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Various Artists “Upwards and Onwards” (Ano(t)raks)

by Patrick ST. Michel

Special To The Japan Times

Fledgling online-only label Ano(t)raks takes a somewhat needless risk with their second compilation album, “Upwards and Onwards.” Founded late last year, Ano(t)raks highlighted bedroom-made indie-pop, a style defined by simple guitar playing and equally basic lyrics about love. Indie-pop has been going strong since the 1980s … and has barely evolved sonically since then. Nobody expected Ano(t)raks to deviate from that, but “Upwards and Onwards” nudges the gates open and features more electronic-leaning artists and jammier collectives. It makes the album an engaging listen, and establishes the imprint as an incubator for all sorts of promising young artists.

Still, indie-pop in the mold of English twee-label Sarah Records appears frequently on “Upwards and Onwards.” A few groups who highlighted the label’s first compilation, “Soon,” also grace the sophomore collection. Osaka’s Post Modern Team impress with the jaunty “Someday,” while Youth In My Videotapes provide a superb intro to indie-pop via “You Don’t Know I Love You” (bask in awe at the hyper-twee title). The Vanities, though, deliver the strongest traditional indie-pop song here with the up-tempo bounce of “Gabriel’s Blue Hat.” None of it sounds new, but Ano(t)raks has a keen ear for picking artists who can make the listener forget the derivativeness with catchiness.

The more sonically adventurous moments, though, make “Upwards and Onwards” a keeper. Tokyo’s Canopies And Drapes’ lyrics on “G&C — Giovanni And Campanella” sound twee (they allude to the main characters from the story “A Night on the Galactic Express”) but she undercuts that by ramming harsh guitar noise against airy keyboard. Right after that is Kai Takahashi’s “1980,” a synth-and-bass workout. On the other songs here, a line like, “Do you remember/Do you remember me?” would sound wimpy, but is downright sexy when cooed by Takahashi. Not all the new terrain works — Jini’s “You and I (Remix)” overdoes the vocal manipulation, while the usually stellar The Paellas contribute “No Fear (Demo),” which lives up to the bracketed part. But then stuff like Fukuoka-band Jam The Mod’s eight-minute “2nd Rainbows” pops up, the young outfit crafting an ambitious song jumping from crunchy noise bursts to jingle-bell-accented passages. It’s the best song here, and proof no music label needs to pigeonhole themselves at the expense of ambition.

Get “Upwards and Onwards” at www.anotraks.bandcamp.com.