Bokura by MEMEMION

Released: 22.08.17 / Label: Self-released

This track took me completely by surprise with its strange mix of straight-ahead pop and almost classical tonal complexity. MEMEMION is a five-piece band that formed last year, 2021, in the midst of corona shut-downs. While it’s clear this group of extremely talented musicians all come from different backgrounds, it’s impressive that they’ve found a way for it all to (mostly) fit together in such a short time. The vocals take the lead in Bokura, center stage in every section aside from the guitar solo, and boy are they all over the place. Strange harmonic leaps across a massive range are the norm here, giving the melody a Visual-K or classic prog rock sound. Meanwhile, the rhythm section is busy hopping back and forth between rock, funk, and straight J-pop. The guitars feel like the glue in the mix, playing the mediary between genres. While the song definitely kept my analytic brain super interested for the first few listens, I can’t say I ever really felt the groove. Eventually the leaps in the vocals started to wear on my ears, and the lack of of a strong tonic base in the chorus left things feeling floaty and inconclusive. So while repeated listening is not recommended it’s a great ‘outside’ track for playlists. Especially recommended for those more familiar with music theory, or fans of complex harmony.

Verdict: Recommended with caution (2.9/5)

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people by Yuga

Released: 22.07.27 / Label: Self-released

I thought this was a picture of nature at first but it actually seems more like a pond with a dock. There are definitely people hanging out on the ledge, so the song title is accurate. But I’m not sure it matches the vibe the song is going for.

Yuga is a singer songwriter who’s been active on the music scene since 2011. She’s released two full albums, an EP, and won some music competitions to boot. She’s also toured and played festivals across the country. An active musician with a decade of experience is promising, but I’ve been burned before so I’m not getting my hopes up. Let’s give the track a listen.

I’m loving the slow steady pace of this track. It’s got an air of relaxed confidence that I don’t hear a lot in indie groups today. And certainly not from self proclaimed “singer songwriters.” It’s structured like a late 80s early 90s rock ballad, and the vocals have that 80s sensibility of straight tone with a deep breathy voice. Really wonderful singing throughout, although the mix wasn’t kind to the higher range. A bit more compression would have made the song pop better and probably brought it into the 2020s. The same goes for the guitar mix.

The musicians, while not the focus here, do a great job of padding out the song and groove. I really enjoy the drums in the second verse and chorus. The guitar solos fall a bit flat, I think a sound choice issue. They’re a bit too bubbly for the vocals. The synth pads also have the same mix problem as the vocals, with high ranges being a bit overbearing. But overall this is a great track that I’d definitely listen to again.

Verdict: Worth your time. (3.3/5)

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Reality by Living Rita

Released: 22.07.15 / Label: Orange Sunshine

Reality is the first track out from the upcoming double release “Reality/UTOPIA” from Living Rita. I love this minimal cover they’ve chosen. The RGB shifted almost flower-like object gives it a mysterious and spooky quality. No idea what it is though, so I guess that fits the title pretty well. I’ve not heard of this group before, so let’s do a little digging and find out who they are.

This duo is a spin-off project by Masami Takei (Ba/Vo) and Mai Takahashi (Synth/Vo) both of popular indie group Czecho No Republic. Turns out I did know who they were, I just had no idea they’d started this new group. Their band Czecho is well known in Japan and their music has been used as the ending themes for two recent Dragon Ball series. But Living Rita is a much newer and lesser known group. It seems that the two wanted to explore songwriting outside the music they were making with Czecho and the Corona lock-downs gave them the opportunity to get started. They’ve had a few large shows, one with Luby Sparks who we’ve reviewed before, and they’ve got another big event next month to celebrate this release. I’m very interested to hear what they’ve created as a smaller unit, so let’s check it out.

Wow, that was a strange song. It’s not like anything I’ve heard recently, seeming almost late 60s or early 70s in its composition. The melody is extremely slippery, velvety smooth but all over the place harmonically. At the same time the backing band is super chordal and straight forward. The players all have the occasional fill at the ends of phrases that attempt to give the track life, but it sounds more like a backing band at a bar show. Not lazy playing, but a kind of bored feel to everything. By the second listen I was a little bored, too. Not to say that the song is bad, it’s just not interesting either. Everything seems very stagnant and all the interesting bits come off as decoration.

The band sounds great though. It’s clearly a group of stellar musicians, especially the two main members. The recording is clean and the mix is nice if a bit washy. The short guitar solo sounds great, but has little impact on the song. Which is a pretty good summary of the overall vibe here. Not something I’d recommend, but I won’t hit the next button if it comes up on shuffle. I’ll be sure to check out the second single from this release when it comes out, Hopefully that will give me a better read on the group.

Verdict: Take it or leave it (2.8/3)

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Hiyashichuka by Sunny Day Service

Released: 22.07.15 / Label: ROSE RECORDS

Hiyashichuka is a Japanese dish (also known as hiyashi ramen or reimen) consisting of chilled ramen noodles with various toppings often served in summer. This EPs jacket (seen above) is an artist depiction of a hiyashi chuka restaurant, and just looking at it makes me hungry. Sunny Day Service (SDS) have done a great job naming this summer release, but let’s learn a bit about the band before we take a listen.

SDS is a three-piece band that’s been on the scene since 1992. While this year would technically their 30th anniversary, the band took a break from 2000 to 2008, so really it’s roughly their 22nd year together. The group made a huge impact early on in their career, bringing new life into a music scene that was hungering for something fresh and Western. While labeled a ‘rock’ band they’ve made music spanning a variety of genres including Shibuya-kei, folk, garage, neo-acoustic, and hip-hip. This is a band that’s been a major player in the J-Indie scene for three decades and they’re still making music today. Hiyashichuka is the title track from their latest EP which just dropped on July 15th. So let’s hear what they’ve put together for us this time.

As the lyrics point out, “Hiyashi chuka has begun.” Ok, that’s not exactly what they meant, but still. This song is beautifully played and the incredible mix and intricate extended outro really make it shine. SDS has such a unique sound and incredibly varied writing style. In this one track there are pop ballad melodies, Clapton-like guitar riffs, a groovy funk break, and 70’s style harmonies in the chorus. All these styles flow seamlessly into each other. It’s a real achievement making a song this all over the place feel homogeneous, and they pull it off in the most relaxing way possible.

(Sadly this song doesn’t know how to use the vibraslap effectively (at 1:47). For notes on proper usage see this review.)

The lyrics are one of the sticky points for me. I’m already not a fan of food analogies, and while I understand the use of a summer food to express a relaxing summer mood, this just seems a bit bottom-of-the-barrel. The English lyrics are equally lazy. It makes me think they didn’t spend as much time on the lyric writing as they did the music.

As for production value, the recording, mix, and mastering of the track are at the level I’d expect given the group’s tenure. Yet I was still left feeling like something was lacking. I’m not sure what that could be, maybe an issue of personal taste. But it’s still nice to hear a band this confident. And a necessity for a song that’s meant to put you at ease.

Verdict: Worth your time. (3.5/5)

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Twinkle Star Girl by the quiet room

Released: 22.07.20 / Label: mini muff records

Some beautiful artwork to start the week off! Not so sure about the name of this track, though…Twinkle Star Girl seems like the name of an anime princess type character.

the quiet room is currently a three-piece rock band from Ibaraki Prefecture. I say currently because they’ve been through three drummers since the band started in 2010 and there used to be another guitar player, so who knows how it will change in the future. Looking at their discography it seems like the band is crazy busy. They have releases every year since 2011 and they’ve done a ton of competitions and tours. Those competitions eventually landed them with a pretty successful label in 2015, so it seems like it worked out. This track leads into their 2023 national tour, coming up in January. Let’s hear what kind of song they’ve come up with.

Well that wasn’t rock, or the kind of song I would expect given the cover, but I love it! It’s much more of an alternative-pop song with a couple world grooves thrown in for good measure. The band definitely knows how to write a song. The whole thing is designed for the vocals, so the instrumentals are left in the background most of the time. Which is fine, because the singer is fantastic. Definitely much more of a pop style, which is perfect for this track. The song is about a character helplessly falling for a call girl, the ‘twinkle star girl’ from the title. I won’t go into translations here, but it’s funny and really well written, which is rarer than you’d think in Japan.

When the instrumentals do get a chance to take the lead they do a great job, the double time guitar solo at 1:50 is killer. (As are the Radiohead inspired choked chords at 2:24. Nice.) The flying guitar solos throughout, and the chorus parts work perfectly together to create motion and pad the top end of the mix. Ending the song with a bass solo section is a nice touch as well. The drummer plays well here too, but seems a bit robotic in comparison to the other parts.

The production is also incredibly well done and deserves a shout out. Everything sounds amazing, and the mix is just right for the genre. Incredible work. I’m actually hoping for a music video for this one. I’ll let you know if it drops.

Verdict: Must listen. (4.3/5)

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When You Fake Sleep by Fake Creators

Released: 22.07.06 / Label: I want the moon, not records

Talk about an awesome album cover. I have no idea what I’m looking at, but its both beautiful and unnerving. This is a new group, but it’s actually a project by two names that may be familiar to you. Let me explain…

Fake Creators is a new collaborative project between artists LITE and DE DE MOUSE. LITE is a well known four-piece Japanese instrumental rock band. They’ve been together for almost 20 years, and have made a name for themselves as killer musicians and pioneers of the complex math-rock genre. They’ve teamed up with DE DE MOUSE, a keyboard playing DJ who has made an art of combining world and club music. He’s brought his unique live performances on tour all over the world, and done collaborations with artists from many different fields.

I was already a big fan of each group individually, so the two groups having come together to form an entirely new project is super exciting. I can’t wait to see what they’ve made together, so let’s take a listen and find out!

When You Fake Sleep is equal parts calm and frenetic, with literally no transition between the two moods. It definitely peaked my interest from the get go. The soft guitar chords and clock-like rhythm lulled me into a sense of peace, only to have the song take off with an insane amount of chaotic energy. The B sections are all fast rhythmic phrases and bass lines that sound almost organic. Everything is linked together with a strange, spliced vocal line that seems like it has something to say, but never quite gets there.

I love the sound design they’ve used here. They’ve managed to get a really beautiful blend of both rock band and electronic production. Organic sounds and contrasting sections aren’t a new idea, though. This track reminds me a lot of what Bjork was doing 10 years ago with Biophilia. It is nice to hear a version of those ideas in Japan in 2022.

I enjoyed the song overall, but there are definitely areas that feel lacking given the experience these artists have. The two chord approach to the songwriting is disappointing. I think with a more complex harmonic base the song would have felt more developed. As it is, I don’t think there’s enough being said here to justify the second half of the song. After the first big explosive break they repeat back into the soft section and basically play the whole song again, but without adding anything or developing any of the ideas. So the track ends up feeling stretched to fill out a full length song. That being said, I definitely like the direction they’re heading and I hope to hear more in the future.

Verdict: Worth your time (3.3/5)

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Whoopie is a Punkrocker feat. Stephen Harrison by CHAMELEON LIME WHOOPIEPIE

Released: 22.07.06 / Label: CLWP Records

Ok, I know I’ve been doing a lot of songs with Chi- lately, but she’s been incredibly busy! And, after that last one, I think I need to hear her back in her element.

We’ve covered a CHAMELEON LIME WHOOPIEPIE track recently and I loved it, Mad Doctor. You can read up on the band there if you’ve not heard about them before. Even more recently we caught the singer Chi- doing guest vocals on a track I didn’t like so much (link above). Now we get to hear CLWP bring a guest into their own track. Non other than the delightful Stephen Harrison. He’s an American guitarist who currently plays with the band Fever 333, and played previously with The Chariot. I don’t know a lot about him, but he looks incredibly badass and I’m excited to hear him play with this awesome group. Let’s get into it.

Well that was way harder than the punk rock sound I was expecting. This whole song is incredibly fun, and the amount of different sections they crammed in makes it feel way longer than it is. The guitar definitely changes the sound of the group for the better, it’s a playful band at heart so the over the top riffs fit in perfectly with the cute glitchy sounds and cheesy bass lines. And these riffs go hard. They pull the band along with them and I love where they end up. Talk about a great sound, I don’t know who did this mix, but it’s perfect in so many ways. The depth of the sounds is incredible and yet every part is perfectly audible throughout. The sound is also genre appropriate, which, given the number of genres they cycle through in this 2:22 song, is unbelievable.

I’m also really happy that they decided to go almost completely Japanese with the lyrics. I’ve had problems with the English in the past, and I feel a bit vindicated after hearing the quality we’re getting with the change here. The emotion behind the words is so clear and gives the song so much more power.

Perhaps most surprisingly of all, the only thing I could find wrong with this song is how short it is. I really hope they do a track together again. And we’ll probably be seeing CLWP again in the near future.

Verdict: Must listen (4.8/5)

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SAQAVA by the band apart

Released: 22.07.13 / Label: asian gothic label

This hand-painted jacket design is really well done and features a Ninja! SAQAVA is the lead single from the band apart‘s newest album Ninja of Four. Given what I know about English in Japan, I’m guessing that they meant something like The Four Ninja. Although it may be about a ninja that just loves the number four. The track title SAQAVA is also a bit mysterious, but my best guess is that it’s a respelling of the Japanese “Sakaba” or “Drinking Establishment.” So, lots of fun little cultural tidbits in this one. Let’s see what kind of band they are.

the band apart is a four-piece Japanese rock band that formed in Tokyo in 1998. Throughout their 24 years on the scene they’ve released an astounding 9 albums, 20 EPs and 6 DVDs. They’ve had varying degrees of popularity over the years, but they’re well known and play to large crowds wherever they go. This is their first full album in five years, and it’s gotten a fair amount of attention from the music media here in Japan. Impressively, they’ve been releasing music through their own label, asian gothic label, since their first full album back in 2003. The label also has a small roster of signed musicians they release, and occasionally the sponsors events like AG FES. I’m excited to hear what the band has been making over the past five years, so lets check out the track.

That was much more relaxed and poppy than I was expecting. A very smooth song overall, but definitely more in the realm of pop than rock. The vocals are wonderful, this is a very experienced singer who knows the sound he wants and gets it. I’m a bit surprised at the lack of pitch correction I’m hearing. A lot of groups will edit the vocals a bit more, but here you can hear the tiny wavers in pitch that are often corrected. It’s refreshing and very welcome for this kind of song. The melody has a pretty small range, but given the feeling of speed that the song is going for I think it works.

The music is also really solid and the players have a tight groove that’s to be expected from a band together this long. But the parts themselves, while masterfully played, aren’t really that interesting. This is all music we’ve heard before, nothing new or fresh is being done. I feel like I could have heard this song played 10 years ago and thought it was outdated then. The most interesting thing that happens is the lead guitar line before the mid-song break, and even that’s just basic jazz scales. This is a strangely safe track for them to release ahead of the album. I just hope some of the other new songs are a bit more original.

Verdict: Worth your time (3.4/5)

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Hold On by Junya Narita

Released: 22.06.24 / Label: Self-released

There are a lot of these cityscape covers in the J-Indie scene, but this has to be one of the better ones I’ve seen. The colors are really well done and the soft text of ‘Hold On’ at the top is definitely a mood. Let’s find out a little about the artist before jumping into the track.

It’s hard to find info on Junya Narita in the usual places, but all his social pics point to him being a solo singer/songwriter based in Tokyo who’s had a lot of success on streaming platforms, but is still on his way up. His style is very mature, very ‘cool’ colors and fashion. Before I even hit play I’m guessing this will be a light J-Pop love song. It also seems like he’s joined by other musicians on this track, so maybe a three piece for this recording? I didn’t see many pictures of him playing with a live band though. OK, let’s get to the music.

Scariest opening lyrics I’ve heard in awhile! show me your skin Stalker-vibes aside, that was almost exactly what I was expecting, although less J-Pop and more alternative indie. Hold On is a pretty plain love song overall. The lyrics are stereotypical and the music has been done better before by thousands of other artists, which means that his voice is really the only thing unique about the song. And, luckily for Mr. Narita, he’s really pleasant to listen to. Bad English aside, the tone is fresh yet developed and gives the music some much needed emotion. I imagine that if he was singing in Japanese it would have more depth, but even here his skill is clear.

The harmony work is kind of a miss, and the overall arrangement is definitely simple. It sounds like he had some good ideas that just didn’t work out. Some sweeps and some solo melodic lines that just suffered from bad instrument choices and bad mixing. The mix itself is super boring and there are a lot of missed opportunities. The distance between this and The Fray isn’t as big as it would seem, mostly the scope of the song’s dynamics. So I hope he finds someone with a better ear and imagination to work with in the future.

Verdict: Take it or leave it (2.5/5)

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Tony W. by Cutty Scooner

Released: 22.06.29 / Label: Self-released

I’m new to this artist, but the cover makes it look like a soap opera’s opening credit role theme song. I hope it’s a bit better than that…

Cutty Scooner is a hard group to find info on. They’re a duo from Tokyo, and I think that may be the singer on the cover there. There’s not a lot else on the band available, so they are either very new or very underground. Happy to have found them though, now let’s see what kind of music they make.

There are a lot more instruments than I expected, and they all sound amazing and are well played. It’s refreshing to hear real players and not just midi parts (unless I’ve been duped). Tony W. is put together nicely in a very pensive, almost soft jazz arrangement. Beautiful singing as well, although they should really check the English in the lyrics. It seems I was wrong about the singer being on the cover, as the majority of the song is a male voice. I’m not at all sure who does what in this group. The cover does indeed have the right feeling for this track, the lyrics are like an ambiguous poem, but the general mood is like a soap opera theme from the 90s.

I really like the odd meter (5/4) groove of the song. The odd number matches well with the uncertain feeling of the music. It’s almost anxious in its melodic choices, and the trumpet solo that accents the last third of the track captures that emotion perfectly. And it’s a really good solo. It sounds like a seasoned jazz player. Overall I’m conflicted though, because as much as the track gets right it still feels very stagnant. That may be a problem in the mix more than anything, there isn’t a lot of dynamics in the different parts, so it ends up all feeling kind of right in the middle of expressive range. That being said, the song is really beautiful and I’ll definitely be keeping my eye on this group in the future.

Verdict: Worth your time (3/5)

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