Tokyo Modal Soul (The Rebirth of..)
Some great new artists and bands have been popping up with a lean towards progressive/experimental soul. Here are some bands I saw on my current trip to Tokyo and a few others I might check out in the future.
There is another relatively new Japanese band called NOT WONK that plays Ellegarden-esque pop punk. I think they are the reason I ignored WONK until recently as I mixed the two bands up. WONK’s album ‘Sphere’ is one of my favorite albums of 2016. The badassery and intensity of WONK’s live show definitely isn’t shown in any of the Youtube videos available online. The drummer is a certified BEAST. The album has a nice underground hip hop feel to it with a number of guest MC’s who also appear at WONK’s shows to freestyle over improv jams. If you like music by Robert Glasper, Hiatus Kaiyote, Nujabes, A Tribe Called Quest and Gang Starr then WONK might be right up your alley. Apparently their music is available on Spotify but I can’t log onto Spotify in Japan with my Canadian account. Definitely give their album ‘Sphere’ a listen and a number of you might be adjusting your ‘Best of 2016’ lists.
Not to be outdone by WONK in the weird name department is CRCK/LCKS. This is a band my friend Edwin recommended to me a while back. I saw them perform with WONK, Yoshida Yohei Group and Tam Tam at 青山月見ル君想フ a couple weeks ago and this was one of the best shows I’ve seen in a while. CRCK/LCKS is a 5-pc band with female vocals but the saxophonist who is the leader of the group also sings with his voice distorted through vocoder effects. They’re tight musicians but maybe not at the level of a band such as Jizue at this point. I like the experimental nature and moments of intensity in their music especially live. I’m keeping an eye them as a potential NMFT candidate (same for WONK)
Guitarist Daiki Tsuneta is the mastermind behind the 4-pc band Srv.Vinci (pronounced Sah-rah-bah Vinci). He runs his own label Perimetron and also has a solo project playing experimental ambient music called Daiki Tsuneta Millennium Parade. Srv.Vinci has the talent and looks to become a massive hit in the mainstream like RADWIMPS but Tsuneta’s creative weirdness should keep them willingly grounded somewhat to the fringes similar to Rin Toshite Shigure.
Srv.Vinci are performing at SXSW 2017 and will be part of the Japan Nite tour for those who live in the US.
Yoshida Yohei Group
This is at least the 3rd time I’ve brought up Yoshida Yohei Group on this site. They’re an incredible band with amazing musicians who I probably would have invited to Canada already if they didn’t have seven members. When I last saw them they played with just six members which I guess is potentially doable but still pretty expensive for one fairly unknown band. I don’t even know how to properly describe their music but it’s a mix of prog-rock, folk, chamber pop and soul and they can be pretty fierce live during the intense moments (picture Jizue). Kuro-chan who sings back-up and plays trumpet and synthesizer is also in the following band:
I first encountered TAMTAM at Fuji Rock festival in 2012 when they had a full-on dub music sound. It was very mellow and chill as dub/reggae tends to be and to be honest I wan’t very interested at the time although I did buy their CD. Then I saw them again in 2014 and they had changed their style quite a bit. They still had dub music as it’s base but incorporated a substantial amount of post-rock/shoegaze guitar noise. However, the music seemed a bit generic to me and I still wasn’t a huge fan. Two weeks ago, I saw them for the third time and they’ve mellowed on the post-rock but adopted a jazzier, experimental style to their dub and I kind of liked it. Maybe Kuro-chan’s time with Yoshida Yohei Group has had an influence in the songwriting.
The band was originally founded by bassist Kobayashi Junet (Jittery Jackal) but he recently left the band and has been replaced by the ex-bassist of SuiseiNoboAz (damn!). TAMTAM are a pretty interesting band who aren’t afraid to constantly tweak their sound and switch gears when they write new music. And Kuro-chan is not just a pretty face on vocals. She can play a number of instruments well and especially plays a mean trumpet.
冨田ラボ (Tomita Lab)
Tomita Keichi is a revered multi-instumentalist (drums, guitar, keyboard, bass), composer, producer and mix-engineer who has written songs for a number of big-name Japanese artists. He also releases his own work under the moniker Tomita Lab where he composes pop music with a experimental/neo-soul twist and invites guest singers to provide vocals. His latest album “Superfine” includes a who’s who of vocalists from the most popular city pop bands (Suchmos, never young beach, CICADA, cero) including KOM_I of wed_camp.
I don’t really know much about this artist but she kept popping up on the right column of Youtube when I was searching videos for WONK and the other bands in this blog post. She seems like a talented singer-songwriter.
Another group introduced to me by Edwin. Apparently yahyel consists of 5 members (vocals, synth, sampler, drums, VJ). Their music is definitely interesting but don’t worry their chances are practically nil for showing up on an NMFT tour.
So these are just a few artists and bands making experimental soul +/- city pop music who have piqued my interest. But before Geoff starts freaking out, no I haven’t lost my mind and I am not considering an entire line-up of ‘weak-ass contemporary music artists’ for NMFT 10. However, I might invite one or two of these bands in the future to add an odd twist and add more variety to the line-up. WONK is especially badass and CRCK/LCKS have a nice combination of power, creativity and soul. Yoshida Yohei Group is also a superb band similar along the lines of Tokumaru Shugo and his band. And more than anything I just wanted to introduce readers to some cool, experimental soul music coming out of Japan.