Reviewing Kikagaku Moyo for Pitchfork
Reviewed the latest from Kikagaku Moyo for Pitchfork.
Japanese underground artists possess a flair for myth-making, from Les Rallizes Dénudés’ shrouded history to eventual Boredoms founder Yamantaka Eye driving a bulldozer on stage for a gig. Tokyo’s Kikagaku Moyo have their fair share of good yarns since forming in 2012. The first song on their debut album was supposedly “written over a night spent jamming on a suspended footbridge in remote mountains,” while drummer Go Kurosawa took a significant period of time before starting the group living out of a backpack in Central America. Stone Garden, the band’s latest release, was recorded in a Prague basement during several near-continuous days of improvising, and then pieced together back in their hometown. The real hook, though, is that the five-song album finds a band who’s attracted attention for a folk approach to psychedelic rock showing off their experimental and often messy side.
Talking to NECRONOMIDOL and writing about other bands pushing metal in new directions for Bandcamp
Caught up with the idol group NECRONOMIDOL, and also wrote about other Japanese groups pushing metal forward for Bandcamp.
In many ways, NECRONOMIDOL look a lot like other groups in the Japanese “female idol” genre, a corner of J-Pop in which groups of young women perform chirpy pop while dancing. The group consists of five members, ranging in age from late teens to early 20s, which is in keeping with the style’s emphasis on youth. But NECRONOMIDOL don’t perform the excessively upbeat, synth-driven numbers about friendship and crushes typical of the genre—NECRONOMIDOL are a metal group. They dabble in darkness; their associated imagery is heavy on skulls and ample violence, and their music makes ample space for industrial and the speedier varieties of metal.
But the group’s live shows are hardly typical of metal. For one thing, there are no guitars or drums on the stage; instead, a backing track plays while the five members dance in unison, sing, and occasionally deliver bloodcurdling screams. And while their presentation is atypical, they aren’t the only Japanese band seeking new sounds beyond the borders of heavy metal. They’re instead part of a scene that also includes the Osaka-based band Vampillia, Tokyo’s industrial and metal fusion rockers Legion of Andromeda, and many, many others.
Going to Niconico Chokaigi for Metropolis
Went to Niconico Chokaigi for Metropolis, soaked it all in.
As I waited for a kabuki performance to start, I watched a packed arena applaud a man who appeared on the venue’s big screen, dressed up as the defunct soda marketing character Pepsiman.
It was one of many surreal moments on April 29th and 30th at the 2017 Niconico Chokaigi, an annual event occupying the hangar-sized halls of Chiba’s Makuhari Messe. The event, now in its sixth installment, celebrates the culture and users of Niconico, a Japanese video sharing site once known as Nico Nico Douga. The Chokai offered a chance to bridge URL to IRL, giving the many quirky users a physical space to shine. Dozens of booths were also taken out by major companies, itching to reach younger, web-savvy types.
Writing about Cornelius’ new single at Pitchfork
I reviewed the first song from Corenlius’ forthcoming album — his first in 11 years — for Pitchfork.
Keigo Oyamada has kept busy over the past 11 years, but he’s often done so just outside of the spotlight. Since the artist better known as Cornelius released his last full-length, Sensuous in 2006, he’s played as a member of Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band, and created soundtracks for an educational series about design and Ghost In The Shell: Arise. In these projects, and in his recent, high-profile collaborations with J-Pop singer Salyu and Japanese supergroup Metafive—his carefully constructed sound always stands out. Yet Oyamada has seemed content to blur into the background.
Small editorial off of recent US trip for The Japan Times
I wrote a small editorial for the Japan Times about my recent experience in the United States.
It’s official: You can’t escape politics in America. On a recent trip to Seattle, everyone I spoke to wanted to talk about President Donald Trump. Fittingly, the 2017 edition of the Museum of Pop Culture’s Pop Conference, which I was invited to speak at, took on a political theme with “Sign O’ The Times: Music and Politics.”
Catching up with De De Mouse for The Japan Times
Caught up with De De Mouse for The Japan Times, and talked about his new album and the sound of pop music globally in 2017:
Daisuke Endo made peace with EDM thanks to Mister Donut. The electronic artist, better known by his stage name De De Mouse, eats at the snack chain frequently. Recently, he says he has been enjoying the American pop music they pipe into the store.
“They always play The Chainsmokers. It’s almost like good 1980s-style pop music, it’s very refined,” he says, referring to the American electronic duo who have dominated charts over the past year. “When I was at Mister Donut … I didn’t know what the song was, but it was just good hit music.”
The producer, known for bouncy electro-pop anchored by diced-up vocals, hasn’t gone full Billboard Hot 100 on latest album “Dream You Up,” but he has come a long way from his last full-length, 2015’s “Farewell Holiday!,” which embraced jazz and classical. He says that LP was his personal protest against the bludgeoning sounds of dance music branded as EDM, then inescapable in the Japanese club scene.
“I now view EDM and tropical house as pop music, and at this point it has been perfected,” he says. “My last album was about going against EDM, but now that it’s so ingrained in pop music, I listen to it and I take what I find good about it.”
Writing about new seed-to-table spot Noz for The Japan Times
This weekend, I wrote about new organic restaurant Noz over at The Japan Times:
Futoshi Ota has lofty goals for Noz, a new restaurant that brings the grand vision of his company one step closer to reality.
“I want people in Japan to know what real agriculture, what the real organic culture is like. What’s a healthy way of eating.” The president of T.Y. Farm Inc., the company behind the just-opened eatery on Tennozu Isle, doesn’t stop there:
“I want Tokyo to be more of a real international city,” he says. “It looks like one, but it isn’t 100 percent there yet.”
To that end he has launched Noz (full title: Noz by T.Y. Farm), a casual restaurant featuring all organic and gluten-free dishes using fresh, locally grown and seasonal vegetables. It takes cues from similar spots found on the west coast of the United States in line with the farm-to-table ethos, along with culinary trends that now hold sway in Los Angeles. Kale dominates the menu, from the Caesar salad to the “Kale beer.”
Writing about obscure Japanese reissues for The Japan Times
There is currently deep interest in older, mostly obscure Japanese music from the 1980s going on in the West. I dug into it for The Japan Times.
Fans of Japanese vinyl have good reason to be happy. HMV recently opened a store in the Kichijoji area dedicated to selling records — the third such establishment in Tokyo — and April 22 is Record Store Day. What started in 2012 as four artists putting out special releases has evolved into a day featuring rare items and numerous in-store performances.
Not reflected by any limited-edition 7″ or gigs, though, is a trend playing out on the other side of the world. Last month, Japanese artist Midori Takada’s 1983 album “Through the Looking Glass” was reissued by American label Palto Flats in conjunction with Switzerland’s WRWTFWW Records to much fanfare. But it was just the latest bubble-era rarity to be praised by critics: Last year, Amsterdam store Rush Hour launched a Japan-centric series of vinyl reissues, while the label Music From Memory reissued lush pop duo Dip In The Pool’s 1989 track “On Retinae.” Plenty of other albums relegated to record store bargain bins also found a second life, highlighted by Palto Flats’ 2015 rerelease of “Utakata no Hibi,” a sought-after LP by the group Mariah.
Writing about “Your Name’s” success in Japan for The Atlantic
Long time since I’ve written for The Atlantic, but I returned late last week with an article about the success of “Your Name” in Japan.
A fact that will come up in nearly every review of the film Your Name as it opens in theaters across North America this weekend is how it was the highest-grossing film in Japan last year. Makoto Shinkai’s animated feature about two body-swapping teenagers has thus far pulled in over 24 billion yen (around $214 million), becoming the second highest-grossing movie in the country ever, trailing only the revered director Hayao Miyazaki’s 2001 Spirited Away. It’s shattered records for Japanese films across Asia, and is now the most profitable picture from the country in China. Before even arriving stateside, it has nabbed the title of the top-grossing anime movie of all time, while also enjoying critical raves. (The Atlantic’s David Sims praised it as one of the best teen movies in years.)
Yet these numbers fail to capture just how big a pop-cultural force Your Name (Kimi no Na wa in Japanese) has become in its home country. Since arriving in movie theaters late last August, it has spawned limited-run cafes, dating events, and merchandise ranging from sake to a home planetarium. The film centers on a pair of adolescents, one living in Tokyo and the other in a town in the countryside of Gifu Prefecture. And so travel companies have organized walking tours of Your Name’s metropolitan locations, while a bus tour out to the rural areas that inspired Makoto proved popular (Gifu as a whole has seen a big economic boost in the film’s wake). Turn on the TV and many shows reference the film, while the songs from Your Name have become staples at karaoke and junior high schools across the archipelago. Traditional Japanese kumihimo (or threads) have become a trendy accessory on Instagram after playing a central role in the story.
Talking to Phew for Bandcamp Daily
For Bandcamp Daily, I talked with experimental legend Phew about her new alubm.
The last two years have been rewarding for fans of Japanese experimental artist Phew. She’s released a pair of full-lengths—2015’s A New World and the off-kilter Light Sleep, released this past March via New York label Mesh-Key. This is an especially welcome development, considering her last record before that was released in 1995.
It’s not that Phew—real name Hiromi Moritani—vanished, necessarily. Over the past 20 years, she’s collaborated with various musicians, fronted the punk-rock band Most, and played shows all across Japan. In recent years, local music media have begun affording Phew the critical respect she deserves; albums she created over the last 40 years have gone from record store rarities to being included on “best of” lists. She landed at number 35 on Japanese magazine Snoozer’s “150 Greatest Albums of Japanese Rock ‘n’ Roll,” and two of her albums were named Music Magazine’s best Japanese albums of the ‘90s list last year.
Yet despite the growing acclaim, Phew didn’t release any solo material until she started recording songs for Light Sleep in 2014.“I recorded at home casually,” she tells me. “My thoughts and feelings at the moment I made that music were reflected directly in the songs.”