I discovered British rock band My Bloody Valentine in an unlikely place and time: Beijing in 1991, when China was still very much a communist society, gray and unsmiling, with memories of the Tiananmen massacre two years earlier an unspoken but constant presence. I was an exchange student. My roommate had been a DJ at a college radio station in the U.S. and brought with him a stack of tapes of the latest, hippest alternative bands. My Bloody Valentine was one of those.
Because I listened to My Bloody Valentine so much that winter (in the process annoying my roommate because I borrowed not only his tapes but his walkman too), playing their music now I see scenes of the Beijing life: snow around a big, dilapidated building storing coal; students ice-skating on the frozen pond in Beijing University; egg pancakes fried in stalls outside the university gates.
I never thought that more than a decade later, My Bloody Valentine would remain so popular and influential. They are huge among Japanese rock musicians! As far as I know they only recorded two good albums and several EP’s, but new generations of listeners seem to be constantly getting turned on to them.
For those that aren’t familiar with the band, My Bloody Valentine created their music by heavily distorting guitar parts, but despite that the tunes are catchy and melodic. It makes you want to sing along, even though oftentimes you have little idea what the dreamy-sounding singers are saying.
Below are five CDs by Japanese bands that consciously or not owe a lot to My Bloody Valentine, inheritors of their distortion-heavy, dreamy sound. If you like other similar bands like Slow Dive and Ride, these CDs might be worth a listen too.
Condor 44's db.
Hartfield's True Color, True Lie.
winnie's first class speed of light.
These three bands share in common the fact that, like My Bloody Valentine, each has a girl and a guy vocalist that share the singing duties. It’s a good arrangement. Male and female voices are like wine and cheese – they go well together.
Condor 44 plays drawn-out, Explore Outer Space-type songs. At live shows, the drummer sits on one side of the stage rather than in the back, meaning your ears will be hurting by the end if you stand on his side of the stage.
Hartfield is more rocking and more straightforwardly melodic than Condor, though the guys still pile on the distortion. They sing with voices of bliss. Their girl guitarist Yukari is SO cool, appearing on stage wearing a white dress and playing a cream-colored Gibson Flying V guitar.
Winnie came out of nowhere last year with this brilliant album, and played a few good shows. Then they disappeared, and haven’t been heard from for about half a year. Looking at their website, which hasn’t been updated since May, it looks like they were recording an album, but then the bass player left the band. I hope they start playing again. They’re a sweet-sounding, laid-back group, though one problem might be that they’re a little too laid back. At one of their shows, I saw the girl singer and guitarist Iori (who had a solo career before Winnie was formed) chewing gum while singing on stage.
Cruyff in the Bedroom's hikarihimawari.
Cruyff in the Bedroom is fairly well known outside of Japan too. A good band.
Metro-ongen is a band I found out about at Tower Records Shibuya recently. Another band with a girl/guy combo singing line-up, they do exciting stuff. I’m supposed to see them with Throw Curve on Sunday. Looking forward to that.