Friendship International Vol. 3 – May 2019
Posted: by The Editor
Friendship International is a tribute to the emo and alternative music throughout Asia: a monthly round-up of the best new releases from across the Pacific, and deep dives into the labels, distros, and DIY scenes that are giving birth to this explosion.
May was all over the place: there was a trickle of singles and videos teasing official releases, some mysterious delays and some surprise releases, and a lot of Japanese releases that are all but inaccessible in the States. There are a million reasons for this: Japan’s CD sales, unbelievably, are still a primary source of music revenue in Japan, but they often don’t ship internationally because the price of a CD doesn’t offset the high cost of shipping. Strict laws about music downloading/piracy (not to mention some high-profile failed attempts to market major Japanese artists internationally) have made Japanese labels wary of entering the streaming market, which all adds up to a music scene that doesn’t have much incentive to put their own music on platforms like Spotify and Bandcamp. So, even though they will probably not read this, let’s pause here for a brief public plea:
JAPANESE BANDS: PLEASE PUT YOUR RECORDS ON BANDCAMP, AS IT WILL MAKE IT MUCH EASIER FOR FANS OUTSIDE JAPAN TO FIND, PURCHASE, AND SHARE YOUR MUSIC
In other news: Forests and Terrible People are still on tour in Japan and Taiwan, which in a summer of wild ass tours, is still my candidate for the best live show you could catch. Andy from Worst Party Ever just opened for their last date in Tokyo, which is the coolest thing I can imagine: two of Singapore’s best bands playing with one of Florida’s finest in Tokyo. Friendship International, baby.
All that said, May was a month for surprising, unexpected discoveries, from Zado & the Frail Bodies surprise releasing their debut of frenetic power-pop, to SWAN EATER’s brutal and chaotic punk, to asthenia’s muscular post-hardcore. Let’s get to it.
Terrible People – Singapore
Like Clean Air (5/31/19)
FFO: Modern Baseball, The Hotelier, Mineral Girls
It will come as no surprise to anyone who has been following along with Friendship International that the Like Clean Air by Terrible People is far and away my favorite record of the month. Their 2017 album, Smoking Man, was a fun, scrappy set of pop-punk songs that had an unmistakable voice already. The record, made over a few short weeks in the twilight of the band’s collective college years, felt like the winding down of a reckless era, the end of a chapter starting to show its seams. The penultimate song, “Nobody,” begins with a bleak proclamation, “I’m a mess / I’ve forgotten how to do me / it’s so hard to get back and restart who we are.”
The band’s new album, Like Clean Air, opens with “Peachy,” a companion song of sorts to “Nothing,” taking a new perspective on what it means to start over: “I felt older trying to pay all my dues to people that I’ve left behind trying to make it in this future.” Part of getting older means learning that there is no hard reset, that you can’t just start over, but there’s something weirdly hopeful about not needing to start over. There is a way to make it in this future, and it doesn’t require wiping the slate: it just starts with picking up the pieces. “Peachy” is a lock for opening track of the year. It’s hard to imagine an emo intro that hits all its marks more effectively, from the foot-from-the-mic gang vocals to the climactic chorus: “Were you thinking that this picture perfect, movie magic scene was easy? Was tangible and real? How long have you been gone? ‘For too long.’ ‘For some time.’” As Ian Cohen tweeted, “all that’s missing is a house on the album cover.”
What makes Like Clean Air such a remarkable album isn’t just the unique space it carves out between anthemic indie rock and cheeky pop-punk (see: “Perks of Being a Shitface” into “Some Sort of Kismet”), but the way it navigates the subtle differences between regret and reflection. “Our Song” begins with a break-up, but rather than wallowing, the song moves backward through the story of the relationship until it finds a small happy memory, choosing to end the song with a reminder of what made the whole thing worth it, instead of just bemoaning the loss: “Why don’t you just close your eyes / and put your lips on mine / We drove around town that night / you drove me mad, that’s right.” “Drunk Call” narrates an embarrassing intoxicated voicemail, but the song is such a breezy pop-punk banger that it never feels despondent. There’s a rueful humor that runs through the record: Ah well, sometimes you’re getting older and still getting drunk and falling in love and falling right back out of love. What can you do!
You can read my interview with the band about their new album here. Get familiar: I’m pretty confident that we’re going to be hearing a lot more from them in the next year.
AOUI – Manila, Philippines
FFO: LITE, tricot, toe
AOUI are a rare breed of instrumental math rock; their mastery of their instruments makes their music deceptively accessible. Rather than the dense, insular technicality that results in so much exhausting math, they prioritize immediacy. What they’re doing is technically impressive, but you could be forgiven for not noticing right away. They’re less interested in showing off than they are in getting asses on the dancefloor. Their sound hews closer to Japanese math rock than U.S./European math. Western math owes a greater debt to post-rock and post-punk, genres that tend to take themselves pretty seriously. Japanese math rock bands like LITE and tricot, however, pull from funk and jazz, resulting in a very groovy kind of math.
“Yorumachi” is a great example, hitting both funk and jazz touchstones before transforming into a triumphant march where the bass puts in some serious work. “Recess” is downright playful, layering harmonized woah-ohs over some Saturday Night Fever shimmy. Even “White Water,” the longest, most traditionally post-rock song on the album, eschews the traditional build-and-crescendo in favor of several sharp turns into bouncy rhythms, bluesy lead lines, and a sprinkling of twinkling. This is a band that sounds like they’re having as much fun as they want the audience to have. AOUI is giving math rock exactly what it needs: less calculus and more ass-shaking.
SWAN EATER – Seoul, South Korea
OBLIVION HEAD (5/2/19)
FFO: The swirling void that will someday consume us all
It is absolute midnight. Only silence. A hooded figure rises from the mist hovering over the lake. Slowly, it turns until it’s facing you, and raises one hand. You turn to run, but suddenly the surrounding forest bursts into flames, forming a ring around you and the hooded figure, who begins slowly gliding toward you across the surface of the water. You turn to face the approaching nightmare. Can you kill something that is not truly alive? As the tongues of flame creep closer, do you see the shadows of people dancing in them? Is this death, or is this what comes after? You can’t hear anything over the screaming of the wind, and suddenly, everything goes completely dark.
So, yeah, that’s pretty much what listening to OBLIVION HEAD is like. It rips.
Zado & the Frail Bodies – Singapore
Zado & the Frail Bodies (5/16/19)
FFO: The Buzzcocks, The Cribs, Fake Problems on uppers
From the very first seconds of their self-titled debut, Zado & the Frail Bodies make their intentions clear: they’re here to play the fuck outta some power-pop. The album is a caffeinated rush of vigorously down-strummed guitars and insistent programmed drums. This is a power-pop test tube baby, scientifically calculated to make every second catchier than the last. “Burn! Burn! Burn!” sounds as if it was pulled from a universe where Apologies to the Queen Mary was a Buzzcocks album, and that’s both the weirdest sentence I’ve written for this column, and a ringing endorsement.
On first listen, the album can feel a little one note. The programmed drums change very little from track to track, and Zado doesn’t attempt to deviate too far from the established template. But the magic of album is in all the little things. The synth line layered over the chorus to “The Sun” that doubles the album’s finest vocal harmony, the slippery chord progression in the first half of “Sleepless” that adds movement and energy to a snotty Blink-182-style chorus, and the unhurried surf rock-y riffs that make “Worry” feel spacious and loose without ever slowing down. Since the first time I heard it, I’ve always had to play it a second time right after it finishes. This album is a party that never wears out its welcome.
OTHER NEW AND NOTABLE
by the end of summer – Kyoto, Japan
four pitfalls #2 (5/23/19)
FFO: Grown Ups, Spraynard, Wavelets
by the end of summer have been a Friendship International favorite since their 2017 EP Laughing, where they solidified their unique blend of twinkly emo and melodic punk. “battery” is their first song in two years, but it doesn’t sound like a moment has passed for the band. It’s uplifting and urgent, a worthy entry in the race for song of the summer. The track is being released as part of four pitfalls #2, the second in a series of split EP’s released by Further Platonix, the Japanese label responsible for a truly massive amount of emo, math rock, and punk releases since 2007.
asthenia – Tokyo, Japan
The City b/w Fun (5/30/19)
FFO: Slint, Moss Icon, These Arms are Snakes
asthenia (not to be confused with Asthenia, the Chinese black metal band) describe themselves as Emotive Hardcore, and it checks out. Their 2016 split with Akallabeth bordered on skramz, flipping back and forth between chaotic screamo and moody post-hardcore in the vein of Moss Icon or Drive Like Jehu. Their newest release keeps the same constellation of post-hardcore reference points but approaches them from a different direction, incorporating the angular melodic sensibility of bands like Q and Not U. “Fun” is an ominous, jittery bass-driven tune à la Slint that bursts into an abrupt, gorgeous thirty seconds of screamo.
Garapal – Singapore
Garapal 2019 (5/8/19)
FFO: Ceremony, Dropdead, disrupt
This column intentionally doesn’t focus on metal and hardcore; there would simply be too much to cover. However, when a band hits that D-beat sweet spot somewhere in the neighborhood of old Ceremony, I can’t pass it up. I came for the chaos. I stayed for the vitriolic takedown of the alt-right, consumerism as a tool of oppression, and rape culture. Garapal is responsible for my favorite sub-30 second song this year, “Respect Existence or Expect Resistance.” “Respect existence or expect resistance / One day they will form an orderly queue at the guillotine /A riot is the only language of the unheard.”
Manic Sheep – Taipei, Taiwan
Deep Dusk (5/18/19)
FFO: Jay Som, Frankie Cosmos, Hazel English
Taiwan has a long history of indie bands that blend shoegaze and dream-pop into something you could reasonably call lounge-gaze, like if a yacht rock band got really into Beach House or something. Manic Sheep is the shining example of getting that mix right, creating something vital, even at its most wistful. There’s dream-pop vibes in the airy vocal melodies, but Manic Sheep avoids getting too drifty; the songs have clear direction and purpose. “Deep Dusk” is a slow burn that stacks layers on layers of guitar until the song feels on the edge of boiling over. Both songs benefit from pulsing bass lines that carry a lot of the main melody, while the guitars wash fuzz and reverb across the track. Pretty and powerful.
Mountains – Busan, South Korea
Midnight EP (5/16/19)
FFO: Tangled Hair, Colour, Everyone Everywhere
Recorded at the studio of South Korean indie rock darlings Say Sue Me, the new Mountains EP continues to refine the band’s brand of mathy emo with a theatrical flair that owes more to UK bands like Tangled Hair and Colour than the Kinsellas. Although I don’t typically cover expat bands for Friendship International, we have to make an exception for Steve Hazel. Steve, guitar player and vocalist for Mountains, is the one-man army running Let’s Talk About Math Rock, a website and YouTube channel where he teaches the theory and the techniques of playing math rock, in addition to covering new international math and math-adjacent music. He’s extremely knowledgeable and, by all accounts, a very nice dude. This Mountains release is full of intricate guitar interplay and shifting tempos and rhythms, naturally.
Sunlotus – Blora, Central Java, Indonesia
This Old House (5/8/19)
FFO: My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, Nothing
Indonesia has long been home to exceptional shoegaze bands like Black Mustangs and Sugarstar, but Indonesian shoegaze has a tendency to lean toward dreamy instead of distorted; more Slowdive than MBV. Sunlotus came out of nowhere for me: I haven’t any bands in recent memory who play this kind of crushingly heavy, gorgeous ‘gaze. The vocals are ethereal and drenched in reverb, but the guitars are pushed to the forefront, grinding and buzzing like a Deafheaven wading through a swamp. Sunlotus goes from ominous to ethereal to cacophonous on This Old House, and they need to be on your radar.
Twitter: @hemalabel (Sunlotus’s record label)
Texpack – Jakarta, Indonesia
Perfect Buzz (5/26/19)
FFO: Dinosaur Jr., Gascoigne, a Merge records sampler CD from 1998.
There’s something very Chapel Hill about Jakarta these days. Last month I wrote about Gascoigne’s fantastic album Bond Electric, slacker rock descended directly from Pavement and Superchunk. Texpack similarly mines the 90s Merge Records catalog, layering phased guitar riffs over walls of fuzz in true Dinosaur Jr. fashion, and the choruses share a spiritual connection with Bob Pollard’s good-natured jams.
Texpack have a bit of the slacker mentality, too, “Perfect Buzz” opens with the narrator looking at the sunrise out the window, followed directly by a cold one.“Open my icebox, drinking my domestic canned beer / I don’t want to be clear, I want to feel perfect buzz over here.” Relatable! This is windows-open, humid front porch summertime music, and it’s just in time.
The Traveling Theory – Kashiwa, Japan
The Traveling Theory EP (5/20/19)
FFO: Transit, Alkaline Trio, The Story So Far
The Traveling Theory are making big, radio ready pop-punk tunes that are somehow equal parts Jade Tree, Epitaph Records, and J-rock. They’re threading the needle pretty neatly right now, and they’re able to work in J-rock elements without letting it become the record’s dominant tone. They may be setting up to do something truly interesting here.
Keegan Bradford | @franziamom
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