As a year-end answer to my earlier summer 2021 mix, I decided to make a follow-up of some of the other Japanese indie and underground music that interested me this year. In tune with the wintry times, this one mostly skirts punk, in favour of various eerie and melancholy shades of experimental music and a few indie bangers. I’ve added Bandcamp links where they exist, and you can listen to the mix here.
Phew – Snow and Pollen
Phew has been not only prolific in recent years, but in perhaps the best form of her career. This opening track off her latest album, New Decade, is a suitably sinister introduction to the album, the times and this wintery mix.
z/nz – Days
Always great to have some new material from this mathy yet always playful Fukuoka-based trio. Taken from the second volume of the Mitohos compilation series, put together by Loolowningen & the Far East Idiots and featuring a solid cross section of contemporary Japanese experimental indie.
Loolowningen & the Far East Idiots – Concorde
As well as their work on the Mitohos series, Loolowningen also put out another new album of their own new material in Pareidolias, which comes quite swiftly after 2020’s Anökumene and continues their journey through surreal landscapes of sparse, intricate arrangements and offbeat melodies.
LeakLeek – China Doll
This track comes from these Nagoya-based psychedelic punks’ new mini-album Leak, which came out from my own Call And Response label at the tail end of the year and sure to kick off a wave of hysterical violin- and saw-led no wave. Look out for members Charley and Kuwayama’s other band Nicfit in the January releases of UK label Upset the Rhythm.
Non Band – Ti’s Worq
Non Band’s 1982 debut has been gaining increasingly broad recognition as a hidden masterpiece of the Japanese punk canon, and they have been gradually becoming more active in recent years, culminating in this second album after nearly a 40 year wait, hanging idiosyncratically between punk, no wave, folk and psychedelia.
So Oouchi / 大内聡 – Niji / 虹
As the vocalist from noise-drenched post-punks Hysteric Picnic/Burg, you’d be forgiven for being surprised that So Oouchi’s first new release in years is an EP of Nick Drake-esque solo acoustic ballads, but as an artist who never had much regard for people’s expectations, it’s still somehow on-brand (and quite lovely).
mmm, Takako Minekawa – Hachigatsu no Mado / 八月の窓
Singer-songwriter mmm (pronounced “me-my-mow”) has been slowly working her way through a series of collaborations with other artists over the past couple of years, working with Shintaro Sakamoto and Oh Shu last year, and this year following it up with songs featuring Takefumi Tsujimura of Kicell and this immersive musical mystery with the wonderful Takako Minekawa.
re:lapse – f
The first of two tracks on this mix from the Dreamwaves shoegaze label, re:lapse released a debut EP this autumn, pushing the dreampop end of the shoegaze spectrum with, all gentle washes of guitar and synth (on this track synth arrangements courtesy of Azusa Suga from dreampop-tinted Tokyo pop band For Tracy Hyde.
softsurf – It’s OK
Also from the Dreamwaves label came Softsurf’s Returning Wave EP, with this song jumping out as what’s essentially a punchy indie-rock anthem, with just enough gliding and fuzz to remind you that it’s shoegaze.
Pulsnug – Turnoff
Given his troubles over the summer, 2021 was probably a bad year to be a massive fan of Cornelius and an even worse one to have built a huge part of your sonic identity around recreating the skittish avant-pop of Fantasma, but Tokyo’s Pulsnug came out with Fanfare for Farewell towards the end of the year anyway, packed with the shamelessly 1990s fun (am I imagining it or is the intro to this song a nod to Blur’s It Could be You?) and nary a scandal to be seen.
Susumu Hirasawa / 平沢進 – Yurei Ressha / 幽霊列車
Since the later days of P-Model, Susumu Hirasawa has been farming this grove of melodramatic synthetic grandeur, and the trees keep growing bigger. His epic appearance at the covid-limited Fuji Rock was one of the highlights for those of us watching at home.
former_airline – The Air Garden
Last year, Tokyo-based bedroom krautwave/dubgaze musician former_airline put out the full album Postcards from No Man’s Land, and he followed it up swiftly with a new self-released EP, with this song a motorik highlight.
Daisei Stockhausen – It’s too late
With roots in older punk-underground bands like The Hasshin Telepathies and Nemo, there’s a bit of Psychic TV to these weirdos, a bit of EBM, a bit of psych-rock, but hard to pin down. It appeared via a split cassette with the always enjoyable Shizuoka punk band Half Kill and it was intriguing stuff.
Buffalo Daughter – Times
There’s always something a bit oblique and out-of-time about Buffalo Daughter, like a band looking at the future from a half-dozen fragmented starting points at various points in the past. In some ways, this track, from their new album that dropped online in September, feels like something lost in the 1990s, but there’s also so much Kraftwerk in there that it starts drawing lines that place it not in a specific time so much as in a (paradoxical) tradition of looking forward. “We are the times” they sing, and sure, but which times?
Greeen Linez – The Call
If Buffalo Daughter’s music often seems to be looking to the future from a variety of starting points in the past, Greeen Linez can be seen as looking to the past of the 1980s from various starting points over the subsequent decades. There’s an affecting sort of romanticism to the duo’s hauntology on this track. Taken from the album Secrets of Dawn.
Seiichi Yamamoto / 山本精一 – Terminal Beach
In a way, a collection of experimental offcuts, underground legend Seiichi Yamamoto’s album Cavinet was a strangely warm and inviting album, like wandering through a series of misty, mysterious landscapes in an old videogame.
Noiseconcrete x 3chi5 – Monologue
Regular favourites of mine, Aichi duo Noiseconcrete x 3chi5 put out a couple of releases this year. One was a sort of hits compilation — a digest of early material — and the other a curious and understated EP on most of which 3chi5’s vocals take a low-key role, but which covered a lot of interesting musical ground.
Her Braids – Midnight Blue
Following on from the lovely song Forest from 2020’s Soko ni Iru indie compilation, this Matsumoto indie trio came out with an equally tender and touching three-song EP in 2021, with this the heartbreaking closing song.