Now here’s some lovely cacophony. Nagoya’s House Of Tapes has created a lot of busy and, at times, crushing works over the last few years, but “Spark Spark” belongs to a different category — this is a charged-up number, one featuring ominous beats and a lot of distorted vocals, like transmissions coming from some hell-park in another dimension. It isn’t quite pure chaos, but it can get pretty intense. But House Of Tapes knows how to wrangle in the noise just enough so it never turns grating, but rather intriguing in its bruteness. Listen above.
1. Tokyo Girls’ Style have long been one of the early adopters to new styles within the idol realm. Since they were created by Avex as a way to get in on the then-burgeoning idol scene, whooshed in by the success of AKB48. They started out right around the start of 2010, before specialization became the name of the game for idols. They could glide between styles, and they did, including a collab with Maltine Records that saw them work with the likes of Avec Avec, Fazerock and more. Pretty ahead of its time! So now, distanced from the “idol” label all-together, they can proudly declare that “Mille-FEuille” is “FutureBass×J-POP,” and embrace all those Wave-Racer-inspired splashes and fidgety digital twists. This is popular contemporary touches Silly-Putty-ed onto pop just right, all the signifiers of style present but never overdone, and with everyone involved remembering to get in a great chorus (this is, also, what all my favorite K-Pop songs in 2016 sound like). Of course, the J-Pop (errr, also pretty K-Pop in execution too, now that you mention it?) comes across clearly in the marketing — watch the “cool version” above, and check out the “cute version” here.
2. “Future bass” is about as goofy a term you can conjure up, is are most things with the word “future” stapled to the front of them (because, well, most of the elements at the center of this internet genre have existed for a while). Still, plenty of artists tagged with this have created fantastic songs over the last five years…but maybe it is starting to feel a little tired? “Mille-Feuille” is produced by Yuuki Odagari, who has worked with Tokyo Girls’ Style on many of their older singles, along with members of EXILE and May J among others. He’s a studio pro, a guy major labels turn to for a certain sheen. He’s clearly talented, but it is a bit telling that he could figure out “future bass” so thoroughly. So…possibly a good time for producers to not simply rest on familiar tropes, or at least try to get your resumes out to major labels so it doesn’t become a simple studio preset. We need more cross-pollinations such as “Limo” or “Cry & Fight.”
From about late 2011 to mid 2013, the Kansai region boasted Japan’s best electronic music scene…and probably the best, period, in the entire country. That might still be true…but back then, things felt really exciting, with artists such as Seiho, Avec Avec and Metome…among others…starting to catch attention. Madegg, then a college student in Kyoto, was also a massive presence, a cornerstone of the INNIT series of parties and an all-around active producer and DJ. Like the names above, he’s gone on to do a lot of exciting things, with plenty more on the horizon. But Drowsy Numbness (2012-2013) — which Madegg writes consists of songs found on an “old HDD” hiding away — offers a snapshot of the artist during this thrilling set of time for Kansai’s electronic community. This is Madegg when texture was central to his sound — today, I’d say it is more about fogged presences, things just out of site — evidenced by the twinkling melodies of “Rings” and the pulsing waves of “Sub Bag.” Drowsy Numbness captures the moment where Madegg first started figuring out what his sound would be, moving beyond Brainfeeder-inspired trippiness to something all his own, from feel-centric to something also a bit mistier (see the vocal loops on “Sub Bag,” all of “For Stella”). Get it here.
American imprint Squiggle Dot just released three albums from a trio (or, maybe 2.5, as one is a split with another artist outside the country) of Japanese artists, each hitting on different pleasure centers. Boogie Idol’s Mall Pop Hits is a great place to lead off, the Tokyo producer’s crystalline synthesizers and BGM-ready beats intertwining to create something that’s far more than simple ’80s worship. Yeah, the first song is titled “Ordering Information” and opens with the sound of a TV coming to life, but any tongue-in-cheekness slips away as he assembles a lively number going beyond QVC prank. I’ve said it before, but it is only made more clear here — Boogie Idol appreciates the sounds of a bygone era, but arranges them into shuffling numbers that feel alive (and, on a cut such as “Disappearance,” something you could happily soak yourself in). Get it here, or listen below.
Young Yamaguchi producer Toiret Status, meanwhile, teams up with OAKMILK for a set featuring each of them putting forth a song — and the other serving up a remix. OAKMILK’s “Sumi” deals in atmosphere — of unease, of things slowly breaking apart — but Toiret Status uses those disconnected sounds to create a slippery and chaotic bit of festival fun. On his own “#32,” meanwhile, well it is a rush of HD sounds, following into place just right to create a cartoon-worthy melody. Get it here, or listen below.
Last, from Nagoya, is a name we aren’t familiar with — woopheadclrms, whose Nihon No Kamakura Haha manages to be the most experimental of the trio. It leans closer to Toiret Status’ chaotic approach than to Boogie Idol’s twinkly retrofitting, with synths smashing against stiff drum machine beats and a smattering of samples. Texture is critical, and the songs feel more like bursts to absorb than fleshed out melodies (probably the key difference between woopheadclrms and Toiret Status as of now). Yet their choice in sounds is pretty captivating, and this album lasts just the right length. Get it here, or listen below.
Ahhh, a day away from December which means many things…one of them being the futile catching up on albums that have zoomed by us (read: me), or giving works that seemed sort of forgettable in the first half of the year another shot (yesterday I tried listening to that Drake album…still really bad). Have A Nice Day!’s second original release of the year, The Manual (How To Sell My Shit), builds on what the band established on Dystopia Romance 2.0, to the point where the prior felt more like a preview of the latter (the inclusion of the particularly anthemic “Love Supreme” and slightly more unsettling “New Romance” on both being a bit of a giveaway).
As a distillation of what Have A Nice Day! do so well, it’s tough to beat The Manual (which, even the name kind of pokes fun at it). This is a band that is not worried about complexity, opting instead for synth-backed anthems that prioritize passion — probably a byproduct of this being a live group first and foremost — over anything else. They certainly get funny, but songs such as “Midnight Timeline” turn a benign activity such as using the internet late at night into something life affirming. And it isn’t all simple starry-eyed odes to living — “666” features a Glitter-inspired march that makes it one of the album’s darker cuts, while “24hours” uses a skittery garage beat as a foundation for an unsettling number. Yet ultimately this is a band capturing basic emotion and blowing them up into a simple but forceful way like few others. Get it here, or listen below.