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New (Sorta) The Vegetablets: Road To The Vegetablets

The Vegetablets’ latest album was a charming and at-times strange bit of indie-pop, a highlight of 2018. Now, they’ve shared a compilation gathering songs recorded between 2003 and 2012, as the title suggests serving as an intro into their history leading up to the sound of The Vegetablets. Removed from this context, Road To The Vegetablets is a pretty strong indie-pop album, and worth a listen to anyone who indulged in Three Berry Icecream at any point in their life. “Strawberry Taste” nails the mid-day stroll vibe so much Japanese indie-pop eyes, while a cut like “Sentimental Journey” nails the balance between jaunty and downcast. Extra points for all the synthesizer touches, which elevate songs like “She Is My POP Star” from solid to giddy celebration of music. As a way to understand The Vegetablets, it’s solid — this set is far more straightforward than their latest album, coming off more like two artists channeling their faves rather than the wonkier duo that emerged this year. But it only makes that turn all the sweeter. Get it here, or listen below.

Sailin’ Away: New Songs From Pictured Resort And Youthcomics

Indie-pop label Sailyard has become one of the stronger destinations in Japan for all things melancholy and summery in the last few years. Just in time for their marquee season, they have two big releases on the horizon. The first comes from their central act Pictured Resort, a Kansai band that deserves to be slotted in the same zone as, say, cero and Suchmos, but also manage to approach warmer-climes-embracing sounds in a way that does stand out from more mainstream artists. “Stars Above” is a mid-tempo drive of a song, featuring vocals that approach a sigh and guitar melodies that give the tune far more of a hop than the ennui-dripping lyrics would signal. Listen above.

Sailyard is also prepping a new album from fellow Kansai indie-popper youthcomics, who moves at a swifter speed but still captures that twee ennui in songs such as “Weekend.” This is just indie-pop done really well, powered on by a great acoustic strum and energetic singing oozing over with melancholy…while always being catchy. Nothing new, but youthcomics reminds of how great this blueprint can be. Listen below.

Rattled By The Rush: Utae’s “Supersonic”

A lot of artists in recent memory have tried to sound uneasy as a way to stand out from the often-clean sound of mainstream Japanese music, but Utae’s “Supersonic” really makes the wobbly touches worth it. It starts with twinkles and a heavily filtered voice, before letting in a slightly more inviting set of vocals and a piano line. But it doesn’t last long, dissolving in favor of skittery electronics and hushed singing fogged in digi noise. Utae easily could have stuck with this atmosphere and come out with an unsettling song, but instead she lets “Supersonic” gain steam and, in its back half, shoot forward. The stranger touches remain, but they form into something more ecstatic down that final stretch. It’s an earned release. Listen above.

New iivvyy: iivvyy

This EP is more about gathering together what’s already out there into one place, but for a project that previously just shared single songs as it coalesced together, that’s perfectly fine. Kosmo Kat and HVNS’ iivvyy found the perfect middle ground between both artist’s sounds, creating a liquid-metal techno accessorized by pitch-shifted vocal samples that give it all a blurry feel. iivvyy gathers the numbers that popped up on their SoundCloud starting from last year, featuring the spiky “Look” and the sweltering “Could Be,” among others. The one new addition is “Thinkin'” which isn’t too far from the more familiar material that floated around before (though the late song breakdown is a nice pivot). For anyone interested in how Tokyo’s club scene is mutating, this is a hell of an intro. Get it here, or listen below.

Fidget Spinning: Johnnivan’s “I Think I Know You”

Tokyo’s Johnnivan move forward on frantic energy, there songs all twitchy and fidgety in how they play out. “I Think I Know You” is a particularly strong example of their inability of how to sit still…and how it benefits the band. They take cues from late ’70s / early ’80s new wave groups — Talking Heads is one they reference directly — and it comes through clearly, especially in the lyrics, which are mainly interested in clever wordplay delivered in a nervy way. Yet it works well with the herky-jerky music, especially when the electronics squiggle in. Listen above…and also give “Tomorrow Night,” which lathers the keyboard on a little thicker, below.