“Animals don’t commit suicide, but this song is so sad that even animals would want to kill themselves.”
Seira Nishigami, vocalist, guitarist and synth player from Osaka-based lo-fi indie trio Jesus Weekend, is trying to explain the feeling behind her group’s evocatively titled “Animal Suicides,” an eerie instrumental track from her young band’s recent mini-album “Agleam.”
It’s a bold statement and one that immediately sends this writer onto the Web to discover that in fact there are numerous recorded instances of dogs flinging themselves from bridges and ducks intentionally drowning themselves, not to mention termites rupturing their own internal organs and suicide-bomber pea aphids exploding in the face of attacks from larger insects. A predictable side effect to this discovery is that the song now has an accompanying gallery of mental images that will never leave me.
But despite what sometimes seems like a fondness for the traumatic imagery of wildlife-related tragedy, Jesus Weekend doesn’t want you to feel bad about it.
“The song ‘Puberty Bell’ is a lullaby,” Nishigami explains. “We especially want people to be able to sing the chorus to their friends, families, boyfriends and girlfriends. It has the line, ‘I wonder if you feel empty, if he broke my heart even to know a frog I’ve never seen die.’ Even if you’re sensitive, the song will make you feel better.”
Throughout the album, the group look at elements of nature, taking them from a single specific scene and blowing them open until they take on wider metaphorical significance. Nishigami describes “Santa Ana” as being “the image of winds that blow when something happens. Powerful bursts of air that can blow everything away. In a word: change.” “Sunshine Lake” is “about sunrise or the beginning of the universe.”
The band was started by Nishigami and bassist/synth player Azuna Onishi in spring 2012 when both were still in high school and quickly found themselves suffering from one of the perennial musician’s problems.
“Our drummers kept quitting,” Onishi says. “So it was very difficult to keep going. Actually it was one of our teachers who though Sanae (Murata) would suit our band and introduced us. She has a dry, down-to-earth sense to her that we really came to like.”
For Onishi, Murata’s straightforwardness balances well against Nishigami’s sensitivity and her own more removed position, helping to maintain a harmony within the group that has kept the lineup stable ever since.
They certainly attracted admirers quickly, with indiepop netlabel Ano(t)raks releasing the quickly sold-out limited edition “Distiny” EP of early demos in 2012, and punk/no-wave trio Miila and The Geeks introducing them to Tokyo audiences at shows in 2013. It was Miila and The Geeks again who stepped in at the end of the year by releasing “Agleam” through their own Fancy That! Records label.
Miila and The Geeks will also join Jesus Weekend and hotly tipped EDM/industrial art-punk duo Group A this weekend for an “Agleam” release party at Batica in Tokyo’s Ebisu district. That venue is rapidly becoming a new home to Tokyo’s indie hipster crowd.
Miila’s Moe Wadaka picks up on Jesus Weekend’s originality as a key point of their appeal, pointing out that many musicians at that age tend to get hung up on influences, and believes the resulting sound is a result of a thoughtful and creative process.
“Their power doesn’t come from something impulsive,” she says. “They have an ideal concept in mind from the start and expressing that is what motivates them to create.”
In addition to having friends in the local Japanese scene, Jesus Weekend also befriended Canadian electronic duo Crystal Castles during their 2013 Japan tour. Murata also singles out London-based Novella as a group the band admires, and it’s easy to see similarities in the melodic lo-fi musical sensibility and twee fashion aesthetic the two bands share.
“We think their taste in music is very close to ours,” she says. “So we want to meet them and play a show together.”
Jesus Weekend’s members are still young and one of the most fascinating things about them is how unformed their music is. Each track feels like a fragment of a larger picture that the band itself hasn’t yet got a sense of. It’s perhaps no coincidence that Onishi believes part of the key to its current stability is Murata’s versatility as a drummer, allowing the trio’s music to grow with its members. Just as “Santa Ana” reflects the winds of change and “Puberty Bell” hints at the uncertain interstices between childhood and maturity, there is a sense that runs through Jesus Weekend’s music that there’s something just around the corner, of an egg waiting to hatch, of possibilities about to be realized.
Or as Nishigami puts it when discussing the opening track on “Agleam,” the indicatively titled “Virgin”: “It’s about our ordinary world, about breathing deeply and trying to get release.”
“Agleam” is available in select record stores now. Jesus Weekend plays Batica in Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, on Feb. 28 (6:30 p.m. start; ¥1,000; 03-5734-1995); and Lush in Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, on March 1 (6 p.m. start; ¥2,300 in advance; 03-5467-3071). For more information, visit www.soundcloud.com/jesus-weekend .