Friendship International Vol. 7
Posted: by The Editor
Friendship International is a monthly 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.
Welcome back. Friendship International has returned with a new schedule: previous volumes have been overstuffed with new music, recapping several months at a go, and they became impossible to release regularly at that scale. In the spirit of keeping the best new DIY and independent music from Asia flowing, Friendship International is moving to the first Thursday of every month. This volume will be a little more expansive in order to touch on my favorites from the first half of 2020, but moving forward, you’ll get a tidy recap of my deep dives into the month’s new releases. Further, coverage of the hardcore, punk, and metal scenes in Asia will be released as its own separate volume of Friendship International on the last Thursday of every month. I was having to leave out far too much of the excellent heavy music I was hearing. The first volume of Friendship International: The Heavy Shit will be coming out on 7/30/20. I hope to see all of you there.
The world is in political turmoil, and before I can even begin talking about music, I need to state the obvious truth: Black lives matter, Black trans lives matter, and the people of Hong Kong and Philippines deserve justice and freedom from oppressive rule now. None of us are free until we’re all free.
Weave – Yokosuka, Japan
The Sound II (4/8/20)
ffo: Mineral, The Jealous Sound, It Looks Sad
Weave released The Sound in 2013, a colossal emo record where every song had soaring vocal melodies, soaring guitar leads, a soaring chorus and, frequently, a soaring bridge. The band had been around for six years by then, and their rightful place in the emo canon was established by the time they released an EP with their own Emo House on the cover, but The Sound was something different, more sprawling and ambitious. However, there was no indication at the time that the album would ever receive a follow-up like this: an out-and-out sequel with matching album art, the second chapter of a conversation 7 years in the making. The Sound II is an album of the year contender, a record that feels destined to go down as a classic of the genre.
There’s a oft-repeated music criticism chestnut about a band’s self-titled album being about them searching to define “their sound.” While I’m probably guilty of falling into a similar dumb, juicy generalization here, the two Sound albums function as the tentpoles of Weave’s sound. The first album crystallized the band’s approach; the second pushes the boundaries of that approach, filling 4-minute songs with so many ideas and memorable riffs that they feel half as long. Much like how Jimmy Eat World has spent every album since the moment they wrote “Big Casino” trying to fit the largest possible song into the three and a half minutes, The Sound II is Weave stunting on a Jumbotron. It’s emo the size of arena rock, both intimate and constantly expanding.
There’s a spiritual connection the bands with the really big sounds who began carving a path from college radio toward mainstream success (with varying degrees of success): Mineral and Sunny Day Real Estate, masters of the Damn Anthem. “Crossing” has the measured, aching build of something off EndSerenading, while “Find a Fight”‘s searing riffs would be at home on The Power of Failing. There’s a polish to The Sound II, a careful deployment of pop-punk song structures that avoids the obvious choices and predictable melodies that plague the genre. “Wallflowers” takes a chunky verse riff and thundering chorus that a band like The Jealous Sound would have made into a schlocky singalong and, instead, elevates it by being more patient and more explosive. While “Wallflowers” seems destined to be the hit, plucked for placement in Hot New Emo playlists, “Intense Blue” is the band’s strongest statement to date, undeniable guitar hooks sailing around the kind of blow-your-hair-back chorus that feels like doing 90 on the interstate with the top down.
At the end of the day, I can try to describe why “mature emo arena rock” is actually the ideal genre, the music that man has striven to make from time immemorial, or I can simply direct you to “Intense Blue” and “Wallflowers,” the album’s strongest one-two punch, and an encapsulation of the sound that Weave has been gently tweaking for the last 15 years. A sound that I, humbly, would argue they have perfected.
Lok – Hong Kong
ffo: Owen, Into It. Over It., Empire! Empire! (i was a lonely estate)
I’ve had reason to write about Lok (Sum Lok-kei, often goes by Rocky) a lot in this column: his band Wellsaid (formed out of the dearly departed Emptybottles) dropped a full-length in 2019 that split the difference between groovy math rock and self-effacing emo. He runs Sweaty & Cramped, a DIY label and the driving force in Hong Kong’s independent music scene. In pre-COVID, less politically tumultuous times, Sweaty & Cramped shows were a vital part of the scene’s lifeblood. Times obviously, have changed: the majority of Lok’s online presence these days is devoted to his work as a journalist for the South China Morning Post, documenting the swift erosion of Hong Kong independence as China tightens their grip.
I am pausing for a moment here to urge you to read up on what is happening in Hong Kong. This week, China imposed a new “national security law” on Hong Kong, a move conceived in secret and enacted overnight without warning, giving broad authority to Beijing to enforce vaguely defined political crimes like “separatism” and “collusion” that potentially carry a sentence of life in prison. We are watching a country being invaded in real time. But there are more qualified people than me talking about this; go find them, and I’ll get on with the music.
Restless keeps the focus on Lok’s songwriting, something that often took a backseat to the mathy instrumentals of his previous bands. It’s a welcome change: Lok is one of the few musicians in the emo-adjacent sphere writing something vital about the intersection of restlessness and listlessness where many of us find ourselves as we approach the end of our twenties. “Reunion Show” is a wry mediation on how much seems to the stay the same even as life changes: “All our favourite bands have reunited, but all our friends have broken up or called it quits – quit drink, and smoking, ’cause they’re too busy living.” “Seeing Is Believing” keeps the instrumental palate simple, but the clean guitars still showcase Lok’s dexterous riffs. I’ve loved all of Lok’s projects, but this album plays to his strengths in a way that none has before, and I’ve had the record on a constant loop as a result. A songwriter truly coming into his own.
Perfect Piano Lesson – Tokyo, Japan
ffo: Q and Not U, The Recess Theory, The Promise Ring
The nature of Japan’s independent music scene (heavily dependent on CD sales, streaming-shy until very recently) means that a great deal of great records from the last few decades are completely inaccessible. It also means that I, intrepid journalist (weirdly obsessive Bandcamp-crawler), often don’t find out about a band until their music gets re-released. Tokyo’s Zankyo Record has been faithfully cataloging as much independent Japanese as they can on their Bandcamp, and they recently uploaded Perfect Piano Lesson’s 2009 LP, Wanderlust. The driving post-hardcore of “Avatar” recalls At the Drive-In’s jittery, sinewy guitars, while “Parallels” turns the same nervous energy into bouncy, danceable math rock. “1,000 miles above” is a departure from the album’s post-hardcore-cum-art-rock, a song that takes the band’s knotty guitars and makes them fluid, an effortless groove that sails into one of the emblematic emo choruses of the Aughts, one that starts as a singalong, drops to a whisper, and then becomes a wail: “I never wanna be alone like this, I never wanna be alone like this.”
Toast – Tangerang, Indonesia
Home Run (4/14/20)
ffo: Grown Ups, Snowing, Mallard
I wrote about Toast in the last Friendship International because their high energy emo jangle reminded me of Snowing, Make Me, and Mallard, all bright guitars and songs held together by nothing more than sheer momentum. I was not prepared for them to immediately follow it up with such a major leap forward. The fundamental core of their sound remains: bright, clean guitars and stampeding punk rhythms. The recording quality is clearly improved, but what immediately lit me up was the gruff urgency of the songwriting, even sharper and more electric than the last EP.
As befits any band inspired by revival-era emo, Toast has shifted their center of influence from yelpy Snowing-core to the frenetic downhill sprint of Glocca Morra’s less-twinkly releases (Ghoul Intentions is their best full length, I will fight you longform via email at a later date). The band still adamantly sticks to their clean guitars and minute long songs, but there’s so much packed into each moment that Homer Run still clearly signifies how much potential the band has. And beyond that: they set out to make their case in two-and-a-half minutes, and they stuck the landing. There’s nothing left to add.
as a sketch pad – Tokyo, Japan
as a sketch pad (5/26/20)
ffo: midwest emo, baby
Maybe my favorite mini-saga in the emo universe this year is Worst Party Ever signing with No Sleep Records, releasing the best EP of their career, and then lead singer Andy Schueneman immediately catching a flight to Japan to be able to continue making music as America shut down due to its horrific mismanagement of the COVID crisis. While in Tokyo, he teamed up with Kou Nakagawa, drummer for skramz luminaries Sans Visage (and every other band in Tokyo, it feels like), and Takane from emo solo-project-turned-full-band Kudaranai1nichi. We’ve got an honest-to-god international emo supergroup on our hands, and the results are predictably righteous. The songs on as a sketch pad’s debut EP bear little resemblance to Worst Party Ever’s strummy indie rock. It’s big, jammy midwest emo, and it goes off. The urgent riffs of “lose/lose” immediately highlight the EP’s strength: the nervy interplay between the guitars, hooky and constantly in motion without falling into predictable twinkling. The band owes a great deal to their rhythm section, as Kou continues to prove himself the most dynamic and inventive drummer in the Tokyo DIY scene right now. The gorgeous outros of “knife attack” and “private message” are proof of the band’s range. Who knows if we’ll ever get another release from as a sketch pad, but this one was a welcome surprise.
OTHER NEW AND NOTABLE
Peanut Butters – Shibuya, Japan
ffo: The Drums, Beach Fossils, Voxtrot
It is impossible for a band who named themselves Peanut Butters to not be delightful. The new P.B. delivers on all fronts: sunny, sticky pop tunes with dual male-female vocals that deliver bouncy hooks, and tight little guitar riffs tucked into every corner. It’s cute without being twee, a captivating glimpse of a band clearly about to blow up.
either – Tokyo, Japan
ffo: pop music
Look: Japan is just better at this. There’s a kind of pop that doesn’t exist as such in America, a kind of chipper, sped-up singalong that isn’t quite powerpop and isn’t pop-punk. There’s an obvious through-line from 90s J-pop titans like Glay: a confident command of the syrupy sweet major key melody. The guitars have a loose swing to them, constantly in motion but never stepping on the vocal melodies. either has been dialing in this infectious, undeniable pop since 2016 that feels like the result of endless tinkering with scientific formulas, but “CAMPASS!!” ultimately owes its success not to their precision, but to their personality.
Jan Flu – Tokyo, Japan
ffo: The Drums, Human Tetris, Wild Nothing
Jan Flu began as a “Tropical lo-fi” project in 2016, a surf rock inspired indie rock/post-punk four-piece that, by their own admission, had never actually swam in the ocean. The six song “mini album” Sports sees the band shedding the lo-fi part of their sound, but maintaining the surfy indie rock that clearly owes a lot to The Drums’s self-titled record, but the mellow vocals and insistent bass draw from the Russia’s excellent new wave/post-punk bands like Motorama and Human Tetris. The tight guitar interplay isn’t showy, but is way more than homage to their influences. The riffs on “Billards” are an exercise in restraint, making a meal out of a simple, well-arranged lead line.
Krooktroupe – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Krooked Nature (6/5/20)
ffo: Animal Collective, Fleet Foxes, Grizzly Bear
Gabe Gabe Tapes did a run of tapes in June for Krooktroupe’s 2017 debut album, Krooked Nature, but don’t go looking for them: they’re already sold out. Even if I missed grabbing a tape, I still owe it to Gabe Gabe for putting me on to a band I hadn’t heard before. Krooked Nature doesn’t sound like a band working out the kinks: they arrived sounding like a 2000’s indie band on their third record. It’s a lush, confident sound that alternates between gentle, acoustic-driven folk (“Crickets”) and looping, psychedelic pop (“Drama”).
Japanese Baseball – Tokyo, Japan
ffo: American Football, Chinese Football, tide/edit
The sports-themed emo band name arms race has Chernobyl’d in on itself. There can be no winner in a war like this. “You can’t just frikkin’…name your band Japanese Baseball,” we stammer, but to no avail. Japanese Baseball has arrived, and while only emo-adjacent (the band traffics in hypnotic, cyclical instrumental math rock), they do, in fact, rip. Math rock proper rarely does it for me these days, but I love Japanese Baseball’s version of it, one foot firmly planted in emo, eschewing wanky jazz solos for tight, looping guitar melodies that feel more immediate and more rewarding than your usual mathy fare.
Adieuluna – Manila, Philippines
ffo: Pool Kids, Retirement Party, Weakened Friends
Every time I open up Bandcamp, there’s a new female fronted guitar band that completely whips ass. Adieuluna dropped “Salt” as a standalone single in July of last year, but this two song EP is my first time hearing the band, and finds the band harnessing their twinkly emo impulses into something more driving. I’m looking forward to hearing how their sound continues to evolve; here’s hoping for a full length this year.
The RE:conquista compilation featuring 40 bands from Japan’s DIY/underground alternative scene spearheaded by Teenager Kick Ass; the sticky sweet pop of Monkey In Yellow (Tokyo); the new LP from alt rock/indie rock powerhouse Country Yard (Tokyo); the pretty, jazzy new tune from instrumental trio Hauste (Singapore); two new songs from scrappy emo upstarts fish (Nagoya); shambling garage pop-rock from two-piece GOOFY18 (Tokyo); and Interzon’s new EP of jangly Smiths-inspired indie pop (South Korea).
Keegan Bradford | @franziamom
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