Artists From Japan #9: An Introduction To Lemon’s Chair

Who are Lemon’s Chair?

Formed in Osaka by Masashi Imanishi and YUKO, both of whom play guitar, Lemon’s Chair is a band known for their progressive fusing of third-wave post-rock and shoegaze. Often the structural influences come from post rock, but the sonic ones come directly from shoegaze like My Bloody Valentine. The main meat of the sound is the reverby dual guitar of Masashi and YUKO, but generally set over textural electronics and drumming done by various support drummers, or sometimes, by drum machines. Despite forming early in decade, in 2002, Lemon’s Chair wouldn’t release their debut split with Monocism, High Shoegazer, until 2009, and wouldn’t release their debut album, I Hate? I Hope? until 2010.

Lemon’s Chair have been featured on The Guardian, and were part of the infamous Yellow Loveless Project, doing covers of “To Here Knows When”, and “What You Want”, both of which were strange and fantastic, doing more than justice to My Bloody Valentine’s legendary originals. They’re a band who seem equally restless and patient, releasing genre leaping music that shows a never-asleep creativity, but on a patient timescale that often finds four years between their albums.

1. I Hate? I Hope? (2010)

Do you remember the first time you listened to Explosions in the Sky? I don’t remember the exact place or the time, but I do recall that feeling of listening to rock music with new ears again, of hearing post rock that was interesting, and powerful for the first time since GY!BE. Explosions made a promise to us, about new directions, and powerful new feelings that post-rock was going to explore. Unfortunately, no one ever really fulfilled that promise, post-rock ran it’s wheels for a few more years as this third wave of ‘cresendo-core’ bands, until finally our love for the genre was pushed onto bands that just barely qualified to be called it, like Swans, Deafheaven, Have A Nice Life, and for me, Kashiwa Daisuke.

But bands like Lemon’s Chair represent a meaningful development for the genre that actually brings back those artistic highs that fans of the genre were so desperately looking for. Instead of taking shoegaze and post rock on as just aesthetic additives for songs written in completely different genres (e.g. Have A Nice Life -> Post-Punk, Deafheaven -> Black Metal), Lemon’s Chair takes those sonics and keeps them within the songwriting styles of post rock and shoegaze. It combines the hazy, noise filled listlessness of a shoegaze song, and the size, and build of a classic Explosions in the Sky/Mono-type post-rock song. They even reach back a bit into second wave post rock, taking the quiet-to-loud dynamics of Mogwai and applying them to the way tracks are sequenced.

A monstrous opening track like Swallowtail, with winding, chaotic guitars, and dramatic cymbal rolls, leads into the almost dreampop-esque Virtus, which features some of the only vocals on the album, a lowly mixed coo from YUKO that envelops everything. All backed by a sparkling guitar melody that almost sounds like it could have been plucked out of Destroyer’s Kaputt. And it’s not just in tone that these songs differ, there’s a real diversity in style that makes LC stand out in the sea of samey, 4-piece post-rock groups. The song “Himmel” features an acoustic guitar played over ambient street noises accompanied by  electric guitar played with bow that sounds like nothing else on the album, or in post-rock as a whole. It’s also incredibly soothing, and dreamy, creating another great loud to quiet moment as it leads into the brutal and noisy “Halycon”, which slowly builds into an MBV-esque wall of noise finale. A great example of what Lemon’s Chair does best, taking sounds that have been worked with before, and even songwriting dynamics that’ve been utilized before, and melding them into something totally unique, that feels genuinely fresh.

It’s an album that I often recommend to anyone who loves instrumental rock, post-rock, shoegaze, or just passionately played music in general.

2. My Favorite Reverb (2014)

Last summer I, as a broke college student, had to work some ‘bullshit’ job between semesters. I won’t get into the details, but essentially every day I get out of work at 10 PM and had to drive through the quiet, boring suburbs I had moved back into for the summer. Its at this point I decided to finally listen to My Favorite Reverb. Arguably the perfect time to fully appreciate a post-rock/shoegaze album, in tired reflection, staring out at the empty streets of a ‘bullshit’ suburbia harshing my 20s angst. Unfortunately, even in that perfect time and place, I couldn’t bring myself to like this album.

It’s one of those follow-up albums you pretend to like at first, bobbing your head and trying to pretend you’re getting lost in it, before finally succumbing and realizing it wasn’t all that good. We all know that feeling , cough Wolf Parade cough, and it never ceases to disappoint you. This album, just isn’t what I wanted from Lemon’s Chair at all. The structures of these songs seem almost lazy, whereas the structures of songs in I Hate? I Hope were arguably my favorite part of the record. Take a song like “Wahrheit”, sure the tempo changes, the melody changes, and even the general mix changes, but the whole song just chugs along in this single mood, and each section just manages to become a new way of achieving that exact same feeling. The entire album starts to feel tonally monotonous as one song of boring build and release, or absent-minded drifting comes one after another.

The tones, and individual structures are fine enough, I love the very odd, altered drum machine that introduces “Luna”, and the kind of strange, reversed and chopped guitar leads that happen throughout, but once again, it just goes… nowhere. It refuses to develop and seems to just meander along without purpose and direction.

What I will note is that this whole album isn’t wasted, because the last two tracks are fucking great, and were exactly what I wanted more of from the band. The track “#9″ has an almost Bedhead structure to it, slowly decaying as the lead vocalist starts to wane out, and the guitar becomes sparser before finally fizzing out in what sounds like actual analog tape being chewed up. It’s patient, letting its crash run a full seven minutes long, proof that simple structuring and direction makes these songs so much more powerful and vibrant. “My Favorite, the final track, is a much more conventional post-rock track, building from a slow, moody start to a huge, crashing finale that strains the ears. But the passionate playing, the very deliberate flow, and the weird atonal reverb that underpins the monstrous finale, it’s all there to create something powerful, utilizing that simple structure. I’m always sad to see a band I love put out an album like this, but tracks like #9 and My Favorite Reverb make me hopeful for an even better follow-up.

3. Other Stuff

The band has a fair bit of non-album, non-EP material, mainly two splits they did in 2009, and 2013 with Monocism and Tokyo Shoegazer respectively, both are interesting, but the track limitation obviously makes them a bit of a disappointment as a full experience. I’d say the most essential of their periphery work is their work on Yellow Loveless, but I would recommend the full project, not just their songs. It’s a very entertaining album to listen to if you’re a fan of My Bloody Valentine and brings some of the best in the Japanese shoegaze scene together for some wild interpretations of what were arguably perfect songs from the beginning.

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