Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Jazzy Advantage Lucy At The Que

Advantage Lucy played a couple of news songs at their Que show on Friday night, including a tune called “Teacup Ride”, and they had a jazzy feel, with swinging bass and drums. Aiko swept her fingers through a chime tree at climactic moments to color the music with glissandos.

It was an interesting new genre choice—the sort of jazz you might hear in a lounge—for a band known mainly for its sunny indie pop tunes. But I've always thought it's a misconception to think of advantage Lucy as just an upbeat guitar pop group—one listen to the longer, more complex tunes of theirs such as “Shiosai” from Echo Park, or the single “Photograph”, or “so” from Fanfare, etc. etc., would likely alter that view of their sound. They're a musically adventurous bunch.

Advantage Lucy are also masters of the pop ballad form. How many times have I listened to, and how much has my life been made richer by, pure gems such as “Koko De Oyasumi”, “Today” and “Nico”*? Ballads like those are miraculous unions of the most beautiful melodies and unforgettable lyrics. After so many listens, I'm still always moved by these lines in “Nico”: “Moshi kotoba ga hoshi yorimo/ kazoe kirenai hodo arunara/ tsutaerareru kamoshirenai kedo/ sonna taisetsu na mono dewa nai to omou (If words were more countless than the stars in the sky, maybe then I'd be able to let you know how I feel, but then I think it's not that important after all)”. At the Que show, they played the emotional, nostalgic ballad from Echo Park called “A Distant Day” (there's a Youtube video of the song here), and it was a gorgeous rendition as ballads usually are when they perform them live.


By the way, totally unrelated, and a bit in the past now, but this 'toy music event' described in Patrick's chipple.net sounded like a lot of fun. Great report and colorful photos!

*“Koko De Oyasumi” and “Today” were B sides on their singles Memai and Hello Mate!, respectively, and they are also available on the best hits collection Have a Good Journey. "Nico" is in Lucy Van Pelt's Advantage Lucy EP.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Wrench, Poodles At 'Abura Derabu' Event

My main mission of the evening attending a Shibuya event called Aburade-rabu (word play on 'abracadabra', I guess, but ending with Japanese pronunciation of 'love') was to see the band Wrench, who I've been listening to a lot recently. Their CDs are in the punk rock section of Tower Records Shibuya, but a more accurate genre designation may be something like Hard Electro Dance Psychedelic Stoner Rock. I especially like their ambitious latest effort, Nitro.

The event was a two-club deal, where shows are divided between two live houses and you can go freely between them. There are more of these multi-live house events these days, and they are great: they let you exit and re-enter the clubs (something not allowed in most venues), grab a bite outside if you desire, or procure cheaper beverages at nearby conbinis. This one was a joint O-Nest/O-West event, and Wrench was the second band up at the O-West. I wasn't sure how popular they were, so I decided to go to the O-West from the beginning to stake out a good spot if there was a big crowd (you tend to make these calculations when you've been to many Tokyo shows...).

On before Wrench was an instrumental band called poodles that played trippy, jam music heavy on African percussion and 'ethnic' musical instruments like the didgeridoo, the Australian aboriginal horn, and that long tube thing you spin around to make a whirring noise. The poodles' website describes their sound as an “earthy, tribal groove”. It was pleasant music, but I found myself wondering why, if they are into creating something new by mixing together instruments of various cultures, they apparently steer clear of Japanese ones. That's, of course, their choice. They're free to build music out of whatever sounds they fancy. But to me, it would be more interesting if the band added a taiko or some such to their sound, in the process making new music that also acknowledges their own heritage. Not really related, but I found out googling that there's also a Swedish glam metal group called the Poodles...

The crowd increased when Wrench came on next. The true believers stood at center front, next to the stage—they were mostly young guys in T-shirts, some of them on the chubby side. When the music began, they broke out into a mosh-pit dance that looked like a combination of hands-up-in-the-air Okinawan dancing and Harajuku rockabilly twist. You could tell they were intensely into the music—they danced like it was their last chance before the giant asteroid hits the planet. Or, it was like some cult's frenzied bacchanal.

Their prophet was Shige, Wrench's vocalist/keyboardist, who was bearded and reminded me vaguely of a smaller, Japanese James Hetfield. To his sides were the skinny, serious-looking guitarist and bassist; whenever Shige stuck his head out of his Korg/synthesizer/gadget headquarters, he'd pump his arms into the air or otherwise get the crowd going while shouting out the lyrics, and the fans would go even wilder. Their musical signature was rapid, repeated riffs, sometimes relayed between guitar and bass, and played over a flood of feedback—an interview I read said the band was into Goa trance music, though to me the harsh but orderly passages seemed almost martial, like the marching music of some super-disciplined, psychedelic robot army. (The YouTube video above should give an idea of what their shows are like.) The whole thing was an exhilarating spectacle, one I wanted to see again soon.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Faceless Soutaiseiriron

Soutaiseiriron, which means 'Theory of Relativity', is, in theory, a relatively promising band. But there's also something very weird about these guys.

They seem to be refusing to reveal anything at all about themselves. There are almost no pictures of this quartet anywhere (well... more on that in a second). In fact, they make it clear they want their image hidden—on every page of their website is a note saying that photographing at their concerts is prohibited. That's normal at major-label band gigs, but I've never seen a band being quite so adamant about it on a website. The bio on their site is sketchy, giving only a brief run-down of their 2 ½ year career. And the CD Hi-Fi Anatomia doesn't supply any more info either. Also, they don't do interviews.

In other words, you can't get any information about this band other than from their music. It's like they want to be the Thomas Pynchon or Salinger of J-pop. But is that even possible? Can a rock band succeed without publicizing their image or personalities at all?

I have no idea what's behind this secrecy. Do they just not like to be in the public gaze? Or are there personal reasons why they can't be seen? I hope it's not some sort of marketing gimmick worked out with their managers, because that would be eminently lame.

The thing is, they do perform live once in a while, so they aren't keeping themselves completely invisible. I read, though, that the female singer stands motionless on stage during the whole show, and only moves to bend down to get her bottle of water. Phew...glad I found that out in advance, otherwise I might've ended up suffering through a 'performance'...

All of this is strange because Soutaiseiriron's music IS good, a lot of people I know are getting into them, and being more forthcoming about their persona would seem to be a beneficial thing at this point in their career. Indeed, Hi-Fi Anatomia, their first album, is filled with catchy, if ordinary-sounding pop tunes, but two things help them stand out: the female singer's vocal style and their whacky lyrics.

A Japanese commentator I read put it well when he described the singing style as 'low blood pressure J-pop'—for the most part the vocalist sounds laid-back, like she's not trying too hard, but at the same time it's a strangely coquettish voice, quietly emotional and pleasantly musical.

And then there are the lyrics—it's like various types of otaku splashed their fantasies and daydreams against the music sheets. “Jigoku Sensei” is a Japanese schoolgirl (Nabokov's) Lolita story in pop song format; “Fushigi Descartes” has to do with supernatural phenomena, with the main line saying, “Even if you're a ghost that's OK with me/ If you're a ghost that would be even better/ If I were a ghost wouldn't that be OK with you?”; the song “Shikaku Kakumei (Square Revolution)” describes a guy from the 25th century running away from the Time-Space Police and meeting a girl from the 22nd century; “Renaissance” is about, um, mathematics.

It all makes me want to know more about these guys. Now, they're faceless.

What's strange is that the only one photo I found of this band is in the English part of the internet, and while a google image search does turn up links to a few Japanese sites, when you try to open those images they're all removed. Does that mean the web-masters were asked to take them down? I'm curious what will happen if I publish that one known picture of them on this site, and so I've borrowed that photo from another web page, and will let you know if there's any response...