Japanese rock in 2017 sounds smooth and sunny. The breakthrough group of the year has been Suchmos, a Kanagawa outfit summoning the laid-back sounds of early ‘90s acid jazz and Jamiroquai to craft numbers about being young and hanging out in the city. Elsewhere, never young beach and Yogee New Waves took similar styles to the seaside. Listening to the popular bands of the year, you’d think Japan was a deeply cheery place to be, bathed in a never-ending summer.
Paellas push this sound into the shadows.
Hailing from Osaka, the five-piece group have recently got a lot of attention for the dark strut of “Shooting Star,” which you can hear above. It takes elements prevalent in the brighter hits of Japanese music in 2017 - tight bass notes, persistent grooves, synthesizer flourishes - and finds something darker within, featuring singing soaked in regret rather than sunbeams, and the whole song feeling downcast. And Paellas seem to be in a position to get even more attention in the months to come. It’s a welcome shift from the pleasantries of other music in 2017, offering some downtrodden vibes to counteract all the positivity.
They’ve been together for quite some time now, having first started sharing music online in 2011. Paellas’ earliest work leaned closer to indie-pop, but fittingly they took the often jangly style and turned it into something you’d expect to hear in a dimly lit dive bar sometime after midnight. Plenty of independent bands coming to Tokyo for shows end up playing at some small space at like 4 am, but Paellas actually felt appropriate for the time slot.
In the years that followed, Paellas started incorporating more elements of dance and electronic music into their sound. It started around 2015, peaking with an EP that came out in 2016 that gave their music a nice groove - a dejected one, but a groove giving the band a new bounce. Listen to “Night Drive” below.
And now, with their latest EP, they’ve started crossing over to the Japanese mainstream. They offer an alternate take on the now-dominant sound of hip, young Japanese rock, and they aren’t opposed to it exactly, seeing as they share a member with the far more upbeat never young beach, and seem set to grow even bigger in the near future.
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