Japan Nite US Tour | 03.19-30.15

A preview of this year’s edition of SXSW’s annual spotlight on Japan’s best and brightest bands.

2015 marks the 20th (!) year that our friends at Benten Tokyo and SXSW Asia have flown a bevy of Japan’s finest musicians over the Pacific Ocean to grace the stage at Austin’s venerable South By Southwest music festival. It is also the ninth year running that your friend here at PLAYBACK:stl (namely me!) has been providing a preview of the festivities. Unfortunately, our friends at the United States Postal Service decided to not play along this year, which means this coverage is going up after the Japan Preview Day show has already begun. D’oh! But fear not, dear reader, I’m still here to supply you with a look at the fine artists playing the festival and corresponding tour this year, just maybe not in as timely a manner as usual. This post will be updated with new entries as quickly as possible until all of this year’s artists have been discussed.
BO-PEEP [Website]
The fin. [Website]
Chill is the operative word when it comes to The fin., a Kobe-based four-piece whose debut album, Days With Uncertainty, just dropped in December. The band lists chillwave acts like Toro y Moi and Washed Out among their influences, but the accentuation of Ryosuke Odagaki’s dreamy, bell clear guitars (alongside Yuto Ochino’s echo-drenched vocals and icy synths and the driving-yet-subdued rhythm section of bassist Takayasu Taguchi and drummer Kaoru Nakazawa) brings to mind the mellow psychedelia of Luna, the Sea and Cake, or (especially) Real Estate. When Ochino’s synths come to the forefront, as on the album’s opening one-two punch of “Illumination” and the new wave-y “Night Time,” the results come closer to Phoenix territory. The fin.’s debut album is a subtle album but also an infectious one, and one that is heartily recommended for those who like their indie rock on the dreamier side.

Mahoshojo-ni-naritai [Website]
Mahoshojo-ni-naritai’s name translates to “I want to be a magical girl,” but if their name has you expecting sugary sweet pop, well, you’re only half right. Yes, each song features cutesy, Autotuned female vocals chirping out super catchy melodies, but the music is all pop punk guitars, thrashy Bad Religion drums, and laser beam keyboards that keep the energy level just about as high is it can go. Oh, and then there are the male vocals, sung in a throat-shredding scream, turning some songs into Used-style screamo and interrupting others with brief death metal dirges that sound like something out of Napalm Death before the song kicks back to life as if nothing happened. Basically, Mahoshojo-ni-naritai sound like virturoid idol Hatsune Miku doing Andrew WK covers, and if that sounds like your particular brand of insanity, well, you’re in for a thrill.

Mothercoat [Website]
When Mothercoat played Japan Nite 2014, I called the band’s sound “tough to pin down.” This appears to be an understatement after a listen to the band’s latest EP, 2014’s 5 – 1 + 1 =. Where their last release, 2012’s Allergies, would lurch back and forth between multiple genres, vocal styles, and time signatures within a single song, the three tracks on their latest are at least internally consistent, even if they’re wildly different from each other. Opener “Nipple Cider” offers up a burbling sound akin to Vampire Weekend (possibly an influence of Fernando Lodeiro, who has worked with Vampire Weekend and mixed the aforementioned Allergies), while the more mechanical “Misync” is all cheap Casio synths, plinking pianos, and dispassionate female vocals, and EP closer “Trickster” features skipalong fuzzed out guitars and multiple sweet pop vocal melodies looped and layered on top of each other. Mothercoat is all over the place but remains imminently listenable no matter what weird detours it takes.

Moumoon [Website]
Pop music gets a bad rap for being vapid and simplistic, but Moumoon is proof that it doesn’t have to be. The duo’s 2014 album Ice Candy supplies an endless stream of upbeat, catchy pop music, but with a sense of instrumental adventurousness that recalls fellow Japanese pop chameleons Pizzicato Five without all the swingin’ ‘60s throwback elements. The opening tracks of the album would sound right at home next to Katy Perry or Carly Rae Jepsen on Top 40 radio, particularly the blaring synths on opener “Jewel,” the hypnotically catchy speak-singing of the Icona Pop-esque “Love is Everywhere,” and the jaunty piano  and schoolgirl-sweet vocals of “Sunshine Girl,” a stylistic twin of Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the USA” if ever there was one. But from there, singer Yuka and guitarist Masaki take things to more interesting places, from the skipping guitar and infectious “doo-doo-doo-doo”s of the Frente!-ish “Chu Chu” to the skittering “Bon Appetit” (an electronic love song reminiscent at times of Daft Punk’s “Digital Love”) to “Love Before We Die,” a song whose strummy guitars and Cure-esque synth flourishes sound like If It Was You-era Tegan and Sara doing a shiny electronica song (and, incidentally, sounds better than anything on Tegan and Sara’s actual electronica album). If the constant references to other artists make it sound like Moumoon is derivative, the amazing thing is they’re not: they have the uncanny ability to write songs that manage to evoke the feeling of familiarity without ever sounding like a lazy copy of any specific artist. As a result, Ice Candy hits just the right familiar notes to cause love at first listen.

Pirates Canoe | [Website]
“Sippin’ on a Killian’s Red/ Waiting for a song to take you somewhere” Elizabeth Etta sings on “Guitar Blue.” The “somewhere” that Pirates Canoe takes you, however, is an ocean away from the sextet’s Kansai home, as the band’s authentic take on Americana flies you away on breezily strummed guitars accented by mandolin, fiddle, resophonic guitar, and lap steel. The band’s debut full-length, 2014’s One for the Pain in My Heart, doubles down on the Norah-Jones-fronting-the-Jayhawks sound that Pirates Canoe brought to 2013’s Japan Nite, with highlights including the Carter Sisters harmonies on the aforementioned “Guitar Blue,” the gentle Sarah McLachlan-ish weeper “Matty Maloy,” and the vaguely Celtic lilt of “Gull Flying North.” Just for kicks, there’s even a cover of the B-52’s classic “Love Shack,” giving the song a funk-country update replete with a liquid bass groove and jangly steel guitars.

Samurai Dynamites [Website]
Samurai Dynamites are nominally a punk band, but if so, they’re definitely a weird one as far as punk bands go. Sure, the distorted guitars and guttural spoke-sung vocals are here in full force, but this Tokyo-based six-piece fills out their sound with the usual drums and bass and the much less common accordion, saxophone, and violin. Their 2015 EP Shiro Sawa shows just how much versatility the added instrumentation gives the Dynamites’ sound: check out how the AC/DC guitar chug of “Kikuchiyo” pairs with the hyperactive lead violin, or the way the yelped vocals, snaking violin, and blaring sax make “Shi-No-Kow-Sho Revolution” sound in places like an outtake from Modest Mouse’s Good News for People Who Love Bad News. When they keep the tempo up, as they do on the album’s fifth track, the result is the kind of fist-pumping, feel good party punk that is Flogging Molly’s stock in trade. That song’s title? “Let’s Go Party Music Come On!!” Sounds about right.

TsuShiMaMiRe [Website]
Chihiro Yamazaki | [Website]
Saying the word “jazz” usually conjures up memories of eight-plus minute songs meandering through improvisations and lengthy solos or, in other words, music that would seem an odd fit for Japan Nite. If you’re afraid you’ll be checking your watch through their set, though, fear not: Chihiro Yamazaki prefers her jazz in three-to-four-minute blasts of pure pop energy. As her 2012 full-length with her Route 14 Band, Waltz of the Flowers, so elegantly (and energetically) illustrates, Yamazaki specializes in jazz fusion, the rock- and soul-informed hybrid made famous by bands like the Brecker Brothers and Weather Report, with maybe just a touch of early Chicago. As drummer Satoshi Yamashita and bassist Koji Yamamoto hold down a swinging, danceable backbeat, keyboardist Hana Takami provides the mood (be it slow and pretty or fast and fizzy) for Yamazaki’s virtuosic trumpet melodies. Yamazaki and the Route 14 Band have wasted no time making a name for themselves, selling over 20,000 albums as an independent act since forming in the summer of 2010, mostly on the strength of festival appearances, including back-to-back appearances at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Kawasaki and the Park Sapporo festival before crowds of 70,000-plus. Having gone international with 2012’s Toronto Jazz Festival, the band is now ready to take on America.
Zarigani$ [Website]
For the second year in a row, Eri and Mizuki of the bass-and-drums-only duo Zarigani$ (pronounced “zarigani-dollar”) set out to prove that guitars are not a requirement to rock SXSW. The duo’s latest EP L continues the ADHD bounce of 2013’s Dead Birds from the get-go with “Laundry,” a song that jumps from martial drumbeats to motormouthed verses to careening breakdowns while “Loves” counters with a more lolling pace and a Mike Watt-ish bassline. EP closer “Lendez-vous” takes the band to stranger territory, with a robotic bass groove and what might be (gasp!) an actual guitar (or at least a bass heavily processed to sound like a guitar, in reverse Jack White style) paired with vocals that are Autotuned to a gratingly high pitch. Zarigani$’s way with a beat and a catchy melody is sure to please most ears, though “Lendez-vous” itself is probably more of an acquired taste. | Jason Green
Also appearing: Tomi Fujiyama (SXSW only) and QUORUM (all dates). For more information, visit japan-nite.com.
Japan Nite at SXSW
03.19.15 | Japan Preview day show 2015 at The Grackle
1700 E. 6th st, Austin, TX 78702
Free/ All Ages / Outside
12:25-12:50 The fin.
13:00-13:25 Chihiro Yamazaki
13:35-14:00 Mothercoat
14:10-14:35 Zarigani$
14:45-15:10 moumoon
15:20-15:45 BO-PEEP
15:55-16:20 QUORUM
16:30-16:55 Tsushimamire
17:05-17:30 Samurai Dynamites
17:40-18:05 Pirates Canoe
18:15-18:00 Tomi Fujiyama
03.20.15 | SXSW Japan Nite 20th Anniversary line up at Elysium
1. moumoon ( J-pop)
2. TsuShiMaMire (Girl Rock)
3. Pirates Canoe  (Alt Country/folk)
4. The fin. Synth/Chillwave)
5. QUORUM (Hard Rock)
6. Samurai Dynamites (J-Punk/fork)
7. Mahoshojo-ni-naritai  ( J- Alternative)
Japan Nite US Tour 2015
03.22.15 | Chicago at the Double Door
with: TsuShiMaMire QUORUM The fin.
Zarigani$ BO-PEEP Samurai Dynamites
Double Door
7:30pm / $10 ADV / $15 DOS / $20 VIP
1572 N Milwaukee Ave. Chicago, IL 60622
(773) 489-3160
03.23.15 | Columbus at Ruby Tuesday
with: TsuShiMaMire QUORUM The fin.
Zarigani$ BO-PEEP Samurai Dynamites
Ruby Tuesday
1978 Summit Street
Columbus, OH 43201
(614) 291-8313
03.24.15 | New York at the Knitting Factory
with: TsuShiMaMire QUORUM The fin.
Zarigani$ BO-PEEP Samurai Dynamites
Knitting Factory
Doors: 7:30 / Show: 8:00 / Tickets $12.00 ADV / $15.00 DOS
361 Metropolitan Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11211
(347) 529-6696
03.26.15 | Athens Slingshot Festival at New Earth Music Hall
with TsuShiMaMire QUORUM The fin.
Zarigani$ BO-PEEP
New Earth Music Hall
227 W Dougherty St Athens, GA 30601
03.27.15 | Denver at Hi-Dive
with: TsuShiMaMire QUORUM The fin. mothercoat
Doors: 8:30 pm / Show: 9:00 pm / 21+ / Tickets $12.0
7 South Broadway, Denver, CO 80223
03.28.15 | Los Angeles at Bootleg HiFi
with: TsuShiMaMire QUORUM The fin.
Bootleg HiFi
Door Time: 8:00 pm Ticket Price $15 21+
2200 Beverly Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90057
03.29.15 | San Diego at The Casbah
with TsuShiMaMire QUORUM The fin.
The Casbah
21+ / Tickets $10
2501 Kettner Boulevard, San Diego, CA 92101
03.30.15 | San Francisco at The Independent
Japan Nite at The Independent, San Francisco, CA
with TsuShiMaMire QUORUM The fin.
The Independent
Doors 7:30PM / Show 8:00PM / Tickets $15
628 Divisadero St. San Francisco, CA 94117
(415) 771-1421


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