. In the coming months I had no choice but to return to the album whenever I wanted to get my fix of "Imperfect Lover" and that I did, quite often. In between endless loops of the single were the occasional breaths of fresh air I dedicated to ingesting the rest of the album and gradually it came to mean a lot more to me than a single song. It always happens like this, I know.

I came to the realization that I could never remain sad after listening to Freckles. When I took long walks by the river or wandered through residential streets I had never seen before, they were blasting through my little headphones and washing out any negativity welling up inside me. There's something about vocalist  voice, something sweet, sincere, and endearing, that serenaded me but also gave me some hope in a lot of tough times. The band didn't have that pretentious air to them that some of this music does (citypop, hi). It was fun and this genuine love for their craft resonated with me, but it's not like it's hard to hear. Listen to this beautiful track that comes at the end of the album, one of the finer ones that offsets the uplifting happy melodies I linked above.

Of course, this makes it seems like the band reinvented music with this album but I admit that they're far from perfection. The gorgeous melodies and the laid back vibe sometimes make the tracks drag a bit and not all the songs make me want to dance. Rather, the album has evolved into something personal for me. No longer just a record, a unique little time capsule of emotions that have been floating around in my head the past few months. Perhaps this is why I shouldn't recommend it to anyone: clearly, I have a bias. But maybe someone else will let their infectious little numbers grow on them, too. Go ahead, let some magic happen.


Monday, March 12, 2018

#Me 門小雷 Little Thunder solo exhibition @ art&books petitame Kyoto

Hong Kong based illustrator and comic artist Little Thunder has just released a new book entitled #me, a collection of her latest artwork that consists of intricately drawn portraits of beautiful women with an accompanying, often humorous, comic. They all flaunt a gorgeous outer appearance, honing a keen sense of color and fashion that is paired with something revealing, playful, and unique about their interior, explained via single page comics that both tell a lot about their characters through actions and interactions with their environment. Without words, Little Thunder captures emotions, actions, exclusively through images, telling short, single page compositions into works of art that transcend the need for language.

popotame in Tokyo hosted a gallery to commemorate the release of #me, and the artwork recently moved to its smaller satellite in Kyoto--a lot closer to me and well worth a short day trip.

petitame came up on my map as being located in a "Gozu Mall." I assumed, but thought it strange, it was a shop in a large building in the busier shopping district of Kyoto but I couldn't have been more wrong. The bus passed the crowds of pedestrians and let me off at a quiet little neighborhood with a riving running on its side and with no people in sight. I weaved through streets of old-style Japanese architecture--this is the real Kyoto, I thought--until I was convinced I had made a mistake. But sure enough, the two-story house in front of me was Gozu Mall indeed. I heard recently that it was a trend to have small art galleries and popup shops in refurbished architecture, and this was a very cool example.

I had to take my shoes off in the doorway. There was a room directory, but it seemed like 201 was the only one open at the moment. 

Once a house, the kitchen was still intact although it now functioned as a space for promoting upcoming events.

A placard on the narrow wooden stairway to the second floor.

 The gallery space itself was probably once a bedroom and therefore it wasn't very large at all. It was far from an art museum but the space itself lent a really down-to-earth quality to Little Thunder's artwork. In some ways it felt like this intimate space, this bedroom, almost, was like her own intimate work place, a place she could proudly hang up her artwork on the wall. I read that popotame was quite surprised that she insisted that no frames be used and her drawings hung up as they were and in this environment, that too gave it a real air of authenticity and intimacy. I felt like I was in a friend's room, looking at her work.

The exhibition runs until April 15th but is only opened on Saturday and Sunday and has some instances where it isn't open. You can check the petitame website for more details and they urge anyone interested to check twitter before making the trek in case they may close at the last minute. If you're in the area, its only a few minutes by bus from Kyoto station--walking is possible too--so it's definitely a great opportunity to see her artwork and pick up a copy of #me. 

Chinese Football Japan Tour '18 in Kyoto Negaposi 2018/03/11

I get handed a lot of fliers after shows by eager band members waiting outside the concert hall but I remember one in particular that I held on to after seeing toe and Into It, Over It in Tokyo. The art was cool but who the hell was Chinese Football, and did they have anything to do with American Football--the band, not the sport?

And of course, they do. Hailing from the city of Wuhan in China, Chinese Football is heralded as the quintessential indie act from the country, selling out huge venues at home who have come to adore their blending of the mid-west emo made famous by their idols. Chinese Football wear their influences on their sleeve but sometimes I think you need that kind of unabashed honesty to create something that, while not experimental or genre bending, has its charm in its giving listeners something familiar, nostalgic, and kind of comforting. And of course, the band do a lot that isn't exactly American Football sounding anyway.  
They've made some waves in Japan too, not just because of China's geographical proximity gives them the opportunity to tour here quite often but because a few years ago vocalist/guitarist Joha took up residence in Kyoto. And it's in this city that I would first see them years after I got the flier from that toe/Into It, Over It gig. Sometimes, things just turn out that way. 

Negaposi was, thankfully, in a quiet district of Kyoto away from the tourist attractions. It was also a lot earlier than I anticipated and featured seven, yes seven bands, playing from 4:30 PM until who knows when. By the time I got to the venue after totally losing my way on the myriad of the city bus system, I just saw pile of hex play their last song. 

by the end of summer seemed to be the crowd favorite that night and they were indeed one of the better bands on the roster. They were young but reminded me a lot of the pop punk and emo bands I listened to in high school, and seeing a bunch of kids packed in a tiny closet of a live house brought me back to all the small shows people would host in their garages. I can't say they would wow any music critics for what they do, but it was a nostalgic kind of sound that I admit was catchy and fun. 

Nengu was another noteworthy band on the roster, a three-piece who I had heard of before and knew were going to completely destroy the stage. The three of them were fierce and for some reason they felt a lot louder than all the other bands, playing with composure but frequently diving into bouts of pure abrasive chaos. I loved the little GameBoy SP music device the drummer used to trigger some frantic electronic samples that were the intros to some of their songs. 

And of course, Chinese Football. The band put on a great show playing most of the songs off their latest EP which I've had on repeat for months. They were a little nervous even if it was a small crowd but they had everything down tight, their jamming was sublime. Of course the mid-west/math rock guitar sound is beautiful and one of the most appealing parts of this genre, but the bassist was really impressive too, as was the cute drummer who looked like she was took sick to play and wanted to leave immediately. I don't blame here--it's been a while since I was at a live house too and the smoke killed me. 

Here's hoping they come to Nagoya on their next tour so I don't have to go all the way up to Kyoto again...not that I mind. 

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Yasashii Tomodachi: ばけばけばー / 台風クラブ / MILK / my ex @ K.D. Japon 2018//01/20

I can clearly remember putting on headphones at the listening booth in the indie section of Tower Records Shinjuku, pressing play next to the first disc because in between all the scribbled Japanese characters was SUPERCHUNK, a band that I had just listened to--and liked--a few days before. The opening guitar riff of a song called unlucky by a band with a pretty unforgettable name: my ex.

There's just something about that moment when the opening chords dissolve and the entire band comes in that I can't describe. Such impact, such emotion...maybe it was just a pretty sad part of my life that made me so vulnerable to something so emo, but from that moment I felt like I had dived in head first and the song had engulfed me. Naturally, I walked out of the store with their homework EP in hand and listened to it like crazy for the next few months, but my ex(the band, just to be clear) just kind of faded from my memory after that. I didn't know what they were up to and they never really made a big splash despite the EP being on constant repeat during my commutes. Then again, such is the state of a lot of smaller bands in Japan no matter how great they are. Life gets in the way and they fade off the planet. 

But here I was in 2018, years after I first put on those tattered headphones to listen to this completely unknown band, getting in line to finally see their show. And not just any show, it was with another three bands that included the excellent Typhoon Club and was hosted at my favorite venue K.D. Japon. 

The event was sold out, packed wall to wall with bodies, and since the bands set up on the floor in front of the audience there was barely any room to see. K.D. Japon serves up some really great curry at the bar that I was looking forward to, but it was pretty obvious that I wasn't going to get a plate anytime soon. 

The first band was a mystery to me but with a name like bake-bake-baa it's pretty easy to tell that they played some quirky guitar rock that jumped around to all kinds of strange, noisy, and angular territories. I got quite a kick out of the female bassist who was always shredding her parts with a twisted smile half hidden under her hair that was already eating into her face. 

Besides my ex, I was familiar with a pretty cool band who didn't come to Nagoya so often called Typhoon Club. I saw them last year in Okayama with Kaneko Ayano and they've been picking up some speed and fame since then, releasing an album not so long ago that I truthfully haven't heard yet. Still, I love their brand of music: a mix of folk, rock, and punk that's a welcome breath of fresh air from all the other stuff I tend to listen to. 

It was anyone's guess what a band called MILK would sound like--I obviously didn't even make an effort to try and look up the band. When they finally got done soundchecking they rolled out fast, mean, hardcore punk that hit you right in the face and didn't really fit the rest of the bands on the bill nor the ambiance of the live house. Still, their energy was great, infectious, and woke me up quite a bit. Unfortunately they were a little too energetic and I didn't get any photos because of all the chaos. 

my ex were the hosts of the event so they played last to the full house at K.D. Japon. The singer seemed kind of down and the crowd wasn't too responsive to his downer MCs(save for one enthusiastic and probably really drunk patron), but their music was great as usual. Emo, sure. Getting to finally hear unlucky after all these years was pretty phenomenal, and I hope that more than a few people that night came out as in awe of the band as I was that day I stood in Tower Records listening to their EP. 

Monday, January 29, 2018

Daydream '17 Nagoya Extra @ Tsurumai Day Trip 12/09/2017

Japanese bands love their shoegaze and dream pop, and the genre has been worked into the sound of numerous indie bands over the last decades, even spawning Japan their own series of expertly assembled tribute albums to My Bloody Valentine.
Fans overseas making the trek to Japan to dive into the sea of loud and distorted guitars, however, should remember that the genre is still a rather niche one and shows with all your favorite bands won't happen to often. High in Tokyo's Koenji neighborhood has been heralded as the live house paying host to the most shoegaze shows featuring the most exciting bands coming out of Japan, but that's if you happen to stop by on a night hosting these kinds of bands. For people in Japan but outside of Tokyo like me, it's even more of a drag because all the most well known bands, even from outside the capital, usually play shows in Tokyo. Thankfully for me the Daydream'17 event brought about by Kyoto shoegazer came early this year with a fantastic lineup of the best bands active in the scene today, a dream come true for shoegaze fans in Nagoya.

Right across the street from a venue I talk about too much, K.D. Japon, is Day Trip, a cozy basement venue that might have been chosen for its name's synergy with the event title more than anything else. Jokes aside, Day Trip was an excellent little venue that felt intimate, cool, just a little bit scuzzy, and with none of the deadpan glam of a corporate live house. The stage was close even if you were hugging the walls or retreated to the back of the room, which is ideal for the kind of music on the bill for tonight.

Daydream's lineup featured a few bands I already knew. I purchased For Tracy Hyde's album last year and have fond memories of Tokenai Namae's early demo work...but many of the bands I had never heard before, like Call and Response's much talked about Looprider. There were also a bunch of bands that were totally new to me, but most importantly I had never seen any of these bands live before. A balanced roster like this is just what I like about a gig, the potential to discover something new and the anticipation for something already well loved. 

Perhaps the only problem was that the show had a massive roster and was forced to start earlier than most gigs, not such a problem for it being on a weekend but a major discrepancy for a night owl like myself who makes up in the P.M. Perhaps it comes as no surprise that I missed the opening act, Cookie Romance Nonsugar, who I was told sound just as adorable as their name. 

me in grasshopper was the first act I saw on the bill, a band whose name came up frequently on fliers I saw for gigs in Nagoya but none that piqued my interest enough to actually attend (Yuck's Japan tour, to be specific). They leaned more to the indie pop genre of things with just a little bit of dream pop and shoegaze mixed in. Very pleasant, easy going stuff and nothing too arresting, angular, or overly droning. 

But the latter set of adjectives would probably work for the next band, Looprider, who shook up the audience after they delivered their setlist. Being the loudest and heaviest band on the roster, they were a mix of a variety of genres, choosing the loud, noisy guitars of shoegaze as a more prominent influence than the breezy, easygoing dreampop side that most of the bands on the night's roster would pull from. Their albums are on the excellent Call and Response label which is enough reason to check them out, and their latest is a kind of concept album with just one long track. They also yielded my favorite photo of the night, which I used as the header to this article.

Apple Light toned things down a bit with their set, erring on the softer side of the indie pop spectrum. Out of all the bands they felt the least experienced and youngest, lacking the impact and distortion that a lot of the other acts that night brought to the table, but nonetheless enjoyable. 

The only artist of the night that I had given a thorough listen to was For Tracy Hyde, one of the last band's to take the stage. They just released their second album and played a lot of songs from that, so I was treated to a lot of new material I had not heard before. Their music has been described as a mix of anime-pop, indie pop, and shoegaze, and I think that works quite well. It's accessible, their vocalist is cute, but their sound still gets distorted and fuzzy so it doesn't sound as polished and lifeless as one might think.

There was a shy, quiet guy who had staked a spot at the front of the stage for nearly the entire show and when the last band of the night, tokenai namae, started setting up, I noticed him crawl silently on stage as their guitarist. They hadn't performed in some time--they never do with much frequency--and the vocalist quivered as she delivered the MCs. They all seemed a little tense, at least to me, and noted they were quite nervous, but none of this meant that they played poorly. On the contrary, I felt there was no question that the organizers had saved the best for last. There was something about that fuzzy droning guitars, sweet synths, the dual male/female vocals, and the onslaught of a really solid rhythm section that made the band stand out from all the others that night. Their rhythm section in particular had some really powerful drumming and crunchy bass lines, something not everyone would think would typify a group going for a shoegaze/dreampop sound, but tokenai namae proved that there is a lot more than a fancy guitar and a myriad of effects that gives a band in these genres some footing. As I left the gig, just about everyone was talking about how blown away they were by the band, and with good reason: they did everything right and felt like the best band of the night. They don't gig often but I hope the warm response from the crowd persuades them to get back into the rhythm.

Before leaving the show, I paid a visit to the merch table to pick up one of tokenai namae's albums and stumbled upon a colorful array of album covers from distributor Sango Records set up at the exit. Run by the frontman of the most talked about indie band from China, Chinese Football, the label has a mix of releases from all sorts of genres(shoegaze, emo, alternative) and has bands from China and some from Japan on board. I picked up the compilation of Chinese Football and Friends, featuring a ton of really great bands from China. Also, their mascot is a snorkeling dog. Cool. Check out their stuff on their official site, linked above or on their bandcamp.



Saturday, October 14, 2017

Social Tower Market 2017 @ Nagoya TV Tower

As much as I dig going to shows in Japan, it can hit the wallet pretty hard after awhile: buying a ticket, getting a CD or shirt all adds up. That said, I can't say no to a free live performance featuring some bands that I was curious about. Social Tower Market is an annual event held in the large park area near the Nagoya TV Tower down town and had more than just free music. Both days were host to some awesome vendors selling a plethora of used goods, homemade curios, and other oddities. A variety of food and drink stalls catered to every taste and had a surprising variety of craft beer and select sake, to gourmet french fries and tacos. Count me in.

I only managed to see the last act of each day and on Saturday it was the band Tempalay. They played a quirky indie rock that was just as eclectic as their sense of fashion. It was interesting, though perhaps not quite my cup of tea.

The festivities continued after the last band finished at around 5PM, with music resuming under the TV Tower not far from where the stage was. I walked in on a little jam session these three talented musicians were having that totally blew my mind. Raw, open air music is really something.

After getting some refreshments, a different group had set up in the same spot as before. Quite psychedelic, airy, and avantgarde. It was a four piece with a bongo player...and I never caught their name. The drums sounded fantastic without any fancy microphones or acoustics altering the sound.

I didn't get a chance to arrive early on the second day either but made it just in time to see the one act I had been looking forward to the entire weekend: singer songwriter Satoko Shibata.

I didn't get too close but the cool acoustic tunes she played reverberated around the entire park and were perfect to relax to.

Pictured is poutine I got from a stand selling New York style french fries, basically fried potatoes with all sorts of topping. These french fries were so good I had to go again on the second day.

Yoshitomo Nara - For Better or Worse @ Toyota Municipal Museum of Art

I've already become accustomed to people bashing Nagoya for never getting events as good as Tokyo to the east or Osaka to the west, and even southern city Fukuoka having a better turn out when it comes to things to do. But it's not like Nagoya has nothing, and this summer I attended a few art exhibitions that actually boasted some exclusivity to my city, proving that maybe it's not always left in the dust. One of those was For Better or Worse, an exhibition of artist Yoshitomo Nara's work held at the Toyota Municipal Museum of Art.

There is actually some neat trivia for why Nara may have chose this spot to showcase his work: although he is from northern Japan, he went to college here in Aichi prefecture, at an art school out in the sticks, and returned regularly after his sojourn in Europe to meet with friends and mentors He even made special note to mention that it was, indeed, not Tokyo where he found himself but right here in Aichi prefecture, an often passed over, boring old city. It was inspiring to read his words and to know that one of my favorite artists spent time here where I am now. Where I live now seemed not to matter, or rather, it seemed more meaningful now that I knew Nara had been here, too.

The exhibit itself didn't allow pictures of course, but it was an extensive exploration of just about everything Nara has done in his career, from early unpolished works, sculptures, and a large selection of his latest works. It was interesting to see how his signature character styles have changed and evolved over time. The first exhibit was a giant wall of records, extending from the floor to the ceiling, that inspired Nara and acted as his early "art collection," mostly 60s-80s era Western rock classics. On the other side were memorabilia and books arranged on wooden shelves that were also inspiring to the's good to know he was also a fan of the 80s starlet Tomoyo Harada. I was also impressed by the numerous installations. The fountain was bizarre, placed in a well lit room with only the sound of flowing water audible, but the cabin you could enter and observe was the most intriguing. I entered just as the stereo inside started to play "California Dreamin," a track fresh in my mind from watching Chungking Express a few weeks earlier. The guitar case on the floor beneath a particular painting didn't seem to pique anyone's interest but it was a bit hard to swallow for me: this belonged to the late vocalist of bloodthirsty butchers, a band Nara had drawn the album covers for. Honestly, I hadn't expected there to be this much of his work on display and I was thoroughly satisfied with the sheer amount of content available.

I had lunch at the museum's restaurant which wasn't bad at all. It was a fair price, too, at about 1500yen and included a great view of the architecture on the second floor of the museum.

Exploring the exterior of the museum and observing the architecture is something not to miss at the Toyota Municipal Museum of Art, especially on a day with clear weather like when I went. After wandering the galleries of paintings inside its refreshing and just as interesting to take a stroll around the building to see the care taken into its creation and the placement of art work on the grounds, as well. 

At the side of the museum was a separate complex that sat in a field of green. There were some interesting pieces laid out here as well. 

The walk back to the Toyota train station was pleasant. The inner city has no space for trains and instead ops for the invisible subways that run underneath. Trains still weave behind the buildings in Toyota city and pass by the road by the museum often. 

Chris C.