It has been a great year for retro-leaning acts in Japan. Sloppy Joe put 80s-era indie-pop into a big ol’ bear hug on their excellent debut album, while Friends smothered 60s beach pop under waves of distortion. Joining them in 2011…the unexcitedly named Traffic Light. Behind that very bland name, though, exist some very lovely twee rooted in The Byrds janglier moments. The cryptically titled “It’s Over I’ve Seen It All Before” stands as the group’s strongest song, a melancholy walk in the park concealing hints of better times but unmistakably consumed with the sadder present. Most stinging of all is the thought expressed by the title…that our narrator has already gone through this once before, and knows what’s coming next.
“Good Bye” covers similar terrain – see the similarly downtrodden title – but Traffic Light are also capable of more smile-inducing moments as well. “Come With Me” adds Country-Bear-percussion to the band’s usual formula to hoppy results. The only downside…the more upbeat number lasts less than two minutes. Still, gotta take happiness when you can get it, and at least Traffic Light make the sadder parts sound nice.
Hmmmm turns out it isn’t all that fleeting after all. After writing the above, I learned the band’s first self-released demo can be heard in its entirety here. It’s a good listen, steeped in 60s references (hello “Be My Baby” drum beat!) that can blur together at times but independently sound like perfect summer stroll music. The real highlight ends up being “Clocks,” guided by a melty organ. Solid debut.