Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Alas...The Clicks Call It Quits

Goodbye, the Clicks. Posted by Picasa

Sad news--the Clicks, the wonderful Japanese girl rock trio I've written about several times, are calling it quits. On their website's BBS, the group announced that they will split up after playing the rest of this year's scheduled shows. No reason was given for the sudden dissolution.

The Clicks will leave behind two splendid, spirited rock albums: Come To Vivid Girl's Room, and Magic Of White. I especially liked the second of those two albums, Magic Of White, which feels more mature and musically adventurous than the debut effort. But, really, both were great, and it's sad to think there won't be any more albums featuring these three girls harmonizing over simple but driving rock parts.

Bassist Chiharu, who is the unofficial spokeswoman of the band, says in her farewell message, "We won't be playing live anymore, but our CDs will remain. Even after we disband, if you could continue to listen to the CDs, that would make me happy."

I know I will.


For anyone who wants to catch the Clicks at their final shows, here's their schedule:

Sept. 13 (Tuesday) - Koenji Club Liner
Sept. 29 (Thursday) - Futagotamagawa Pink Noise
Oct. 8 (Saturday) - Akita (venue undecided)
Oct. 14 (Friday) - Osaka (venue undecided)
Oct. 15 (Saturday) - Kobe Big Beat
Nov. 5 (Saturday) - Kichijoji WARP

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Songs From advantage Lucy's Echo Park

Tokyo pop band advantage Lucy has published on its website the list of songs that will be on the group's new album, Echo Park, due for release on Sept. 28.

Some of these songs I've heard live and/or on compilations, and they're all wonderful: "Glider", "Anderson", "Shiosai [which means, 'sound of waves']", for example. Others are brand new. I'm looking forward to seeing how the songs go together.

One song I'm especially happy will be included in the album is "Akai Natsu". I heard this simple tune once at a show and it's stayed in my mind. The song title literally means "vermilion summer", but its real meaning is the period in life after youth. In Japanese, youth is 'seishun', or, literally, 'green spring'. What follows that season is a hot, red summer, as in the song title.

Judging from "Akai Natsu" and the other songs I've heard (and the album title Echo Park, probably, for that matter), the main theme of this album will be the passage of time, memories, loss and discoveries. A lot has happened to this band in the four years since the release of its last album, and I have a feeling that Echo Park will a beautiful memorial of those years.

Their website now has an English section dealing with the new album, by the way. Guess who helped them with that?

The songs: 1. glider 2. spur line 3. Anderson 4. Akai Natsu 5. Tooi Hi ['A Day Far Away'] 6. Shiosai 7. is this love? 8. splash 9. planeteria 10. everything 11. time after time

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Spangle call Lilli line's For Installation

For Installation Posted by Picasa

Spangle call Lilli line, one of Japan’s most exciting bands, recently released two new albums: the nine-song Trace and the seven-song For Installation. I wrote earlier that Trace, the first to be released, would probably turn out to be one of the best Japanese CDs of 2005. For Installation, on the other hand, I bought right after it was released but didn’t listen to it very carefully for a few weeks. I’d read that the mini-album consisted of Spangle songs that didn’t fit into Trace, and I thought it wouldn’t be as good as the earlier release and I could take my time getting acquainted with it.

How wrong I was.

For Installation, if anything, is the album that would probably appeal more to fans of old Spangle albums like Or and Nanae. Trace, for all its brilliance, was an album that showed a new, more pop Spangle that left some of the old fans cold. Missing were those huge and gorgeous songs (some lasting ten minutes) that ever so gradually worked out themes and took listeners to unexpected places. I’m a fan of Trace, but I have to admit that none of the songs in it quite equals in intensity old Spangle songs like “E” or “Nano”.

With For Installation, however, Spangle seems to be revisiting familiar ground, their old sound that has been described as post-rock, minimalist, and so on. Listening to their earlier stuff is a bit like riding Space Mountain rollercoaster: the song slowly build up in intensity until, like a plunge in the dark, an unexpected chord change takes the listener to a new emotional level. You find some of that again in For Installation.

The third song, "ff wave length gg", is a good example of what I mean. It starts somewhat bleakly, with repeated guitar and bass notes, a light ringing bell sound, and Kana Otsubo's singing. Bit by bit, though, more sounds enter the picture, until, about three minutes into the song, it climbs to a climax. It's an emotionally powerful peak that in afterthought you can see coming but on first listen feels like it appeared out of the blue.

Vocalist Otsubo's soft, ethereal voice is key to creating the Spangle sound. She is like a gentle-voiced tour guide through an Escher world of music. Someone once described her singing style as being like a lullaby, and I think that's a good description. When she chants "te-le-phone" in the song of that name in the album, I can barely restrain myself from turning into one those fools who sing aloud with iPod headphones on; I want to sing along, even though I know I would sound terrible.

Immersed in a Spangle song, I've wondered: if Otsubo one day has a kid, would she sing like this to the child at bedtime? And would that child, after growing up, realize mom is the singer of Spangle call Lilli line, a band that brought much beautiful music to the world?

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

My Way My Love; All Tomorrow's Party

All Tomorrow's Party Posted by Picasa

About ten seconds into the set, My Way My Love’s guitarist collapsed onto the stage floor. For a little while it didn’t look like he was moving. But soon it became clear he was still alive: his fingers moved, stroking the guitar strings. During My Way My Love’s wild thirty-minute set, the guitarist, Yukio Murata, ended up on the floor often, crawling on his back like Prince or falling on his knees, focusing completely on the guitar like Jimi Hendrix. Those moments on the ground were the only times that he stayed anything approaching still.

I’d heard a lot about how intense this Japanese rock trio’s shows were, reading about them, for example, in Rock of Japan, but tonight at the Koenji Club Liner was the first time for me to actually see these guys, and I can tell you they lived up to their reputation. They shook so fast to the music it looked like strobe lights were on though they weren’t. In particular, when the bleached blond drummer, Takeshi Owaki, swung his head, he became a silvery blur.

And, oh my, how they rocked! They reminded me most of Sonic Youth, but really, they took from an entire spectrum of modern hard rocking styles—punk, metal, noise, etc.—and came up with a sound that was uniquely their own. Their show sped by too quickly.

My Way My Love at the Club Liner. Posted by Picasa

The final act of the night, after My Way My Love, was a band called All Tomorrow’s Party (the night also featured Blondie Plastic Wagon and a band named Seattle), and they seemed subdued after MWML’s sonic assault. The trio, who my friend Dr. I had long been urging me to see, didn’t move around much on stage, and their songs were straightforward, solid rock. But despite the lack of flashiness of this band, I liked them. All the frills in the world can’t save a mediocre band, but a good band is good even without a lot of extras. Maybe because of their name they reminded me a little bit of Velvet Underground, though their music was more British rock.

All Tomorrow's Party at the Club Liner. Posted by Picasa

This was the first event I’d been to in a while in which all the musicians playing in all the bands were guys. I prefer mixed-sex bands, to be honest.

The Club Liner is a new live house, and one notable thing about it is that it's a no-smoking joint except in the back area. It can get annoying after a while when a guy is chain-smoking in front of you in a crowded club, and I thought the set-up was a smart idea.

Also, the club was tiny, but looking at its schedule I could see it booked a lot of quality independent bands, the sorts of groups who usually play at the Shinjuku Loft or Shimokitazawa Que. I wondered how this small club was able to attract such talent, until Dr. I told me that a member of Telstar was one of the people running this club. That made sense. Telstar has been around for years, do great, hyperactive, joke-filled shows, and must have loads of friends to invite to this new club. After the show, one of Telstar’s records played on the sound system as I walked out.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Food Band Night: Noodles Vs. Waffles

An alley in Yoyogi near the Zher the Zoo club. Posted by Picasa

Friday night at the Yoyogi Zher the Zoo club was the Battle of Food Bands Night. Headlining the event were two groups with edible names, the Noodles and the Waffles. Well, actually, there was also a guy guitar/girl drummer duo called Little Hayata that billed themselves as “the White Stripes of Osaka”, but I’ve never been that crazy about the White Stripes, and neither was I about this band.

OK, in reality the event was called something else, and the bands probably didn’t think they were in a musical “battle” with each other, but that’s the way I liked to think of it. The two Japanese groups, the Noodles and Waffles, are both good but so different that I wanted to see which one ended up playing a better show and capturing the hearts of more audience members.

To fast-forward ahead to my conclusion, I was more impressed by the Waffles and would have given them the victor’s trophy. But the Noodles were also enjoyable, enough to make me want to get a second serving.

As in past shows of the all-girl alternative rock trio, singer/guitarist Yoko was the energetic Noodle, swaying as she sang in the way she has of sounding both relaxed and passionate. Next to her Ikuno played bass and sang chorus with a fixed, mild smile on her face that made her look a bit mannequin-like. Ayumi, meanwhile, looking athletic in her short hair and golf shirt, pounded the drums with much power, as if she wanted to get a good workout.

During a break between songs (and keeping with my food theme), Yoko said her goal for the summer was to eat alone at new types of restaurants. She noted that Ikuno ate by herself at kaiten zushi joints, where you pick up sushi that’s going around on a conveyor belt, and she found that impressive. Equally impressive, Yoko said drummer Ayumi eats alone at Matsuya beef bowl restaurants, whose clientele for some reason or another is almost all male. But Yoko said she could only go alone to places like McDonald’s, and wanted to gather the courage to try out these more adventurous solo restaurant outings of her band mates.

It was pretty clear who in the audience was a Noodles fan and who was a Waffles fan. The Noodles fans wore rocker clothes and often had tattoos. The Waffles fans, on the other hand, looked like ordinary, mild-mannered college students for the most part. When the Waffles show started, it was also clear the show would be different from the Japanese girl grunge of the Noodles: the band members walked onto the stage to the Madonna tune “Holiday”.

As you can imagine from that song selection, the Waffles are a pop band, and their songs are a wonderfully catchy treat (you can song samples from their mini-album Orangery by clicking on the album icon here and scrolling down to the MP3 links). They have their own sound on stage: all of the ensemble’s sounds—piano, guitar, bass and drums—come through distinct, there’s pleasant space between the individual sounds, but they all come together to envelop vocalist/pianist Kyoko Ono’s gentle but impassioned voice, as well as the audience. The Noodles’ Yoko had said earlier that when she saw the Waffles rehearse, it felt like her “feelings were being washed”—‘kokoro ga arawareru’, a Japanese expression that is frequently used, but seemed appropriate in this case. In my case, I’d come to this show after a long week at work, and outside was hot and humid with heavy clouds in the sky that threatened to burst into torrential summer rain, but when I listened to the Waffles play, for the first time that evening I felt my tiredness fade.

The Waffles are a band you should see, if you can.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Mark Your Calendars: advantage Lucy's New Album

advantage Lucy's new album, Echo Park. Posted by Picasa

At last!

At their show on Sunday, advantage Lucy announced the release date of its new album, Echo Park: September 28. It will contain 11 songs. The album will be sold in major music stores in Japan, and should be available on Amazon Japan and other on-line shops in case you live outside of Japan.

The picture above is the cover of the album, photographed by graphic designer Akira Muramatsu, a long-time friend of the band. Lucy vocalist Aiko is holding in her hand a marble that is glittering in the sun. When the photo was taken Aiko's collarbone was broken after an accident, and this was as much as she could raise her arm without it hurting.

The show at which the release date was announced was completely packed--it was at the Shimokitazawa Club Que and it was sold out, partly because the band that they were playing with, the Castanets, are also popular. But I didn't mind the rush-hour commuter train feel of the club: the people around me were all Lucy fans, which means they can't be bad people.

To mark the release of Echo Park, Lucy will be playing solo shows at the Que on Sunday, October 30, and at a place called the Osaka Live Square 2nd Line on Sunday, November 6. Since more fans turn up to shows when only their favorite band is playing, rather than a group of bands, there's a chance these shows might be sold out too. So, if you're in Japan and are interested in seeing them (which you should--they're one of the truly great bands of Japan!), I'd recommend reserving tickets via e-mail from their website.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Limited Express To The U.S.

Limited Express (has gone?), an outstanding alternative/noise/punk trio I wrote about a few days ago, is touring the U.S. in September. If you are in the U.S. and Limited Express is coming your way, skip work, cancel important dinner appointments, TiVo your favorite TV show, put off proposing to your future wife etc., and go to their show, because these guys are really worth seeing (especially if you have a taste for alternative Japanese music)!

* w/xbxrx, Numbers, Mika Miko** w/Numbers

9-8 - San Francisco, CA - Bottom Of The Hill**
9-10 - Los Angeles, CA - The Echo*
9-14 -- TBA**
9-15 -- Boston, MA / TBA - TBA**
9-16- New York, NY- Kill rock Stars CMJ showcase at Knitting Factory
9-17 - Providence, RI - As220**
9-18 - Boston, MA - TBA**
9-19 - Montreal, QC - La Sala Rosa**
9-20- Toronto, ON - X-Pace**
9-21- Lansing, MI - Mac’s Bar **
9-22 - Chicago, IL - Estrojam Festival @ The Bottom Lounge**
9-23 - Madison, WI - High Noon Salloon**
9-24 - Milwaukee, WI - Onopa**
9-25 - Urbana, IL - Canopy Club**
9-26 - Newport, KY - Southgate House**
9-27 -- Pittsburgh, PA - Garfield Art Works**
9-28 - Baltimore, MD - Talking Head Club **
9-29 - Philadelphia, PA - TBA **
9-30 - Brooklyn, NY - TBA**

Saturday, August 06, 2005

No Garden Of Eden

Pepper Girl in Ebisu. Posted by Picasa

Japan’s music scene has given me much pleasure and satisfaction, but it’s no Garden of Eden, and there are things about it that tick me off.

One is the obsessive, over-the-top way that concert halls, especially the bigger ones, handle crowd control. An example: seemingly the second that a show finishes, hall staffers start to hustle the crowd out the door. Then, if you pause for even a moment outside of the club, the club’s security comes over and tells you to not congregate outside and to get moving.

All the efforts at crowd control are ironic, because of all the people in the world, the Japanese are probably one of the least likely to riot after a rock show. But at the same time it’s a very Japanese thing. What the club managers and concert hall owners are worried about are complaints by neighboring businesses and residents if they let noisy young music fans gather outside of their establishments after shows. How neighbors view them, and harmonic living with those neighbors, are very important, much more so than minor considerations like your customers having fun.

The other day I went to the new Ebisu Liquid Room, a relatively big club, to see The Go! Team, the Magic Numbers and the Futureheads, and was reminded of this unpleasant attitude. I ran into two Japanese musicians I know at the hall, and as usual, when the event was over we were all herded out of the venue.

With the rest of the crowd, we walked out of the hall, turned the corner to head toward Ebisu train station, when a surprising thing happened. A guy was passing out fliers there for some sort of musical event, but a security guard in blue uniform rushed over and asked him to stop passing out the fliers. I assumed the guard worked for the Liquid Room—who else could he be? But this was on a public street, a block away from the club. An American, say, might have told the guard to go screw himself, he has the constitutionally guaranteed right to pass out fliers on a public street and will do so if he feels like it. This was Japan, however, and the flier guy looked unhappy, but soon gave up.

I dismissed this as typical Japanese BS and was ready to move on, but the two Japanese musicians who were with me, who I’ve never seen lose their temper about anything, seemed genuinely upset about what just happened.

“What right does the club have to stop a guy passing out fliers?” one of them asked.

“Yeah, things like that [passing out fliers] help make the scene bigger,” the other said.

That’s when I realized that, to these two’s way of thinking, when a big club hires guards to stop people from handing out music event fliers outside its shows, in a small way it’s stomping its foot down on the independent music scene itself. Indie bands don’t have a big advertising budget. They make fliers themselves, photocopy them, and then hand them out after shows in hopes some people will notice these pieces of paper. It’s the Do It Yourself spirit. Sometimes after shows at a club like the Que in Shimokitazawa, the whole stairwell leading up to the ground level is filled with guys handing out fliers to future shows. And I take every one of those, and study them. Often the guys passing the fliers out are musicians from great bands I love.

Is the Liquid Room working under some agreement with the city or the neighborhood that, in return for being allowed to do business there, it would ensure that the groups of people walking to and from the station don’t cause any disturbances, like for example, passing out fliers? Or is this a voluntary initiative of theirs? Whatever the reason it reminded me why I try to avoid seeing shows at big, uncool venues like the Liquid Room.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Choices, Choices

A difficult decision is coming up next Friday, August 12: two equally fabulous sounding shows are happening on the same night in Tokyo.

Both shows feature two bands that don't share much in common except for the fact I like them both. At the new Yoyogi Zher the Zoo will be the Noodles, cute rocking three-girl band, and Waffles, a brilliant (ex-) college piano pop group. At the Club 251 in Shimokitazawa will be alternative girl pop band Pop Chocolat, who I adored the last time I saw them a few weeks ago but who I haven't been able to catch since then, and crowd-energizing alternative punk-funk quartet Farmstay.

I'm leaning toward the Noodles/Waffles show, but I think I won't know for sure until about 5PM on Friday.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Limited Express (has gone?); Melt-Banana

Watusi Zombie at the O-Nest. Posted by Picasa

I’d been to the Shibuya O-Nest only a few days earlier, but when I climbed down the stairs and entered the stage floor tonight, I was in a different world. Gone were the nice girls and boys playing guitar pop. Instead, on the stage was an eccentric punk band, the singer yelling into a mike covered with a Grand Buddha mask.

These guys were the Watusi Zombie from Osaka, and they were insane. Within a few minutes, one of the guitarists TWICE dove into the audience and crowd-surfed. For the finale the drummer jumped into the crowd carrying his drums, arranged the set on the floor, and started pounding on it surrounded by fans while a guitarist played standing on a railing (pictured above).

Next up was Melt-Banana, a noise/punk band I’d read about in Rock of Japan (they’ve visited the U.S. several times) and have wanted to see for a while. They were fantastic. The guitarist, wearing a gauze mouth mask the whole show, made freaky hyperactive guitar sounds, while the girl singer shouted out the lyrics like a rapper, in a high voice, and the band’s driving punk beats sparked mosh pit action. They were like Rage Against the Machine meets speed metal meets the Chipmunks.

Limited Express (has gone?), next, was the band I’d been most looking forward to tonight, because I’d seen a DVD recording of their show, and they seemed wild and intense in a fun musical way. The trio didn’t disappoint. The female vocalist/bassist, who wore a yellow tank top and tight denim shorts and had huge hair, would at one moment sing in the most rapid-fire Japanese I’d ever heard, then would scream in a strange, vibrato way, and then run from one end of the stage to the other, all the while playing the bass with total control. It’s hard to describe the sound—maybe, a cute, punk Captain Beefheart on speed?—but I was completely absorbed by it, and bought one of their CDs after the show.

Limited Express (has gone?) at the O-Nest. Posted by Picasa

The event, which also featured Clisms (who I’ve written about before) and several other bands, was called, in Japanese, “Jyu-dai Boudou”, and toward the end of the show, I got to thinking about what that name meant. “Jyu-dai” is “teens”, while “Boudou” is “riot”. Teen…riot. Teenage, riot. Wait, Teen Age Riot! Like the song from Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation! So this gathering of avant-garde, hard-rocking groups was some sort of homage to Sonic Youth. None of the guitarists stuck drum sticks under their strings, but neither does Steve Shelley carry his drums off of the stage to play among the audience as far as I know.