Japan’s shoegaze scene has been an immutable truth for more than two decades. A wellspring of fresh innovation, consistency, and beauty juxtaposed with noise. This year in particular has seen the wide gamut of shoegaze explored on all sides. Though it has been relatively short on full length shoegaze projects or EPs, it has also seen the release of some of the years absolute best albums of any genre or country of origin. Without further ado here are our 5 best Japanese shoegaze albums of the year so far.
Spool – Spool (Shoegaze, Indie Rock – February 13th)
As the Japanese shoegaze awakening has continued towards the end of its second decade, I’ve found myself lining up artists to their nebulous western equivalents. So and so is kind of like the My Bloody Valentine of Japan, and so and so is like the Ride, etc. The one notable absence that didn’t really strike me until just a day or two ago, after finally getting to listen to Spool’s S/T debut album, was Verve. The band who perfected that combination of britpop and shoegaze which redirected their underground leaning into mass pop hysteria. Something alternative and legit but also playable at a social gathering without offending your nan.
Spool are still a bit more A Storm in Heaven than Urban Hymns, but the strong pop (especially britpop and indie pop) influences are still strong. With the early gothic undertones of “Be My Valentine”, the jangley irony-pop of “Shotgun”, or the dreamy indie balladry of “Sway, Fadeaway (Angel Version)” it’s easy to see a lane for a band like this to be playing on KEXP in a few years. There’s a genuine sonic effort to not just doll out heavy MBV worship and insular focus, while also not succumbing to the pure pop aspirations of bands like Kinoko Teikoku.
The Novembers – Angels (Art Rock, Post-Punk, Shoegaze – March 6th)
Angels is the most substantial album to come out of Japan in 2019. This is not an achievement accomplished by razor-thin margins or wavering indifference, it’s a proclamation screeched into a tin can coming from the back of your conference room. Arresting, startling, and a completely unforeseen revelation about the anarchist spirit of your co-workers. Sure I know of The Novembers, they’ve been some of the most stalwart contributors to Japan’s new shoegaze revolution, releasing a string of highly functional and pleasant shoegaze albums since 2008. Sure I know of them, but I have never particularly cared much about them. They existed in a space, in a box, between the lines.
The perfect description of The November’s new sound, or lack thereof, is their cover of “Ghost Rider”, kicking off the final third of the album, which sounds like the original song spit out into the moshpit of a Daughters’ show. Overlapping industrial and grind sensibilities played over noisy beds of synthetic textures and anarchic yelps. It’s what I imagine Alan Vega would have dreamed of had he grow up in the early 2010s. The most incredible quality of the album though, is that what follows is not more post-punk-ey skin-shearing noise in the vein of “Ghost Rider” or fellow barn-burners “Down to Heaven” or “Bad Dream”, but instead the albums lowest sinking dream-pop ballad “Close to Me”. The Novembers’ couldn’t be any less concerned with the rigid sonic boundaries I thought they lived in.
・・・・・・・・・ – Points (Shoegaze, Dream Pop, Techno – April 4th)
Can You Feel The Change of the Seasons?
Summer is here and the spring has left. Little trivial observations we make so routinely, like the bands we know calling it quits, and the lives we will imagine them living from here on out. A fruitless gesture we make in our minds to try and sort out these lives and the importance these silly little bands play into them, I wonder where The Dismemberment Plan are now, I hope they are doing ok. I hope Points find their new spring and their new place, because they will be dearly missed. Right as they were beginning to bloom we must bid ado.
I’m sick of growing old. I remember watching movies in my old apartment a year ago, thinking about the new relationship I was embarking on, and the life I might lead after college came to an end. I was listening to Points’ debut EP back then, wondering what it would feel like to do something new and slip out of myself after 21 years in this ceaseless forward motion towards nothing in particular. Now I march forward to nothing but the sound of my own limp shuffle. Can’t somebody just tell me where this is going, at least before I could lean into that. Points seemed so sure that being young could mean something, that we could live forever in a state of waiting and yearning. I guess the season was bound to change eventually, I’m no longer blooming. The ground is drying out under me and I’m sure this will all be for nothing. I will miss your colors and your sense that there was water deep beneath me Points.
azsakano – Romantics (Shoegaze, Dream Pop – February 1st)
For those of you who like your shoegaze like you like your life, constant and consistent, there are always Japanese musicians willing to create beautiful, straight-forward, and dreamy-as-hell shoegaze just as they always have, and perhaps always will. Azsa Kano is not by any metric the first to stand where she stands, but she is most certainly a hell of a musician to hold on to that legacy. Her sounds are so rich and filled with the kind of plinky, layered guitar textures that heavily rewards repeated and attentive listens
On Romantics, her debut mini-album, following her Good-bye, Pessimism, and 暑中 EPs she feels like smoke, finally shuffling off her simple frame and achieving something tremendous.
Soft as snow and warm inside. It’s the kind of assured genre mastery that could lead to something beyond. Only time will tell.
Michinori Toyota – Psychedelic Lovely Last Night (Experimental Rock, Shoegaze, Indie Folk – January 18th)
Michinori Toyota’s sprawling career is less about the merits of individual albums as it is the merits of individual songs. Across his almost 25 solo albums he has been consistently bizarre, boundary pushing, and difficult. A quality which has extended through both his songwriting and his sonic constructions. Within each album it’s always been a sort of choose-your-own-adventure as you worm your way through the experiments that exploded in his face, and the ones that paid dividends. Psychedelic Lovely Last Night is no different, though slightly easier to recommend for it’s shorter length, and higher overall batting average. Pulling away from the more atonal schizophrenia of last year’s Love, Art, And the Night of Goodbye, released under his Paradise Garage pseudonym, he delivers a brief 38 minutes through just seven tracks which are almost universally enjoyable. Between the shoegaze experiments of “Kukudo Zoi No” and “Revolution 48”, and the noise rock of “1991”, Michinori gives up some of his best folk numbers to date. Relaxed and confident in their generally simple delivery.