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Various Artists “Ripple”

by Ian Martin

It seems that every indie scenester in Japan wants a piece of Nagoya these days. Buzz is growing around the city’s bands, and it’s fast becoming an essential first stop away from home for Tokyo artists and DJ events. One of the reasons for this new love affair comes from the efforts of the label Knew Noise and its parent record shop File Under Records. As well as introducing Japanese audiences to the likes of Comanechi and Bo Ningen from the U.K., Knew Noise/File Under has acted as a focal point for many of the best bands in Nagoya. A new compilation showcasing the city’s talent is a long overdue document of the scene.

Where Coup Label’s 2005 “7586 Nagoya Rock” compilation series was eclectic and occasionally esoteric in the extreme, “Ripple,” named after the city’s hippest live-music hangout, is a more focused collection with postpunk- and no-wave-influenced bands ranging from garage/hardcore noiseniks Sika Sika to the goth-tinged Zymotics forming the core.

And it really is very, very good. Pop Office open the album with “Epicureanism.” Its metronomic death disco was probably not what the dead Greek philosopher had in mind when he wrote “On Nature,” but it’s nevertheless strangely appropriate in its restrained hedonism. NicFit’s “Creeps” is a poppy standout, and Sekaitekina Band’s “New” sees the group exploring more expansive, krautrock-influenced territory after the short, sharp shock of their recent, Gang of Four-influenced debut album. Free City Noise’s magnificent “Permanent Touches” is another highlight, while 6eyes’ “Blank in Flag” is a curiously compelling mix of lounge jazz and hardcore.

The Moments provide a rare melodic interlude with the chiming C86-style guitars of “Shining Eyes,” although like many Japanese indie-pop bands, they bury the vocals frustratingly low in the mix. In contrast, Yoshito Ishihara’s similarly tuneful closing “New Mexico Midnight Cowboy No.1 (I don’t wanna be killed by your romance any more)” revels in the stylings of 1970s Japanese folk; Ishihara cramming his lyrics into rhythms they were never meant to inhabit, his voice both expressive and intimate.

For sheer mad thrill though, “Saiko” by all-girl trio Freedom takes some beating with its Plastics-style new-wave yelps and complex, progressive rock rhythms. But if there’s one real winner from this compilation, it’s Nagoya itself, and “Ripple” is an ideal jumping off point for the many other bands that this city has to offer.