Netlabel culture in Japan — referring to Web-only music labels that distribute tunes online, usually for free — has been around long enough to develop its own set of minor celebrities and “star” imprints. Bunkai-Kei has become one of the most popular of these Internet institutions, and its latest release from the artist Smany finds the group acting more like a traditional label than ever before. In advance of her debut album, “komoriuta” (which translates as “songs for bats”), Bunkai-Kei released its first-ever video trailer. It also nabbed some respected names in the netlabel community to provide remixes of Smany’s songs. The result is one of the netlabel’s strongest offerings yet, and one of 2013’s finest only-a-click-away collections.
Smany’s recordings resemble similarly minimalist Japanese artists like Cokiyu and Cuushe. Her six original songs on “komoriuta” make great use of empty space, to the point where the music here sounds glacial. The first song, “A,” opens with a field recording of a train signal and a barely-there synthesizer line, adding in other recordings that convey a sense of loneliness. The vocals on “Kurai Kurai” (“Dark, Dark”) come across clearest on “komoriuta,” but are juxtaposed with music that sounds as if it was recorded off a broken car radio. Smany’s spacious approach works best when she builds towards a forceful climax — the lonesome first half of “Sherbet” eventually bursts alive, making it the release’s best cut.
Besides introducing Smany to the world, “komoriuta” also serves to highlight some of the strong electronic producers who provide remixes of her music. Three artists tackle “A,” with results ranging from no.9’s glitched-party-pop take to trorez upping the percussion on his rework. The best edits are for “Sherbet,” starting with fulkawa head.Q.music‘s “icedit,” which finds a way to make the number even chillier. Even better is Kyoto producer Madegg’s take, featuring twinkling electronics and something sounding like computerized strings that ratchet the drama up even more than on the original. “komoriuta” is a strong introduction to Smany and a handful of other great artists, and a reminder of how healthy the netlabel scene is right now. (Patrick St. Michel)
“komoriuta” by Smany is available by the Bunka-kei website at bunkai-kei.com/release/bk-k_038.