The Novembers ”Elegance” (Merz)

The Novembers’ “Rhapsody in Beauty,” the fifth full-length from the Tokyo-based four-piece, was the band’s most artistically challenging release in their decade-long career.

The self-produced album opened with harsh noise before spinning off into chaotic hardcore and post-rock, and ending on a mellow note with the acoustic “Bokura wa Nandattandaro.” It was an exploration of the band’s potential in 10 tracks.

For the recently released EP “Elegance,” The Novembers are working with producer Masami Tsuchiya (Glay, Blankey Jet City) and instead of having the band experiment with their equipment, he has them squeeze out five easy pop tunes.

Yusuke Kobayashi’s vocals are drenched in echo effects and Kengo Matsumoto’s guitar slides into clean, Johnny Marr-esque arpeggios. In fact, the EP as a whole seems to draw on the shoegaze of Ride and the new wave of The Smiths, as The Novembers did on their 2012 “Gift” EP.

What’s new here are two tracks, “Kireina Umi E” and “Hadaka no Mink,” that are reminiscent of this summer’s “city pop” trend in indie, with a bit of Happy End and Sugar Babe-esque melodies thrown in. The sound is slightly muffled in a way that evokes the ambience of VHS recordings from the 1980s, which provides a shot of nostalgia.

Though kept at a minimum, this new sound on “Elegance” ultimately comes off as a bit too niche. If this is the direction Tsuchiya takes the band in on future albums, they’ll need to ramp up the catchy hooks to pull in new fans.

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