This weekend’s Taico Club in Nagano Prefecture will be the first of four summer-festival appearances for Tokyo synth-pop/postpunk act Kimonos. Formed only last year, the duo of Leo Imai and Zazen Boys’ Shutoku Mukai will also play at Fuji Rock (July 30), World Happiness (Aug. 7) and the Rising Sun Rock Festival (Aug. 12, 13).
Local alt-rock luminary Mukai has plenty of festival experience under his belt with Zazen Boys and the seminal Number Girl. Imai performed at Summer Sonic in 2009 as a solo artist. He thinks Taico Club will be a good setting for Kimonos to make their outdoor festival debut.
“It’s a unique event; big enough to have a festival atmosphere, but small enough to feel relaxed and intimate,” say Imai. “Also, it seems that the majority of people going to Taico Club have pretty eclectic tastes in music, which is always a plus.”
The two met when Imai invited Mukai to play at one of his gigs in 2007. Then, after collaborating on Imai’s 2008 “Fix Neon” disc, they decided to make more music together.
“We initially started recording some cover songs just for fun, but then we quickly got bored with that,” says Imai. “We wrote an original track together and that turned out really well, so we kept on writing new songs. In a few months we had enough material to release an album, so we did.”
Crafted over the course of several months and recorded at Mukai’s Matsuri Studio in Tokyo, Kimonos’ eponymous full-length was released in November by EMI. Mixing elements of rock, soul and 1980s-inspired pop, cuts such as “No Modern Animal” and the tightly wound “Mogura” have a Talking Heads feel to them, while the excellent “Soundtrack to Murder” brings to mind Peter Gabriel’s world-music-accented art-rock. “Kimonos” boasts eight new tracks along with a cover of “Sports Men” by Haruomi Hosono (of Yellow Magic Orchestra fame) and a new take on “Tokyo Lights” from Imai’s 2006 indie effort, “City Folk.”
“Most listeners are smart enough to realize that Kimonos are neither Zazen Boys nor Leo Imai, that it is its own thing, and they know to take it at face value,” says Imai. “Kimonos music is more sparse and riff-oriented than my solo stuff. It’s more abrasive in many ways too, which is good. The Kimonos arrangement of ‘Tokyo Lights’ is more stripped-down, cold and aggressive.”
The album includes guest appearances from Deerhoof drummer Greg Saunier and Zazen Boys’ bassist Ichiro Yoshida. Coincidentally, Deerhoof are also on July’s Fuji Rock bill, but Imai is doubtful that Saunier will join Kimonos onstage.
Currently performing as a two-piece, the band have considered adding backing musicians for future concerts. There may not be enough time to see this through to fruition, though. Conceived as a one-album collaboration, Kimonos have no plans for a second record. Imai confirms that they will have some live dates after the summer, but probably not many.
“People should come and see us at Taico Club or one of our other summer shows, because if they don’t, they may never get to see us again and then they might regret it forever.”
Also among Taico Club’s two dozen acts are Toro Y Moi. Their hipster-approved debut, 2010’s “Causers of This,” made band mastermind Chaz Bundick a poster boy for last year’s highly buzzed chillwave subgenre, a style of lo-fi, psychedelic music influenced by 1980s synth-pop.
Toro Y Moi’s “Underneath the Pine” sophomore effort was issued domestically in February by Japanese label Hostess. Intended as a branching out from chillwave, “Underneath the Pine” is filled with soulful, and occasionally funky, orchestral pop.
” ‘Underneath the Pine’ was more challenging to make,” says Bundick. “I knew the change would be such a big difference that people may not be into it, but I’m into it so that’s all that matters. I want to keep getting poppier, funkier and weirder while still getting more successful and being respected.”
In April, Bundick contacted Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo on Twitter and suggested they team up for a song. Within hours, Cuomo tweeted back that he was game for working together.
“I’m a really huge fan of his and I was absolutely shocked,” says Bundick. “I immediately listened to my favorite Weezer songs after I saw his message.
“I think maybe we’ll just cover something together. Writing a new song might be too much pressure.”
Kimonos were born from having fun with other people’s tunes, so perhaps Bundick and Cuomo’s pairing could grow into something bigger, too. Bundick’s busy Toro Y Moi schedule might make that challenging, though. In 2011, he and his three-piece backing band have already toured in Australia, New Zealand, North America and Europe.
Taico Club will be Toro Y Moi’s first time gigging in Japan. Bundick has a suggestion for any fans wanting to bring presents for the group.
“I collect socks,” he says. “I’d love it if people gave me weird socks. That would be a tight gift — but new socks only, please!”
Kimonos and Toro Y Moi play June 4-5 at Taico Club in Kodama no Mori, Kiso, Nagano Prefecture. Other acts include Takkyu Ishino, Simian Mobile Disco and Tyondai Braxton. Tickets are ¥11,000. For details, visit www.taicoclub.com. Kimonos will also play Daikanyama Unit in Tokyo on June 24 with 80Kidz and Logic System (¥3,500 in adv.; 5:30 p.m.;  5459-8630). For more information, visit www.kimonosmusic.com
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