Earlier this year, popular foreigner-catering ad-vessel Japanzine named Keikaku.net one of the best Japanese music websites. A fine choice, seeing as it is one of the most thorough spots dealing with Japanese artists. But also a troublesome one, as Keikaku at the time hadn’t updated in almost six months. The writer made note of this, arguing a static Keikaku still bested all the other “pretenders” out there. Since then, Keikaku has seen two recent updates, but Japanzine’s selection still points out a sobering truth about music in Japan…not many people are covering it nowadays.
Though always a blip on the world music scene, Japanese music was a bit trendy back in the 90s. Bands like Shonen Knife, Boredoms, Pizzicato Five and Cornelius all got decent Western media buzz and Boredoms even managed to land on Lollapalooza. The rise of the Internet, obviously, changed the game completely. Everything about music fell into niches – if you liked hip-hop you read this website, if you liked rock, that one, so on and so forth. Japanese music outside of J-Pop (which still maintains a large online presence in some part to a heavy crossover with the world of anime fans) got lost in the shuffle. A few artists – Boredoms, Boris, Polysics, to some degree Shugo Tokumaru – were adopted by the indie-leaning communities. But they were just indie artists who happened to be from Japan. Few sites comprehensively looking at the Japanese music scene emerged…Keikaku was one of them, but recent inactivity has made Japan even less present in discussions about music by Western media.
It’s an annoying truth, but a truth all the same. So the question becomes…how many great Japanese musicians/albums has the world missed out on because of the state of things? It’s a thought easily projected onto any country, from Vietnam to Belarus to even America, but in an age where the Internet hypothetically allows access to more music than ever before but also means a ton of it is being passed by, what have we missed? I’m betting a lot. And how much more will pass right by?
She Talks Silence doesn’t make it easy on herself to standout, even in her native Japan. She posts relatively little info online and her debut album Noise And Novels does its best to stay out of the limelight. Instead of anything close to being considered cover art, her first full-length comes packaged with several random photos (I got the one above), a sticker attached to the clear jewel case featuring the tracklist, and a thin bookmark listing the sparse album info. On one hand it’s appropriate for the music within – mysterious, creative, sign of someone more introverted than they want to be – but also bound to turn Noise And Novels into a rare mushroom that also grows inside a room that doesn’t actually exist for most people.
Which isn’t right in a world where stuff like this isn’t supposed to fall through the cracks. She Talks Silence (STS from here on out) could even be hitched on to all sorts of indie music trends – she’s one part bedroom pop ala Atlas Sound and one part fuzzy garage rock like Dum Dum Girls, but so much more than a “RIYL” Tumblr post. From the first lonely plucks of “Hear The Way, She Talks,” STS takes you into her shadowed world, an isolated place that constantly unsettles like a David Lynch film. What could have been ordinary pieces of bedroom rock…the kind clogging the indie blog-o-sphere like so many Scott Pilgrim-ized avatars…become creepy but tantalizing. The weird samples bookeneding “She’s Not Going Back.” The inverting-piston sounds of “Josef.” The deep electronic hits of “Complexe Elegant.” Even the should-have-been-disposable segue “Sorry For Laughing (But It’s Kinda Phoney)” transforms into something compellingly strange via wobbly keyboard and floating speech.
Not to paint Noise And Novels as the CD equivalent of Eraserhead, because for all the jarring bits STS still delivers catchy music. “Quiet Sun” and “She’s Not Going Back” are, at their core, great blasts of garage rock avoiding needless fuzz in favor of simple melodic pleasure touched slightly by new wave. Strip away all the disorienting details of “Complexe Elegant” and you’re left with bouncy rock. Album highlight “Again & Again” comes closest to being out of place, an un-muddied affair built from simple guitar lines and a straight-ahead beat. It even has the most chorusey chorus on Noise And Novels, almost bright enough to be pop.
“Almost,” though, is the key word, as STS offsets any wide-eyed optimism over the course of this album with lonely thought. Despite sounding sorta of cheery, “Again And Again” is really just desperate longing, highlighted by simple-but-stinging lines like “you don’t see me.” The chorus swirls around like an unrequited desire you can’t shake, too frantic to be depressing but too defeated to be cheery. This is an album about being isolated in a very modern way, not necessarily just being alone but rather being drowned out and looked over. Call it a stretch, but I think this manifests itself in STS’s vocals, sometimes distorted and obscured but always there trying to grab you. Distinctively modern.
This album, then, serves as an excellent compliment to another great album released by a Tokyo group this year – Puffyshoe’s Something Gold. Though Puffyshoes play loud, fuzzy rock sometimes bordering on the ridiculous (“I Scream For Ice Cream”), they manage to capture the loneliness of living in modern urban Japan. The comparatively restrained STS wades in the same thematic waters – on “Josef” she sings about being in the city, and this sense of being smothered by society comes through strong on Noise And Novels. Puffyshoes hammered that sense home with noise, but STS gets it across with unease.
After 25-minutes of vaguely unsettling rock, Noise And Novels becomes clear on the last two tracks. “Tales Of The New Age” delivers melancholy-tinged pop over Pavement-worthy guitar, STS’s most straightforward moment to date but also still affecting. Everything wraps up nicely on concluding track “I Know It’s Over.” Here she resigns herself to the loneliness around her, but manages to cling to some hope as the song reaches its finish. Following a bunch of songs dripping with confusion, STS comes to a clear realization and lets a little bit of sunlight in.
It’s sadly appropriate an album shaped by the overwhelming rush of today is almost certainly bound to be passed over completely. Noise And Novels came out in April and very few websites have written about it. As mentioned, it’s not an easy album to get…I found a whole one copy in early June at a record store in Kyoto…but still can’t somebody outside of Japan stumble across her MySpace at least? This album…one of the best of the year in any country…and this artist deserve a wider audience and I’m going to shout that out from my tiny insignificant corner of the Internet loud as I can. It might just be a niche, but it’s a niche worth hearing.