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Good, But Strange, Vibrations: Casio Toruko Onsen’s “Biwako Wanwan Oukoku”

What are the hot trends in Japanese music right now? You could point to a few musical similarities, or you could try to deduce something larger from big songs such as Daoko’s big breakout hit, or Hoshino Gen’s gloopy TV theme song. Yet I would say what’s happening now is nothing specific, that things are working in their own spaces. Not quite chaotic, but closer than you’d think. You could read this as a bad development — a lack of many central narratives, no specific “wave” sweeping through listeners. Or you could approach it the other way. That the center falling out from Japanese music, even to just some degree, means all sorts of interesting stuff gets a chance to grow. Sure, stranger stuff would find an oddball space regardless — but now Foodman can creep towards the mainstream, Paellas can somehow feel on the cusp of something bigger and something as whirlwind as Suiyoubi No Campanella can be a Music Station fixture. Yeah, a few artists still dominate headlines — but the edges have gotten closer, and way more interesting than five years ago.

So now is a good time for Osaka quartet Casio Toruko Onsen to inch forward. The four-piece has been active for a few years, mostly as a live entity, serving up playful sets featuring a mish-mash of samples, synthesizers and general goofball charm. They released a new album last week, the brainmelting Yu, and “Biwako Wanwan Oukoku” is as good an entry point into their world as you will find. It features a persistent beat, the sounds of dogs woofing, and laser-like bursts. It sounds like a hybrid of Sesame Street and Wham City, the music itself not far off from Foodman’s loving exploration of sound or even Wasabi Tapes fascination with finding melody in chaos. Over all of “Biwako” is singing — at times coming off more like chanting — which gives the song an intensity the near-cartoon barking can’t get across. It ends up sorta hypnotic, and sounds like them inviting you into their own little funhouse of sound. I have no delusions of this coming close to the mainstream — though I would definitely watch their children’s show, nudge nudge NHK — but in the landscape of 2017, it sounds right. Listen above.