Monday, July 22, 2013

Where to Start: Japanese Emo


     I guess the logical step from Screamo would be to look at the Japanese emo scene. Right off the bat, I'd like to say that I don't know a ton about the emo scene. I enjoy the music and try to do my best to keep up with current stuff, but my tr00 passion is screamo stuff.
     For anyone who doesn't know what I mean by emo, since it's a completely arbitrary word and applying it to bands is completely subjective, I'm talking about stuff that is influenced by bands like Mineral, Knapsack, Deep Elm bands, stuff like that. I'm not interested in arguing the term, just check out these cool bands.

     Cool kids use the Emo tag to browse my site for Japanese emo bands.

Intro:
     As far as I can tell, emo came to Japan at around the early 90's. Bloodthirsty Butchers was one of the earliest bands, releasing their first album in 1990. Eastern Youth changed their sound from punk/oi to bring in a lot more emo influences in the early 90's. [Note: those bands are both huge, so I'm not going to bother mentioning them otherwise.] Dignity For All was one of the breakout bands in the late 90's, doing a split with Jejune which was release in the USA by BigWheelRecreation. Naht was another, touring Japan with Fugazi, Bluetip, and Burning Airlines, and even doing a North American tour in early 2000. From there, the sound spread throughout Japan with bands popping up all over. Lately, there has been a bit of a resurgence with the "jangly" emo sound, ala Cap'n Jazz & Algernon Cadwallader.
     Pretty notable at this point is documentary made in 2000 on emo (and other styles) in the Japanese scene. It was directed by a fledgling film maker and features the more prominent bands in Tokyo at the time, especially those that spoke some English. Check it out here: Tokyo Below.

Starting Point - Bluebeard

     Bluebeard started playing around the mid to late 90's. There's honestly almost no information on them to be found, so I don't know that much. They released a 7" in 1999, a split with Nine Days Wonder the same year, and their amazing self-titled EP in 2001. After they broke up, the guitarist/vocalist formed As Meias and the other guitarist went on to play in Naht and Turtle Island. Here's a Japanese page with a sort of history of the band.

What to listen to:

     Their self-titled EP from 2001 is their swan song. 9 tracks of perfectly executed, dreamy emo with sustained vocals playing over dreamy guitars. I've never gotten tired of these songs, which is really rare.

Where to get it:

     Nowhere, really. I post their EP here, so you can listen and view the art, but it has been sold out for many years. The CD may occasionally pop up on Yahoo! Auctions, but you'd have to grab it fast.

What to watch:

     Bluebeard @ Shimokitazawa Shelter (1997)
     Bluebeard Studio Live (1998)
     Bluebeard PV (2000)

Next - Sora

     Sora started out as a screamo band in the early 2000's. I saw them play a studio show in 2003, it was one of their first, and were the perfect openers for After Forever and Gauge Means Nothing. After their first demo, they replaced their screaming with singing, but kept their intense and melancholic melodies. The result is some of the most interesting and ground-breaking music coming out in the past decade. Their sound has not (can not?) be replicated and their breakup in 2012 nearly brought me to tears. A one of a kind band that will never get it's fair share of popularity.

What to listen to:

     It's a tough call. I would say to listen to their final album first, because it's my favorite, but their preceding EP's might better prepare the listener to appreciate the last album. For simplicity's sake, check out their first tracks when they converted to singing, from their 4-way split on Impulse Records.

Where to get it:

     Sora's final album is available to non-Japanese through CDJapan at an incredibly reasonable price. With shipping, I think it was $20USD even, which is a steal for Japanese CD's. You can also check out the rest of their discography at The Song Of Delight blog.

What to watch:

     Sora @ WARP (2010)
     Sora @ Nagoya Club Rock'N'Roll (2012)
     Sora "灯台の上で待つ" Release tour movie

Next - Balloons

     Balloons started playing in the mid-90's, but didn't release their first album until 2003 on Stiff Slack. In 2005 they did a two-week tour of the East Coast USA, which coincided with a re-release of their debut album on 31knots' label 54º40' or Fight!  Since then, they're released two more albums in Japan, jumping to different labels for each one. They're currently pretty big in Japan, for an independent band, headlining shows with Toe and the like.

What to listen to:

     Definitely their first album, 9:40 p.m. It is a solid, timeless masterpiece dedicated to angular, mathy emo. From there, though, I'm not really sure. I haven't got a chance to hear their later albums, so I can't vouch for the quality. Still, anything you can get your hands on will be good.

Where to get it:

     You can listen to a limited selection at Balloons' Bandcamp from their early releases. CDJapan has all but their earliest releases for sale. You can check out their debut album here on the blog.

What to watch:

     Balloons @ UNIT (2011)
     Balloons @ UNIT (2011)
     Balloons - Intensity PV (2010)
     Balloons @ ERA (2004)

Next - Curve

     Curve was a two piece for much of their existence, only gaining a third member with their most recent album. They've also had quite a bit of exposure throughout the world, touring through Malysia/Singapore and appearing an a split in the USA. They started playing in the early 2000's, and always reminded me of early Jimmy Eat World. Their more recent sound brings in some post-rock elements and the songs get seriously epic.

What to listen to:

     Curve has definitely been around the block, and have at least 3 full lengths you could check out. I say to start at the best (in my opinion), Till The End, which was released last year from Impulse Records.

Where to get it:

     You can buy Till The End from CDJapan. There's a couple of things posted on my blog, the best being their single from 2003. And you can get their 6-way split on Bear Records at the MeatCube store.

What to watch:

     Curve @ ERA (2012)
     Curve @ Shinjuku Nine Spices (2011)
     Curve Live (2010)
     Curve Acoustic @ Senseless Records (2009)

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