Saturday, 10 November 2007

Japanese Rocks! : Number Girl, Zazen Boys and Toddle!

So finally I thought I’d write about some of the Japanese music I’ve been listening to since I’ve been in Japan. And what better way to do that than to start with some bands that I was listening to before I came to Japan? It’s like recycled MENTAL content kids, but it’s all you’re going to get for now.

Number Girl were a turn-of-the-century indie-rock band from Fukuoka Japan that started really poppy, and ended pretty dubby and experimental. They’re one of those great bands where you can hear them pushing forward on each album, never sounding quite the same. Their first two records are heavily indebted to all those eighties indie-rock godheads, The Pixies, Husker Du, Sonic Youth, Jesus and Mary Chain and so on... They even have a song called Pixiesdu, which is just gratuitous frankly. Even so, they’re great albums, and it gets even better when the sound starts spreading out, the rhythms get more syncopated and the reverb goes absolutely mental on their later albums.

I’ve posted a video of them playing Omoide In My Head, which is off their first album, but which turned into a set closer for their entire career. I hate long songs, but this one I love. I’m going to learn it for karaoke! Yes! They look super geeky too! Yes! They have a woman in the band (Tabuchi Hisako, first names last remember!) who plays LEAD not BASS! Yes! This is “Rock” and the location? Japan!

After Number Girl broke up, the lead singer and songwriter Mukai Shutoku formed Zazen Boys, a band that sort of picks up where Number Girl left off. I like Zazen Boys, and I admire them enormously because frankly they really don’t sound like anyone else, but I have a hard time loving them. Mukai really tries to distill out the dynamics of rock music with Zazen Boys, so half the time it’s enormously spacious, echoing, brooding music; and the other half it’s tense, pounding riffs, played in demented time signatures with ferocious intensity. That side of Zazen Boys has some of the best stop-start, tension-and-release rock music ever.

So Mukai Shutoku formed Zazen Boys, developing the percussive, dynamic side of Number Girl, and Tabuchi Hisako formed Toddle a couple of years ago, developing the melodic indie-rock side (she also joined another band as an additional guitarist, Bloodthirsty Butchers, who… I’ve only heard one album by, and I want to check out some of their more recent stuff after she joined, coz what I heard wasn’t great). I like toddle more than Zazen Boys, but there’s not so much to say about them. It’s great indie-rock that combines really loud, fast guitars with melodies of longing and dreaming. Unsurprisingly, that’s my sort of music.

Stay tuned! Next time Japanese Pops! : Shiina Ringo and Tokyo Jihen

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