REVIEW: Tokyo Wanderer – Incubus (2019)

Tokyo Wanderer crosses the connections between all the ‘wave’-genres of the late naughts and teens; Synthwave, Outrun, Chillwave and Future Funk blend in and out across the album. Only Vaporwave fails to make an overt appearance.

Incubus is clinically cold. Synth lines and ‘glitched’ out chops are warped through phasers, both standing as foundational sonic elements. Big, spacious guitar solos mimicking 80s corporate rock inject a liveliness to the early tracks- helping the songs shift and morph in a more organic direction as they go. It is all very sonically pleasing.

But as the first 3 tracks roll over into the album’s latter half featuring guest musicians (mostly vocalists), Tokyo Wanderer is lead astray. 4th track and album midway point Loveless, featuring vocalist Lavera, is a delightfully poppy track, reminiscent of Kali Uchis’s first album. But with a tight EP contained in the album’s first 4 songs, Incubus tanks into grievously bad territory.

First offender, the song Drown, features singers Phaun and Nuno Renato Guerreiro. Tokyo Wonderer’s guitar work turn to softer, 90s style-alternative; warbling and burning up under tremolo and overdrive while Phaun contributes a somewhat lifeless Pop vocal performance. Crossing into the final third of the song, the predictive Pop stylings of breakdown-bridge to turn around show. It’s all pretty standard, until Nuno Renato Guerreiro comes roaring in with the most powerless, processed, and airy guttural vocal delivery I’ve heard in a long time. It’s a vocal style so terribly out of place anywhere on the album that it came as a shock. Science asked if it could, but it never asked if it should.

Following this, the song Hurt kicks off with 4 minutes of what sounds like someone taking direct inspiration of Miyazaki’s go-to composer Joe Hisaishi and British Industrial Metal legends Godflesh. Not bad if I do say so myself. The album’s lengthiest song at 7 minutes 58 seconds, I actually quite enjoyed it. But at 4 minutes and 12 seconds in- and still reeling from the prior track- I was sonically accosted by Nameless Warning. Having been silent up until this point, I began to assume they were contributing something other than vocals- perhaps part of the new ‘Doom-y’ guitar elements. But no.

Sounding like a yassified Microsoft Sam, ‘just popping in’ to deliver you a ‘sad boy’ shtick of lyrics, this might be the biggest upset in recorded music history.

The titular closing track features Sola The Luva, Shrouded Serenity, Indyadvant, and a second vocal feature from Phaun. The corporate Rock guitar soloing is back and this time it’s less pleasant. Incubus makes a brief detour into trap territory before arriving at the song’s (and I guess, in turn, the album’s) final destination: chunky Alternative Metal.

That’s all that ought to be said.

For fans of: android52, Washed Out, Slime Girls

Like Tokyo Wonderer? Give these a listen: Pachinko, Warpaint, Neon Indian

Sounds from Osaka: Exploring Punk, Indie, and Alternative Music from Osaka, Japan (Framtid, Kung-Fu Girl, Junky58%)

Sounds from Osaka is our first article in a series highlighting local scenes in multiple ‘postcard length’ album reviews. We’re looking to do more of these scene focused articles in the future! Go to our contact page and let us know about your local scene and we may just cover it. Till then, consider this article ‘postmarked’ March 27th, 2022!

That said, is this list looking a little incomplete? Because we’re sure it is. There may be more pivotal bands in the Osaka scene, but we’ve decided to go with what stuck out to us via Bandcamp, recommendations, and liner note skimming, so Skate Punk bands like The Skippers or Manchester School (M.A. School) won’t be on this list. Consider this a small round up of Punk, Indie and Alternative bands from Osaka, Japan.

Diskover – The End Has No End (2018)

Noisy and nasally Pop Punk, The End Has No End is a lilting and lo-fi record worth a listen. The 3-track EP by Diskover has all the melancholic emotional weight one could hope for from Pop Punk and Power Pop. There isn’t much readily known about them, but they’ve had one release since: a self-titled 7” EP available through nearly a dozen smaller record outlets. You can also find it through the Punk & Destroy record shop and distro, located in Osaka.

Argue Damnation – The Situation In Society Is Worse Than Before, It Is Getting Worse. Direct Action Now Demo (2021)

The medium is the message- and so too, in this case, is the album title. Not ones’ to waste space, Argue Damnation’s ‘The Situation…’ is a collection of demos for what was their third and final album Direct Action Now, recorded and released in 2000. Tracks like Direct Action Now, Number People, and 反新安保 (‘Anti-New Security’) break out of the tight mold of D-Beat and Crust for something more expressive than many of their contemporaries, while Up The Punx gets as close to ‘punk anthem’ material as possible without getting too corny.

Argue Damnation were active from 1994 to 2003, but their music still resonates.

Shonen Knife – Pop Tune (2012)

While I never promised a comprehensive list, I would feel remiss for not including Shonen Knife. Take it from their Bandcamp artist-bio:

“Shonen Knife was formed in 1981 by Naoko Yamano, her friend Michie and sister Atsuko. 35 Years, 19 albums and well over 1000 gigs later the band is as strong, fun and original as ever…”

For this list I’m pulling their 2012 album Pop Tune, whose titular track is so satisfyingly bubbly and fun. People more in tune with the D-Beat and Crust bands on this list may roll their eyes, but Shonen Knife’s Phil Spector and Ramones inspired Alternative Rock’n’Roll sound is a delightful and uplifting force in the cross-cultural milieu of our ever increasingly interconnected lives.

Junky58% – おい、ミルクじゃなくて酒よこせバブー (2020)

おい、ミルクじゃなくて酒よこせバブー, or Don’t Milk, I Want to Alcohol (Google translated to ‘Hey, Give Me Sake, Not Milk.’) is a pumped up Pop Punk EP by Osaka’s Junky58%. Their early Green Day influence might be most noticeable on midway track Junky Band, but flows through the album’s joyous celebration of alcoholic shenanigans (and chocolate cookies?); a high-spirited step away from some of their more melancholy-tinted peers. As someone generally uninterested with alcohol-centric Punk and Rock music, I still found ‘Don’t Milk,…’ a worthwhile and fun record, going near the top of my wishlist.

OXZ – Along Ago: 1981-1989 (2020)

OXZ (pronounced ‘awk-zed’) are in a Post-Punk vein of their own creation, but could be roughly triangulated with bands like Suburban Lawns, Ausgang, and The Passions. OXZ weren’t afraid to include big spacial synthesizers on otherwise dry recordings. This makes for a rare listening experience, especially in the midst of the slog of ‘Post-Punk’ and ‘Goth’ worship bands coming out of the Anglosphere currently.

The compilation, released by the NYC independent label Captured Tracks, shows OXZ’s artistic progression across the band’s 3 EPs and single released during their band’s original run. It’s incredibly satisfying hearing where they took things as their song writing grew stronger and stronger. Personal favorite tracks from Along Ago: 1981-1989 include Vivian, Boy Boy, and Is Life.

Framtid – Under The Ashes (2002)

Crust is universal, so it seems. So I’m not surprised to find heavy hitters Framtid among the crowd. The band’s 2002 release Under The Ashes features members Makino (vocals), Takayama (drums), Ryota “Jacky” Watanabe (guitar), Ina (bass) and Chuma on bass for tracks 12-21. Under The Ashes is unrelenting. With each track fading into the next one, the chaos never stops. I definitely recommend Framtid to fans of Crucifix and Napalm Death.

Kung-Fu Girl – Cassette Tapes Series Vol.1 (2021)

Cassette Tapes Series Vol.1 is a single release by the lo-fi Pop Punk band Kung-Fu Girl. A-side Rabuka might be my favorite, as it stood out to me immediately with its melancholic bubbliness. It’s absolutely something for fans of Full of Fancy or Bluffing. But b-side Ghost Girlfriend incorporates Power Pop sensibilities with raw Punk energy. It’s incredible, and a fun break from more D-Beat oriented bands.

Potato Headz – Potato Headz (2018)

Seeing “POTATO HEADZ” in a varsity font on a black and white concert pic, I wouldn’t have expected something so sonically interesting. Through and through, it’s your ‘classic hXc’ style beatdown Hardcore, but with just enough off-kilter weirdness and goofball energy to make it an incredibly fun album.

The riffs: chunky. The drums: hunky.

I’m all into it.

The Harriets – The Harriets 1st Demo (2019)

The laid back Indie jams of The Harriets’ 2019 self-titled first demo are easy on the ears, but don’t take that to mean ‘light listening’. The Harriets are made up of members Milk (guitar), Nana (drums), and Fumi (bass) with all 3 members contributing vocals. This relax-adaisical demo single features the a-side track Last Night backed with the fuzzed out I Don’t Care.

There’s an element to The Harriets that might make them an easy shoe-in for fans of bands like Slant 6 or Apocalypse Meow. The songs are minimal and well written, invoking an easy going feeling while keeping sonic vitality.

I would like to note The Harriets and the American band Frankie Cosmos as an ‘ideal’ double-billing for a tour. Seriously, can we make that happen?

Beverly Hills Ketsukon Hactyo (2004) [compilation]

Beverly Hills Ketsukon Hactyo is a compilation released by Centralscum in 2004 celebrating the marriage of WonWons bassist Mami and Haruo Ishihara (owner of Lost Frog Productions, “the oldest Japanese netlabel in existence”).

Beverly Hills Ketsukon Hactyo is a short but stylistically mixed bag. The lo-fi indie jam and titular track Beverly Hills Ketsukon Hactyo by Morino Jun (Moaco) is a fun and sloppy melancholic song in the style of Magnetic Fields. The album is balanced out with off-kilter Indie Electronic in a style similar to the UK group The Sons of Silence.

But by far, Loggins Alive by Izumi Headache of UltraFuckers is an immediate favorite. Thumping drum machines pound away under the clatter of metallic guitar noise and pitched and processed vocals that sound like the Max Headroom Incident. It’s a hair too wacky to be considered a Big Black tribute, but likely ‘just right’ for Men’s Recovery Project fans.

Keep your eyes peeled for an upcoming +Brief Thoughts article with a follow up to Beverly Hills Ketsukon Hactyo as well as Shock Rock in Japan and the USA.

REVIEW: Malakas – Flamme Flottante (2018)

Flame Flottante is the 2018 EP release by French instrumental duo Malakas. Based in Coulommiers, France, band members K.Yordanoff and M.Le Saux have created a charming work of Post-Exotica.

Opening track Fatigues sinks the listener into a melancholic sea. Somber surf guitar, awash in reverb and wobbling tremolo, plods along while lapping brushed drums smears across the song’s musical structure. A harpsichord-sounding keyword elicits the sensation of light beams through stained glass, breaking outwards in floral kaleidoscopic fragmentation.

Similarly, the titular second track Flamme Flottante (Floating Flame) drifts along in an eerie space-age fashion before breaking into a Bossa-Nova tinged and organ driven dash to the finish. There’s a quality reminiscent of 1970s Italian film composers Giuliano Sorgini and Armando Trovajoli that is prevalent at first. That is until the album’s break in to a more distinctly indie rock territory on its second half.

B-side tracks HOO HAA and the closing Palapappa exhibit a more energetic, somewhat silly and less despondent indie rock approach. On both HOO HAA and Palapappa, Malakas pits guitar and synth to battle it out over an occasionally Math Rock influenced Indie sound. Though still far from the ‘boss fight’ aggression of Nintendocore / Surf champs The Advantage, the final two songs on this four song EP work back into a more Rock oriented sound.

The Surf music genre is undoubtedly an influence on most artists exploring Post-Exotica themes, and it shows here. Surf has seemingly always had one foot in the cinematic and one foot in pure playfulness. I like that about Flamme Flottante. Even if the latter half doesn’t engage me in as intense of a way as the album’s more cinematic first half, that the album can balance these two at times contrasting depictions creates for a well-rounded EP.

Flamme Flottante is Post-Exotica bliss, exploring both the tropical sounds of the age of Hi-Fi’s past and more contemporary instrumental playfulness.

For fans of: The Advantage, Hospitality, Armando Trovajoli

Like Malakas? Give these a listen: Giuliano Sorgini, Why?, Battles

REVIEW: Pulp – This Is Hardcore (1998)

“Pornography is simply the most familiar visual language through which we appreciate the disparity between the intensity of imagined experienced and the disappointment or disgust of its realisation.” – Hugh Aldersey-Williams on This Is Hardcore from the article Living Dolls, which appeared in New Statesman Magazine, on 8 May 1998.

Riding on the intoxicating waves of britpop and cinema-chic, Pulp’s 1998 release This is Hardcore is an intoxicating ride of pleasure and disappointment. An entire essay could be written about the album’s depiction of consumable sex, narcissistic dissatisfaction, the album’s place in the conversation of sexism within media, and arguing points over intent, self-awareness or lack thereof. That said, I’ll spare you any bigger questions on life and morality in favor of getting on with it.

Almost immediately, This Is Hardcore showcases a tendency to crowd itself. There is little space for songs to breath, which shows both in its ‘don’t bore us, get to the chorus’ song structuring (understandable/forgivable/expected) and corner-cutting song endings.

Opening track The Fear, like much of the album, is much too indebted to this way of song writing to allow itself the room to see its moody composition to fruition. There’s choral arrangements, layers of guitar and then some more layers of guitar, leaving the recording feeling crowded, busy, and at the same time a little flat. Regardless, the actual songwriting across the album is incredibly well crafted. As a result, front-man Jarvis Cocker and crew’s songwriting is, to recontextualize a quote from journalist Edgar Nye, ‘…better than it sounds’.

I feel slightly sorry for the teenager buying this album in a second hand shop, expecting something more, well, hardcore, and hearing a song like Dishes: a mellow pop piece on the doldrums of being 33. But This Is Hardcore makes a lot more sense once having worked one’s way in. It’s an album of repercussions wallowing in melancholy and want.

Uh, hello? Teen angst? Ever heard about it?

The album’s energy takes a step up with Party Hard while simultaneously dating it alongside 90s alternative rock groups EMF and Spacehog. The following Help The Aged does a much better job. By balancing wailing power pop choruses with soft psychedelic lounge-pastiche verses, Help The Aged gives itself room to breath while continuing to apply layer and layer of sound.

Music video for title track This Is Hardcore, directed by Doug Nichol.

The album’s titular track may be the best singular work on this album. This Is Hardcore is an incredibly dark song. Taking a steady 2 minutes 30 seconds to reach its first chorus, its repetitive motif does more to help the song breath slowly and fully until reaching a magnificent… er, climax, nearly 2 minutes later before its emotional downward spiral: a clearing of the fog of fame and the burnout which succeeds it.

Jarvis Cocker has been on record about the song’s meaning a few times, albeit different angles: a song literally about porn, about fame, society’s aggressive appetite for ‘new faces’, the thrill of burning bridges and so on and so forth. Regardless, the emotional sleaze and excitement of excess followed by destructive fallout is a transition perfectly exemplified in the synthetic melting tones of the song’s outro, which leads into the introductory cold drone of following track TV Movie.

Even across its Beatles-inspired pop rock, TV Movie’s bleakness further reveals the emotional fall-out of narcissistic-consumptive pleasure: the depressive sense of isolation and dissatisfaction.

A Little Soul, however heartfelt, is too cheesy for me to be caught listening to. And from here This Is Hardcore seems to drift out of focus, until its rallying finale. This could have been an album of exemplary pop writing had it reallocated some of its space to letting its songs breath, and perhaps trimmed the fat. Even with a stream of fairly consistent hitters, This Is Hardcore is bloated, which makes the work susceptible to becoming banal. That is to say, from A Little Soul to The Day After The Revolution should have been lifted and reconfigured to their own release, leaving Like A Friend to close the album after TV Movie. Perhaps in this process, the masters to songs like A Little Soul and Glory days could have been destroyed in a fire, leaving all traces of the songs lost to time…

The age of the CD lead to the exploitation of new possibility, which in turn lead to occasional negligence of the art being created for that medium. This tends to happen whenever there is a new medium or fashion of doing things. But this was only the first step in the slow expedition of digital possibilities. More recently, Kanye West – Life of Pablo (2016) became infamous for this very neglect. Having taken advantage of digital possibility, the album was only finished months after its release. This brought into question the criteria of what finished or completed an album and if we had possibly surpassed the age of the solid album.

This Is Hardcore‘s recording sessions spanned from November 1996 to January 1998, and upon its original release didn’t feature one of my favorite songs on the album, Like A Friend. For clarity, I reviewed the non-deluxe version of This Is Hardcore that was available on the Apple Music store (can’t we just call it iTunes?) in October of this year. But what does this mean for reviewing work? What constitutes an album in the post-artifact age? Going forth, how do we group parts of a larger work? What IS mu-… no, I said I wouldn’t go there. Right then. Getting on with it;

There is absolutely amazing work to be found on This Is Hardcore, but as a collection of work it has a tendency to get in its own way. I’m (figuratively) curious what the outtakes of this album have to offer, but I sense the truth is they’re still very much present.

For fans of: Blur, Portishead, Spacehog

Like Pulp? Give these a listen: EMF, The Good The Bad & The Queen, Sparks

REVIEW: Frankie and The Witch Fingers – Sidewalk (2013)

Having never heard Frankie and The Witch Fingers before, I expected the proceeding 34 minutes to be a morose journey of cinematic surrealism. Even the album’s cover, a naked torso and head with eyes obscured by flowers laying atop rugged concrete doused in red, lead me to believe it would be some sort of Black Dahlia; a homage to the grotesque photography of Man Ray.

In a way, what I did hear was kinda grotesque. Sidewalk is yet another disappointing add-on of the 4th wave of garage rock, indistinguishable from all its contemporaries in the only genre to have become more of a parody of oneself than contemporary death rock. This album is in many ways the same as Shark?’s album Savior, also released in 2013, only with weaker songwriting and overindulgence of rock’n’roll antics.

The only redeemable tracks (out of 12) are Ferris Wheel, a slightly unique song with Nick Nicely or Holger Czukay-esque psychedelia and song My Love, in which the singer’s incessant wailing gives it a go at making me not mention the song entirely. Seemingly undeterred, over the rest of the album Frankie and The Witch Fingers give it their all at getting me to stop listening entirely! I didn’t. I kinda wish I did, but I didn’t.

Comparatively, originality came in spades from the original incarnation of garage rock grappling with beatlemania, its 80s and 90s counterparts reinvigorated by punk, and 00s by degrees of commercial accessibility and further artistic success. Why has garage rock become such a bad joke? Every guy and gal an Easy Rider wannabe, drenched in high-waisted denim and leather tasseled jackets. I once saw the frontman of a garage rock band leave after load-in, only so he could ride up to the venue on his motorcycle, inevitably pushing everyone’s collective set-times back by 15 minutes.

In an interview with Jesse Thorn in 2011, music cultural theorist and author Simon Reynolds observed that “…[ideas of] authenticity came from feeling that someone else has more of it than you, that you don’t have it. A lot of it relates to white middle class people feeling a little hollow in some way. They feel like other people are leading realer lives than them. In the early days of rock music, rock and pop, used to be a real-time thing, it would be like The Rolling Stones admiring Howling Wolf and Muddy Waters, relatively recent records. But now it’s much more likely to be located in the past…

…I thought things would be weirder and stranger in the 21st century than that. Some trouble with that assuming of authenticity through somebody else’s style is that you inevitably produce something that’s false. It doesn’t have anything of you in it, that’s the crucial difference I think.”

If you’re looking for the anti-chic records of days gone by, you can check out our article CHASING GHOSTS: An Interview With Lost RPM’s Jeffrey Harvey.

For fans of: Thee Oh Sees, Shark?, Caesars

Like Frankie and The Witch Fingers? Give these a listen: The Monarchs, Clinic, Didjits

REVIEW: Art Brut – Art Brut vs. Satan (2009)

As an American, liking Art Brut in 2009 was about as simultaneously nerdy and hipster as being into British shows like Spaced or Louis Theroux documentaries. Remind you, this is pre-Sherlock phenom. Actors like Matt Berry weren’t being given full weekly articles just because we can.

Looking back twelve years, Art Brut vs. Satan holds up incredibly well. Unfortunately for Art Brut being timeless in an age of nostalgia and hyper-pastiche doesn’t work to their advantage. The songwriting is straight forward and stripped down. Vocal metres are occasionally emphasized by syncopated stabs, unifying the band’s effort throughout the album. The band’s unification lends itself perfectly to building emotional potency, especially over the course of Art Brut’s long build ups. The Replacements (a song about The Replacements) ends with a stacking of Gregorian-esque backing vocals under singer Eddie Argos hysterics over choosing between cheaper secondhand CDs or reissue CDs (extra tracks, mind you).

Vs. Satan is closed off with the lengthy Mysterious Bruises, a relatively funky and lonely song about a lost night out. Its on-and-off soft choruses and punchier verses is reminiscent of The Pixies, which is appropriate as the album was produced by Pixies frontman Black Francis.

“Our songs are true stories and I wanted to do them once or twice and record them because you’ll lose that sincerity if you do that again and again and again. After we realized we wanted to do that we asked ‘who is the expert at doing that?’ and came up with Frank Black because that’s how he did all of the (Frank Black and the) Catholics’ albums. And also, he’s cool and we wanted to hang out with him. ‘What excuse could we use to hire Frank Black?’ And then he said that he liked us, so we signed him up.” – Eddie Argos in an interview with Three Imaginary Girls blog. You can read an archived version of the interview here.

Argo’s spoken delivery is often compared to the late Mark E Smith, but is distinguished by a greater sense of emotional urgency. On vs. Satan, Argos delivers lines of daily mediocrity, yet sells the listener on existential joys and cultural ponderings. Nothing embodies the antithesis of rock behemoths Led Zeppelin and Kiss more than Art Brut, and what’s more punk than that?

In many ways, the music culture gripes expressed throughout Art Brut vs. Satan got me thinking about music in the way I do now. This album was released right before I entered highschool. I was at my peak interest in Primus, Gwar, and dime-a-dozen rockabilly bands. So on midway track Demons Out! when Argos begs “how can you sleep at night when nobody likes the music we like?” Well, it felt like he was speaking directly to my angry middle-schooler self.

They’re not on Bandcamp yet, but maybe one day they will be. Till then, you can buy the album on iTunes or search for it on Spotify.

Read Eddie Argos’s blog or visit Art Brut’s website.

For fans of: Kaiser Chiefs, Psychedelic Furs, Richard Hell & The Voidoids

Like Art Brut? Give these a listen: Hazy Sour Cherry, Shorty Can’t Eat Books, Geisha Girls

REVIEW: Geisha Girls – Disappearing Act (2006)

Geisha Girls puts their contemporaries to shame with accessible high intensity alternative rock tinged with death rock sensibilities. Pounding tom percussion, use of 16th note hi-hats, and angular power-chord-shy guitar work may feel familiar to any Rikk Agnew/Rozz Williams era Christian Death fans. But with dry production and Hot Hot Heat styled vocals, Disappearing Act is as distinctively 2000s alternative rock as it is anything else.

The bass bounces, nearly plodding along with angsty disregard. That is until Retaining Water. With walking bass lines and a stripped down section where the bassist shines, Geisha Girls skirt the repetitive nature that current death rock bands accept as the boundaries of the genre.

In other ways, Disappearing Act is what Arctic Monkeys fans thought they were into. Tonal similarities wouldn’t be lost on a listener of both bands, but Geisha Girls don’t let the listener off as easy. Songs like This is Novelty, Finding Peers, and Skinny Wrists use dizzying compositional structures with puncturing frenetic drumming.

If you enjoy alternative rock, and are looking to get into something a little bit harder, you need to hear this album.

For fans of: Phantom Planet, Art Brut, Christian Death

Like Geisha Girls? Give these a listen: Infinite Void, Dame, The Atom Age

REVIEW: KAPUTT – Demo 2017 (2017)

Demo 2017 is a uptempo danceable punk splurge of weirdo rock’n’roll archived in stripped-dry production. Its wirey and agile songwriting keeps things moving and interesting for the whole 14 minute ride. What more could you want from a demo?

KAPUTT’s guitar work is, in some way, in lineage of Devo’s Bob 1 and Jerry Casale, while drummer Rikki Will and saxophonist Chrissy Barnacle take a laid back but nevertheless meticulous playing style reminiscent of The Cardiac’s Dominic Luckman and Sarah Smith, respectively.

The band has since released the full-length album Carnage Hall (a demo of the title track appears here on Demo 2017) as well as 2 singles. You can go check out Carnage Hall now, or keep a look out on Resident Sound, as I’m sure I’ll be revisiting KAPUTT more in the coming weeks.

For fans of: The Cardiacs, James Chance & The Contortions, Devo

Like KAPUTT? Give these a listen: Crack Cloud, Clinic, Polyrock

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