I often feel an exciting rush of confusion when listening to Foodman’s music. How can those sounds be turned into that!?How did he make that noise?!What’s going on???? Given the whirlwind and wonky nature of the Yokohama-based artist’s creations, it’s a fair reaction, but sometimes the sheer WTF-ery happening across a song blurs out just how gorgeous his songs can get. He constructs them from unlikely sources, but the way every piece slides into place can often result in downright pretty (albeit fragmented) melodies, not far from what Cornelius has been doing since 2000. “Nanika” serves as a great reminder of this, loaded up with stray guitar plucks, soothing synth washes (serious Software vibes) and horn blurts. Yet Foodman corrals everything together just right, to create a disorienting but ultimately beautiful track. Listen above.
Gang!, Tokyo-based artist Zombie-Chang’s most recent album from earlier this year, showed off her pop credentials. Plenty of the Shinjuku Loft-leaning dankness of last year’s absorbing Zombie-Change snuck in, but they were matched by moments of relatively un-fuzzy numbers not far removed from something that could sneak into mainstream rotation. With the benefit of a few months, the album has revealed itself as a pivot, at-times uneven but a necessary exploration of one’s music as they figure out the next step to take (see: Seiho’s Collapse or Suiyoubi No Campanella’s UMA EP).
“We Should Kiss,” Zombie-Chang’s newest digital single, illuminates a different path. One thing that has been undeniable about her, even since Zombie-Change, has been her charisma. Put her in a video, and she shines. “We Should Kiss” pairs her with director Kento Yamada, who finds a winning visual aesthetic for her — goofy bordering on ironic (fidget spinners galore) but ultimately charming (look how she spins those things!). She looks the part of a performer to watch.
But the song isn’t a continued push towards popular sounds, but a sharp turn back into where she thrives. “We Should Kiss” pulses forward, featuring 8-bit-synth breakdowns and the sounds of Tokyo train crossing sirens dropped in for disorienting affect. Zombie-Chang’s voice is slightly obscured, and hides an element of unease matching the menacing electronic propelling everything forward. Yet it’s still very much pop, at least in the sense that it features a great hook (or two, depending on what you call the part where she starts bringing up the title) and a melody driven into the recesses of one’s skull. This isn’t an appeal to pop music, but Zombie-Chang bending pop music to her needs. Listen above.
Tokyo-based producer Attic Note delivers a solid electronic track with “Happening,” a bit of pitch-bended sharpness that plays around with a familiar approach but hits on something all its own. It wasn’t that long ago that tipsy numbers anchored by vocals manipulated to be faster or slower were the dominant sound of the community here, but have since given way to either more experimental fare or stuff that is far more blunt. Yet “Happening” shows the charms of this other way, especially when the breakdown comes in all off-balance and jagged, delivering a lot of joy in the process. Listen above.
Orange Milk Records knows how to find them. The American label that shined a bright light on Foodman, DJWWWW and Toiret Status among others now presents Tokyo-based artist Koeosaeme, who explores similar ground as the aforementioned but ultimately finds their own path forward on the woozy Sonorant. Koeosaeme stands out because of speed — whereas Foodman explores individual sound and DJWWW goes for an at-times-chaotic collage approach to samples, the songs on Sonorant skitter all over themselves, Koeosaeme interested in how individual notes work when laid out in such a way that even the brief moments of whirlwind work to the overall melody. Voices appear rarely, often in chopped-up version (see the fast-slow skipper “Replace”). Whether seeing what the death of a computer connection might sound like (“isBuffer”) or creating swift rippled sounds (“Head”), Koeosaeme makes sure the songs always hold together, regardless of how fragmented they get. Get it here, or listen below.
The early 2010’s idol scene found groups grasping for any visual or sonic cue that would help them stand out from the crowd. Latching onto a specific genre could pay off big time, but it could also result in strange creations such as air guitar idols or steam-punk-themed outfits (with terrible music). Novelty has always been a cornerstone of the idol corner of Japanese music, and it was only natural for it to slide to extremes in the 2010s, but you wouldn’t be blamed for being skeptical of groups with juicy press releases making good music. So “shoegaze idols” ・・・・・・・・・ (Dots from here on out) should raise eyebrows. They got a lot of attention for announcing that their first physical release later this month is one 70-minute-long song (really four songs weaved together by a Japanese ambient artist…I guess “ambient idols” lacks the same pizazz), which is obvious bait. Meanwhile, idols embracing shoegaze elements isn’t new…check out this mix for some examples.
“Slider” eases these suspicions a bit. One of the big failings of idol music is when a group embraces a certain style and promptly does it worse than bands just doing it without gimmickry. Yet Dots make shoegaze, a genre in such surplus in Japan that any of those worries vanish. Go to Koenji station, throw a can in any direction and odds are you hit someone in a band biting Ride. “Slider” is easily better than 80 percent of the shoegaze tunes that pipe out of livehouses and SoundCloud accounts here, partially because the vocals sneak through clearly and add a sweetness often avalanched in other group’s works. Yet it also goes a long way that the song was written by Azusa Suga, of actually great indie-pop outfit For Tracy Hyde (those synth lines lurking in the instrumental passages!). That’s the other way to make your pop group stand out…bring in people who know what they are doing. If Dots keep that up, they might stand out from the pack. Listen above.