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Sun Gets In Your Eyes: Seebirds

Osaka quartet Seebirds — in the opening minute of “Herz,” above — sounds like a pleasant albeit familiar outfit. Save for the steely kick of a drum machine and some woozy synthesizer smudges, the song initially seems like a half-speed tune you’d expect to hear coming from any number of livehouses in the Kansai region. But then, “Herz” gets color inverted — the synths turn menacing, the vocals become distorted, and the whole song suddenly feels like a fever dream, whatever brightness once present swapped out for a creepiness. That’s what makes Seebirds intriguing — it has been awhile since an indie band has been able to harness tension like this, falling somewhere between Half Mile Beach Group and, like, The Knife on the unnerving scale (or maybe they got the name from this). The group’s first mini-album comes out this week, and other numbers from it highlight a similar something-just-off feeling. “Fraud” gurgles underneath its mid-tempo pacing, and teases ripping apart, but always contains the unease just enough. Listen to that one below.

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New 99Letters: “Mind A”

By now, it isn’t news that Osaka’s 99Letters has expanded beyond the initial chiptune-fury of his early years towards something heading off in other directions too — he’s released whole albums of slightly uneasy house music, and has shown a stylistic hopping. Still, “Mind A” is the most relaxed I think I’ve heard the producer, at least in quite some time. It is an easy going number, one that sounds almost crystalline, save for some pecking going on in the back that adds the necessary strokes of tension. Yet even at its most fierce, it is simply a bounce to soak up. Listen above.

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New Yunomi Featuring Toriena: “Oedo Controller”

Calling it a “trend” might be a stretch, but something that has definitely appeared more in Japanese electronic music over the past year is an embrace of traditional sounds. This probably goes in cycles — it wasn’t long ago Omodaka was doing this merger incredibly well, and it has popped up at times since (Seiho, for example, has played around with it) — but it feels a bit more prevalent lately. Artists such as KiWi, Foodman and FAMM’IN have played around with older Japanese instrumentation, combining it with contemporary electronic sounds. Yunomi has toyed around with it a bit recently too — the Hokkaido project’s recent work with Happy Kuru Kuru featured traditional touches, and now comes “Oedo Controller,” which makes them even more prominent. Featuring artist Toriena, “Oedo Controller” also brings in 8-bit sounds, an EDM-festival-ready drop and Technicolor syth, but it’s the traditional touches — from specific instruments to the festival-style rhythm of the chorus — that really sticks out. Listen above.

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New Seiho: “The Vase”

Today, Seiho’s new album Collapse comes out globally via LA label Leaving Records. It’s a big moment for an artist who, five years ago, was playing sets in small underground clubs in Osaka and launching his own record imprint. Yet Collapse isn’t a stab at crowd pleasing dance, but rather an album jumping from energetic numbers to more abstract passages. All credit to Seiho — this will be his biggest release to date, with the potential to reach the most people, and he’s making something challenging and not willing to settle. (Though, hey, he has pop outlets too, which helps)

“The Vase” highlights Collapse’s less immediate side. It is a jazz-accented passage featuring very little percussion — a few stray beats and clangs pop up, but it never settles into anything — featuring some garbled voices underneath and plenty of space. It works well with the video (above), but as just music, it finds Seiho actually turning towards his past a bit — in recent years he’s gotten attention for anthemic cuts, but here he takes cues from his really early work, displayed most prominently on his 2012 album Mercury. That full-length, his first, had clear jazz influences, which pop up frequently on Collapse — albeit in far more fractured ways, as “The Vase” shows. Listen above.

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New Mitsume: “Akogare”

The past year has seen so many of the vaunted indie bands of the last few years call it a day, I’m not on a perpetual watch for the next group who used to play 2:30 a.m. sets in Shibuya in 2013 to call it quits (and continue to confirm I’m getting old). Well, thank goodness Mitsume are still going strong. They have a new album out in early June titled A Long Day and have shared the video for opener “Akogare,” a breezy but yearning number where every element clicks together just right, and the bed of singing backing up the main vocals make it all the more sweet. Listen above.

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