Rarely do musicians just burst onto a larger platform with one massive hit. It happens, sure, but generally they build up to a crossover moment, where they catapult; such is the case with Japanese rock quartet Polkadot Stingray.
The band have been steadily building momentum since debuting in 2010, including nailing down commercials for Google. But the recently released mini-album Dai-Seigi feels like their breakout; a short-but-focused set establishing what makes them an act to watch in Japan.
Polkadot Stingray are hardly surfacing for the first time. They’ve released one other EP, last year’s “Telecaster Stripe,” which served as a great introduction to the four-piece, an energetic rock cut prone to sudden pivots, anchored by lead vocalist Shizuku’s dynamic voice, which could go from pleasing bounce to gruffer yap at a second’s notice.
Dai-Seigi encapsulates everything about the group. Lead number “Electric Public” is an immediate highlight, a heads-down rush of a song featuring one of the finest choruses the group has penned yet (the song features Hiromi Sagane of the band tricot, who helps tighten it up). Yet don’t let the hook distract from the small details, like when everything slows down and teeters towards reggae, or the sudden jazzy twists. It’s a fitting intro to the group, as it is a zippy number highlighting the band’s musical chops and radio-ready centers, but with all sorts of weirder details on the sides.
There is a lineage here though, one that becomes clear as Dai-Seigi plays out. The relaxed, lounge-leaning guitar lines of “Midori” and “Early Dawn” nod towards Sōtaisei Riron, a group who have proven hugely influential on modern Japanese music. Polkadot Stingray musically build from there, but expand on it and add their own touch to it. What really sets the group apart, though, are the vocals.
What this mini-album makes clear is what a thrilling voice Shizuku brings to modern Japanese rock. She twists herself around and nearly cracks a few times on “Midori,” adding an unpredictability to the song, while rolling certain words on the sprinting “Synchronisica” to make them seem more intense. Again, there is history — it references Sheena Ringo, a rocker hailing from Fukuoka (the same city Polkadot Stingray originate from) and who Shizuku has said was an influence on her. It shows that the voice can be the most commanding instrument of all, and it doesn’t have to be pretty to be showstopping. See the lurching “Turritopisis Spp.,” where she demands attention by approaching a throaty scream.
The Japanese rock landscape is crowded today, but a release as focused and unpredictable as Dai-Seigi stands out. They’ve been building to a moment like this, and with their first mini-album, Polkadot Stingray drive home that they are a group to watch moving forward.
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