Japan’s summer months saw no shortage of laid-back, beach-ready rock music. Groups like never young beach and Yogee New Waves made the warmer months feel extra chill with their mid-tempo numbers about simple livin'.
Rock remains the genre of choice, but where it was all about zoning out before, the current crop of young bands catching looks have energy. Whether via forceful playing or oddball charm, here are three bands making moves this season in Japan, worth keeping your ears on.
Reading trio Hitsujibungaku’s story feels like a bit of a throwback. Emerging from a school cover band in 2011, the trio played primarily indie shows around Tokyo, building up to bigger events meant to shine light on young outfits. They wowed at those gatherings, and now have put out a debut EP of zippy rock highlighted by singing that pivots from a near whisper to a near shout rather quickly. Everything intriguing about them is laid out on “Haru,” which you can listen to below. It dashes out the gate, but soon swivels around to something approaching a waltz, before blowing everything open and letting catharsis (and near-rapped vocals) take over. They just released their major debut EP, and also recently played shows in Canada, well ahead of schedule for a group like them.
Rock duo yonige doesn’t hold back. The Osaka pair - formerly a trio - play fast rock featuring shout-along choruses countered by more melodic verses, creating a tension that bubbles over on most of their songs. They first got attention in 2015 with the chug-a-lug of “Sayonara Identity,” and soon joined a major Japanese label to further develop their swift sound. After a handful of singles and EPs, they put out their first album girls like girls this past September. That collection finds them hunkering down and building on their zippy approach to rock, and is worth tracking down for anyone who likes prettier singing matched with a steady drizzle of riffs. Listen to recent cut “One Room” below.
Sometimes you don’t have to play particularly fast to create music that feels disorienting. Take rising Tokyo quartet CHAI. The young group isn’t as speedy as the two bands above, but listening to their forthcoming debut full-length album PINK brings about a similar feeling of youthful energy. They achieve this with moments of off-kilter sound, such as sudden tempo changes, shouted lyrics and a general unpredictability that makes everyone one of their creations feel like a whirlwind in waiting. CHAI can get sentimental when needed; see the playful but surprisingly wistful “Sayonara Crawl” from earlier this year, but operate primarily as they do on a song like “N.E.O.” below. And that feel is making them rise up the J-rock ranks.
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