Friendship International Vol. 4 – June 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.
So many records. So late getting this column up. There’s no time and there’s plenty of words below, so I’ll keep it short up here: be good to those you love and be kind to yourself. Scroll down to the bottom for the Spotify Playlist if that’s your thing: it updates every month with the new playlist, so go ahead and smash the follow button that to stay up to date on the newest tunes.
Friendship International Forever.
LITE – Tokyo, Japan
FFO: toe, tricot, Floral
Last month I wrote about AOUI, and how the influence of Japanese math rock makes their music so vibrant compared to so much cerebral, exhausting U.S. math rock. LITE is yet another example of exactly why the Japanese scene is so vibrant: the songs are constantly shifting time signatures and rhythms, but instead of being jarring to draw attention to the technical prowess, everything is extremely funky. “Deep Layer” creates a hypnotic loop and gradually adds more jagged guitars until they’ve built a borderline danceable post-punk groove. “Blizzard” combines an ominous spoken word bit over programmed drums, Phantom of the Opera synths, and upstroked guitar. It’s like goth reggae math funk. It’s truly insane and absolutely delightful.
But one of the most exciting things about this record is that it’s being put out on Topshelf Records. Topshelf in an independent label that was started in Massachusetts in 2006 before moving to San Diego, California in 2015. They’re an immediately recognizable name to anyone self-described emo fan: they’ve released many beloved records from emo favorites like Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate), Duck. Little Brother, Duck!, and You Blew It! (as well as bands without nonsense punctuation). I’m not personally familiar with the people running the label or anything, but what I do know is that Topshelf is doing something that no other independent record labels seem willing to do: they are consistently working with bands in Asia. In 2012, they released The Future Is Now from Japanese math rock titans toe, and since then have put out records from Elephant Gym (Taiwan), Tricot (also Japanese math), and most recently Mid-Air Thief (Korea).
These are bands who rarely tour the U.S., if they can afford to tour internationally at all, playing niche genres of music without a large U.S. audience. This is an enormous financial gamble for a label to take, and they only reason to do so is because you believe in a band’s product and want to expose their music to wider audiences. The reason you’ll never see most of your favorite Asian bands tour America is because it’s often impossible for bands to access the up-front capital and networking resources necessary to plan a tour from afar. If we want an international scene, it’s ultimately going to take some initiative from people who can write the checks and help foster these connections. Until then, the folks at Topshelf are doing the much-needed work that makes this music more accessible in the States, and we salute them.
PENS+ – Tokyo, Japan
Toumei na Hako / caramel (6/1/19)
FFO: Tangled Hair, Oliver Houston, Look Mexico
PENS+ may seem surprisingly high profile for a band band that ostensibly plays mathy emo, but the second you play any song by them, that confusion dissipates. The songs are playful and poppy, twinkly tunes polished up to radio standards. The band took a hiatus in 2015, and some members went on to form Arigarnon Friends, whose 2016 record Boy to Man is milestone twinkly emo record that should be held in the same esteem as Algernon and Glocca Morra, but PENS+ is back with two new tunes.
PENS+ are exactly what you would expect if a bunch of insanely proficient math musicians ran their tunes through a J-rock filter. It’s twinkly, tappy sing-along emo/math/pop that feels loose and bouncy while the instrumentation remains exactingly precise. You hear bits of that major key J-rock influence, but unlike other bands where the combination feels disjointed, they’ve integrated their influences into one sugary, swirling rush.
It’s the best example I can find of what it would sound like for the building blocks of math rock and emo to be assembled into J-rock, and it’s an exciting sound. Both of these songs are streamrollers, churning incessantly from frenetic riffing into huge choruses. And holy shit: these boys can fuckin’ play guitar.
the cops are inside us. – Chuo City, Japan
the cops are NOT DEAD (6/16/19)
FFO: City of Caterpillar, Portrayal of Guilt, Wristmeetrazor
I’ve talked about this before in this column, but the Japanese underground music scene is, in many ways, the most impenetrable Asian scene for those overseas. Japanese music is fueled almost entirely by CD sales, which have somehow held strong as the dominant music medium long into the streaming era. Complex copyright/anti-piracy laws have made Japanese labels wary of streaming platforms and digital downloads. You can find many of the bigger bands on Spotify at this point, but DIY bands have only recently begun to make use of platforms like Bandcamp.
Which is why this rerelease of the cops are inside us.’s 2010 demos is particularly welcome. These songs were previously only available as physical releases that didn’t see much distribution outside of Japan. More and more Japanese bands are beginning to upload their previously released music to streaming platforms, providing a digital archive of a scene that previously hadn’t seen a lot Western coverage. It’s a great time to dive into the Japanese DIY scene; the music is more accessible than it ever was before.
And as for the cops are NOT DEAD: it’s emoviolence/skramz of the highest order, frantic chaos slammed up against interludes of clean guitars and distressed vocals. This demo is almost a decade old and it sounds perfectly in step with the current wave of skramz revival bands popping up on both coasts (especially California and Virginia). Here’s hoping the band’s recent activity online means that new music is on its way, but there’s plenty on Bandcamp to digest until then.
Playburst – Malaysia
FFO: Braid, Marietta, Macseal
Playburst are a genuine Malaysian supergroup: the band features former/current members of Couple, The Fridays, Jalan Sehala, Crack Guilty, Pakatan Haram Jadah, Tools Of The Trade, Code Error, Kah-Roe-Shi, among others. What makes Playburst’s debut such a joy is their source material; while so many emo bands take their inspiration from the various Kinsellas or lean toward pop-punk, Playburst’s biggest emo ancestor is Braid, a long overdue shift in the emo landscape. The subtle rhythmic shifts and dynamic guitar riffs that are beefier than your average twinkly fare. “Waste of Time” and “Be Strong” feature hooky choruses built out of staccato
“What’s Wrong With Love” treads familiar emo territory: gentle guitar noodling and a whole lot of yearning, but the song’s final third is driven by the power of the album’s secret weapon: the electric drumming. The song builds in a post-rock fashion with cymbal crashes over the finger-tapped riff, but then the second guitar comes in with a shift in the drum pattern, restlessly moving through several rhythmic patterns before slowing it all the way down into a big gang vocal outro. The jittery energy of influences like Braid makes Playburst’s music paradoxically progressive: they’re hitting a mark that very few emo bands are even aiming at right now.
The Buildings – Manila, Philippines
FFO: Tiger Trap, Snail Mail, Frankie Cosmos
The Buildings are rereleasing their 2016 album for wider distribution, and it’s about time y’all get familiar. Last year, I foolishly declared 2019 the year we’d finally get a twee revival, and after half the year, it looks like my wistful dreams may not come true. However, this album is a better vision of the future of twee, a world beyond a mere revival. The Buildings play indie rock that incorporates twee into something more fleshed out than just buttoned-up pop: the first song, “A Modest Proposal” features a lengthy guitar freakout like Sonic Youth by way of Built to Spill, and” Manila’s a Trap” has some riffs in common with Swearin’s noodly guitar jams. The hooks are immaculate, and the band is pleasantly ramshackle when it needs to be, but they’re never far away from a big, fuzzy chorus. Endlessly charming pop tunes with a high replay value.
OTHER NEW AND NOTABLE
Blood Pact – Singapore
FFO: The Bruised Willies but goth
Rest in peace Bruised Willies; Bruised Willies will never die. We were sad to hear about the end of one of our favorite punk bands out of Singapore, the boisterous and extremely fun Bruised Willies, but thankfully the band isn’t disappearing: they’re simply changing forms. The members of Bruised Willies have reformed as Blood Pact, a post-punk unit with heavy goth vibes, like Interpol playing The Cure covers in fingerless gloves.
deerafter – Sapporo, Japan
tops and bottoms (6/3/19)
FFO: Wavelets, Crash of Rhinos, Algernon Cadwallader
deerafter describe their music as “fareast emotional short tune,” which quite honestly should have been the title of this column. There’s been a lot of electric debut records from Japan this year, but this ranks among the finest. Their music is equal parts layered math rock riffs and vocal melodies that range from soulful to yelpy: Algernon fans will find a lot to love here.
the fictions – Osaka, Japan
the fictions EP (6/17/19)
FFO: Touch and Go Records soundtracking a children’s cartoon on speed
The Fictions play spunky indie pop that does a great Enon impression, alternating between male and female vocals, gentle in a way that isn’t afraid to kick on the distortion or veer wildly into spastic cat impressions. The EP is filled with unexpected, playful energy.
Fools and Foes – Manila, Philippines
Fools and Foes (6/1/19)
FFO: Hikes, Now, Now, As Tall As Lions
Fools and Foes answer the question: what if a group of math rock musicians set out to write an indie rock record? The album recalls a very specific era of “progressive” pop and indie that all shared an obsession with dark ambience: moody, atmospheric guitars, the interplay of extremely pretty male/female vocals, and a lot of minor key verses that build into soaring choruses. Many of the songs are exactly the kind of thing you would have heard at a cool coffee shop in the late 2000s: “Just You” centers around an acoustic guitar and a folk-y shuffling drum beat, and “Rift” features airy vocal harmonies that gently build until it sounds like something that could soundtrack a particularly heartrending movie trailer. An impressively well-structured, well-produced record.
4Brothers – Nagoya, Japan
Someday Somewhere (6/26/19)
FFO: Arigarnon Friends, The Get-Up Kids, Motion City Soundtrack
Despite exhaustive digging, I have not been able to locate the new 4Brothers EP on any streaming platform apart from this hyper-compressed version of the single “Friendsick” on the StiffSlack Soundcloud (Stiffslack is a label and distro partnered with Rawcalorie Records, run by the boys from Emitation). Still, it’s enough to give us the idea: 4Brothers has always been an affable, energetic indie rock/pop unit with big choruses, but this hews closer to emo with its gang vocals and some Commit This to Memory synths in the background. The band sounds invigorated; the guitars leap to the forefront more than they ever did, the melodies are more confident, and 4Brothers seem to have found a sound between indie rock and emo that really plays to their strengths. Available wherever you can find a Japanese distro that will ship internationally (good luck).
GRMLN – Osaka, Japan
Listening To Your Nightmares (6/22/19)
FFO: American Pleasure Club/Teen Suicide, Elvis Depressedly, (Sandy) Alex G
GRMLN is the stage name of Yoodoo Park, the insanely prolific Japan-born songwriter who now splits his time between America, Japan, and Australia. His first few official records were released on Carpark Records, but since 2015 he’s been self-releasing his music at an increasingly hectic pace: this EP follows two LPs that he’s already released in 2019, and he just released a single of his next record coming in September. There’s a bit of bedroom pop/indie rock a la (Sandy) Alex G throughout his work, but Listening To Your Nightmares feels closer to The Drums reimagined as murky post-punk, all single-note guitar leads, insistent bass, and programmed drums through murky layers of reverb.
GROW RICH – Jakarta, Indonesia
Frantic Semantic EP (6/5/19)
FFO: Car Seat Headrest, Weezer, Culture Abuse
GROW RICH is the solo project of Abdur Rahim Latada, who goes by Oyi. He’s an established part of Indonesia’s music scene: he played for years in the hardcore band NERVOUS BREAKDOWN. As GROW RICH, Oyi writes and arranges everything, and each release has found him exploring another corner of sound. On Frantic Semantic, he enlists the help of long-time friend Arya Gilang (drummer of grindcore band Dead Vertical), and the EP finds him mixing power-pop with shoegaze guitars, walls of fuzz, and pounding drums that border on blast beats. This is his thickest, fuzziest, and catchiest set of tunes to date. The songs touch on classic pop-punk influences from Merge Records all the way to Weezer. This may be all we get from Oyi this year; he told Friendship International that he is inspired by how Vince Gilligan (of Breaking Bad) pursues his art: “I always prefer quality than quantity when it comes to making art.” This mindset is clearly working for the band; with GROW RICH, the music will always be worth the wait.
knit– Kyoto, Japan
1st demo (6/8/19)
FFO: Boys Life, Dowsing, Texas is the Reason
knit has joined the wave of Japanese bands taking their old releases that were previously only available on CD and uploading them to Bandcamp. This, their first demo, is a great introduction to the band: jangly emo with guitars dripping in chorus effects and some of my favorite half-sung, half-yelled emo vocals in recent memory. In June, not only did they put the demo up for streaming, but they made their CDs available for purchase in the States. You’ll need to hurry, though: there’s only two left.
Update: since writing this blurb initially, only one CD remains (I bought the other).
Laura day romance – Tokyo, Japan
Sad number (6/5/19)
FFO: Indie rock having a lovely picnic in the park
Laura day romance has been dubbed a “neo-shibuya-kei” band, a genre description that encapsulates a fascinating trend in Japanese alternative music. “Shibuya-kei” was a subgenre of Japanese pop in the ‘90s, a kitchy cut-and-paste sound somewhere between French pop, bossa nova, and house that began as retail music in the Shibuya district. “Neo-shibuya-kei” repurposes this spiritual predecessor to vaporwave, but draws more from guitar based indie pop and twee than electronic music.
Laura day romance has taken Japan’s omnipresent lounge pop sound and added the energy of scrappy indie rock, resulting in tunes that have a professional polish without losing their undeniable energy.
Lok – Hong Kong
Stay Positive (6/23/19)
FFO: All things Sweaty & Cramped
It’s always a good day when Rocky releases new music. Rocky is the founder of Sweaty & Cramped Records, Hong Kong’s finest DIY label and show promoter, as well as the singer-guitarist for Emptybottles and Wellsaid, is already back just a few months after Wellsaid’s debut full length. This time he’s armed with an acoustic guitar, burbling synths, and programmed drums that all bounce and clatter along cheerfully. Just when the freewheeling tune threatens to careen off the rails, it reforms into a twinkly indie-pop number.
The Mind is a Terrible Thing – Manila, Philippines
Original Composition (6/24/19)
FFO: You Blew It, Everyone, Everywhere, Pet Symmetry
The Mind is a Terrible Thing’s newest song sounds like “Emo: the Best of the 90s and Now”: “Original Composition” is full of touchstones from classic midwest emo as well as revival bands like You Blew It. This feels exactly like something that would have done numbers on Emo Tumblr. It’s an anthemic tune full of riffs, self-effacing sing-a-longs, and a sense of restless forward movement, never dwelling too long on one idea before exploring the next. A banger, top to bottom.
mogro – city, country
FFO: susurrus, Hella, Orchid
A lot of bands play chaotic screamo with bleeding heart/bleeding lung vocals; other bands play frantic math rock with intricate tapping and runaway-train drumming. mogro does both. A standout record in a summer already crowded with quality screamo.
Nerd Magnet – Tokyo, Japan
FFO: New Found Glory, The Ataris, Motion City Soundtrack
Nerd Magnet is no big secret; their debut full length, Crazy, Stupid, Love was released on Thistime Records in 2016, and their profile has steadily risen. Their earlier music was infectious power-pop that pulled liberally from the first few Weezer albums, and although that influence is still there, the band, has pivoted toward something near and dear to my heart: energetic, sticky, nasal pop-punk that falls somewhere between New Found Glory and Motion City Soundtrack. There’s a nostalgic element, but the band is far too capable and catchy to feel like a redux of something that has come before. The guitars are a mix of Weezer’s wall of fuzz and the snappy octave riffs of Sticks and Stones or Catalyst. But I’m wasting time trying to explain why this album will be stuck in your head all summer: just listen to バッド・レピュテイション. I want this song melted down and injected directly into my veins.
NOT WONK – Hokkaido, Japan
Down the Valley (6/5/19)
FFO: 2000s indie rock greatest hits in a blender
NOT WONK is an anomaly, a band that mixes the theatrical vocals and moody progressive-pop trappings of a band like Envy on the Cost with jangly J-pop, and then reconstitutes it as mid-2000s guitar emo (think Moneen). But then just when you think you have a grasp on the sound, you get to “Of Reality” which gets real loose and jazzy before hitting an interlude that sounds like…My Morning Jacket? And then there’s “Shattered,” which plays like an OK Computer highlight reel.
Suffice it to say there’s a lot going on here, but it’s not a mess: the band’s pop sensibilities are strong to sustain forays into disparate corners of indie rock and emo.
Pacifist – Bombay, India
Greyscale Dreams (6/16/19)
FFO: Modern Life Is War, Killing the Dream, Defeater
Pacifist play political, anti-capitalist melodic/post-hardcore with real anxiety and frustration woven into both the lyrics and riffs: this bands sounds stressed. I haven’t heard much hardcore coming out of India at all lately, but if there’s releases I’m missing, send them to me, because Pacifist is evidence that intense, urgent hardcore is alive and well there.
Piet Onthel – Kuantan, Malaysia
FFO: City of Caterpillar, Pageninetynine, Jeromes Dream
The Summer of Screamo continues. Piet Onthel is a solo screamo/skramz project that mixes high-energy tapping and atmospheric riffs into blasts of frantic noise and chaos. If these are just the B-sides, then the upcoming EP is going to be an absolute world-ender.
Resist – Singapore
Losing Sight (6/2/19)
FFO: Down to Nothing, Terror, Reign Supreme
Although I have focused heavily on Singapore’s emo scene the past few months, there’s been a parallel rise in hardcore scene there that seems to give birth to a new band every few weeks. Bands like Charm are turning out jammy hardcore that fans of Turnstile or Fury will vibe with, but there’s also been a run of bands doing classic tough guy hardcore. Resist have dropped two tracks of punishing, chuggy hardcore from their upcoming EP. As someone who still regularly listens to Down to Nothing, this absolutely scratches the itch for me.
Skandal – Yogyakarta, Indonesia
Racau (single) (5/31/19)
FFO: Butterglory, Guv’ner, Sugar
This one was technically released in May, but when we here at Friendship International realize we missed a banger, we do everything we can to rectify the mistake. We’ve talked about the recent surge of breezy 90’s indie rock revivalism with bands like Gasciogne and Texpack, but Skandal aren’t new to this scene: their 2016 EP Sugar was an appropriately-named collection of indie rock songs dripping with sticky pop hooks that I couldn’t get enough of. We only have one song so far, but it’s more than enough to get me excited for the album. The band has pivoted slightly away from the power-pop of Sugar, adding some reverb to the vocals and pushing the guitars further forward in the mix, recalling the more relaxed Superchunk or Guided By Voices tunes. I’m all in on the Indonesian indie rock scene; it’s about time we had sun-baked guitar grooves with this much to say.
Smoking Goose – Daejeon, South Korea
ffo: The Menzingers, Rancid, The Lawrence Arms
South Korea has so many active punk bands right now that it’s difficult to characterize a particular sound; however, what they seem to all share is the desire to play everything fast as hell. Smoking Goose is a melodic punk/orgcore unit that pulls from West Coast skate punk but adds in the big gang vocals of bands like Dillinger Four.
Speckling – Singapore
The Point of Trying (6/29/19)
FFO: (Sandy) Alex G, Headphones, Yeasayer
Speckling a side project formed out of the progressive indie band Odd Blood, and further evidence of the ways that Singapore’s music scene continues to branch out in diverse directions. The Point of Trying takes the basic melodic sensibilities of bedroom pop and covers in swirling, moody electronics, sounding in places like the more chaotic parts of (Sandy) Alex G’s Rocket, while quiet parts of EP have a gossamer beauty that hint at a Sparklehorse influence.
spazma – Kyoto, Japan
FFO: Envy, Cult of Luna, Killing the Dream
Say it with me: the Summer of Screamo. This is spazma’s first release, and rather than joining the wave of spastic skramz in Japan, spazma plays heavy, atmospheric screamo with a melodic hardcore sensibility, resulting in something a little more patient than a lot of the revivalist screamo scene. There’s a definite post-rock influence to the spacey riffs, which they mix with the urgent sincerity of a band like Have Heart or Verse. This column is veering dangerously close to becoming more hardcore than emo, and it has everything to do with the strength of Japan’s scene right now. Both of these songs are massive, sincere, and point to spazma having a huge 2019.
Wilsonfisk – Philippines
FFO: Set Your Goals, Polar Bear Club, The Wonder Years
The new tune from Wilsonfisk reinforces the Philippines as the international leader in easycore, propelled by galloping drums and sprinkled with chuggy guitars and a half-time chorus that was created in a lab for optimal stagediving.
Winningshot – Seoul Korea
FFO: The Ergs!, Saves the Day, The Copyrights
More of the hyper-melodic skatepunk crossed with the uplifting power-pop that is just pouring out of Korea right now. High energy and highly likable.
Keegan Bradford | @franziamom
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