Last month I came across a new band at a show in Shinjuku: Oiran Shonen. It was a booking night, where the bands are invited by the manager or booking staff at the venue, as opposed to part of a tour or event organized by one of the bands performing. All of the bands seemed to be relatively new, young bands, so the place was pretty empty. Oiran Shonen took the stage near end of the night and played a really inspired set of songs. Their name means “Courtesan Boys,” but all three members are girls (I supposed for the irony value?). They hit a number of different styles, tempos, and time signatures but still managed to have a cohesive sound. They sound a little rock, a little punk, and a little kayokyoku (old school Japanese pop). The closest band I can think of is GO!GO!7188, but they certainly aren’t mimicking them; they have their own sound. The technical skills were a little bit lacking, but I’m excited to see where they’ll go. They’re based out of Kanagawa, the prefecture just south of Tokyo. So far they have a single 8-track venue-only CD. The YouTube video below is a song from that album.
Three-piece alt rock band COMezik will be playing six shows in NJ, NY, MA, and RI from January 3rd through 8th. Their sound has a bit of a metal influence and some idiosyncratic vocals, and they overall remind a bit of System of a Down. This is my favorite track. Their live shows are great, so I’d definitely recommend checking them out if you’re in the area.
Lately the scene has been abuzz about Polkadot Stingray, a four-piece indie rock band from Fukuoka. Although they only formed their band about a year and a half ago, they are already starting to hit the bigger indie music festivals (like Mihoudai in Osaka this summer) and charting on the indie iTunes Japan (this also means international fans can actually buy their music, although a bit of a runaround to set up a Japanese iTunes account, as opposed to many bands with venue-only CDs). On their first visit to Tokyo only a few months prior, they played four nights back-to-back and all four shows sold out. Their wide-reaching popularity is probably driven by this extremely well-done, self-made music video for their song Telecaster Stripe. The director is none other than frontwoman Shizuku. With over a million views, it is a huge accomplishment for a band that hasn’t yet signed to a label.
More recently, they put out a video for the single Ningyo (“Mermaid”) off of their upcoming EP being released at CD shops Japan-wide in November.
It’s no secret that these days I listen mostly to female vocal bands. That just makes it even more exciting whenever I find a rocking group with a guy on the mic. The other day I had the pleasure of seeing The Hungry Rugrat, a four-piece band hailing from the northern island of Hokkaido, who took the stage dressed in sneakers and sports coats. With a clear influence from UK garage rock and post-punk revival, The Hungry Rugrat dishes out a great familiar sound without feeling too derivative. I love the way the vocals flow, half spoken, half sung. One of the biggest nitpicks I have with Japanese bands is they just try too fit too many syllables into a phrase. Japanese is wordy, but can really make for excellent streams of sound when the songwriter fits the words to the music. They also have a way of making the lead guitar mirror the vocal line work, a musical feature that I usually dislike. Everything is simple and tight and just works. Check out this video from their first minialbum Te (手), a 5-track CD released earlier this year with no mediocre songs in sight.
No matter how much time you spend going to shows and browsing the web, there will always be some great bands lurking out there waiting for you to discover them. Hara From Hell(ハラフロムヘル) is a five piece band from Chiba and Tokyo that formed four years ago, but I first encountered them this month.
Mizuguchi, the organizer of the music event series Beat Happening! in Tokyo, recommended this band to me and I was really intrigued when I watched them on YouTube. It only took one listen of a song to decide that I wanted to check them out live. The best way I can describe them is if you took singing from a musical like Les Mis and put it over indie rock music. A lot of the songs have a folk sound to them as well. Here’s the song that got me hooked.
Their live performance held up to my expectations. I always enjoy a show when the band members seem like they are having fun playing the music — there’s something infectious about that kind of joy that a musician finds in their own work. Singer Yoko and guitarist Kent both took the front of the stage and gave off that energy.
They’ve just released a single called Matryoshka-san, available at CD stores nation wide, which is the first release from the new Beat Happening! label. It has four tracks, the best two of which are re-recordings from their first mini-album Faust. I’ve mainly been listening to the latter, as the recording quality is still very good and it has several other tracks that I’m quite a fan of as well. Here’s the title-track from the single: