When I crash, I crash hard. Christmas 2020 was like a brick wall. After an exhausting 2020, the deluge of songs and records that hit in those last 2-3 days before Christmas was overwhelming. I have so many tabs open that they haunt my dreams. I didn’t know when I was going to feel motivated enough to dip my toes back in, but I’ve been driving my wife’s car the past few days (which has a CD player) and popped in my latest Christmas mix… I really love those songs. So now I need to find good Christmas and Christmas-adjacent tunes once more…
I don’t speak Japanese, but I do speak fun (…sometimes). The Pats Pats are a “girl band from Tokyo” (I don’t believe you need to qualify what the sex of a band is, but they specifically do), and their particular brand of upbeat DIY-pop is an absolute pleasure. I have so little more to say about this perfect little pop nugget, which may be why this song is exactly what I needed to get back to this gig. Zero pressure, all fun.
Bottom Line: Japanese-DIY-pop perfection for anxiety-riddled, demanding jerks like me.
Sauna Cool Records
Should you break down the content of this entire blog, you would probably find that I’ve written 50% of my posts about indie pop. Well, make it 51%, as this new track from Japan’s figure is a beautiful, early Wild Nothing-esque indie pop groove that deserves your attention. Figure is the indie pop project of Yoshinobu Hasebe, and “Christmas Eve of 1992” is off his first release in four years, Parakalein. The song starts off with that wistful, indie pop lofi production (which I love), but what really hooked me is when the song swells with emotion as drums and bass kick in. The production does bury the lyrics enough to honestly have no real clue what Yoshinobu is singing about (presumably Christmas Eve of 1992) here… but the vibe itself is enough for me to love this song.
Bottom Line: Japan has always been fertile ground for indie pop fandom, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to hear fantastic Japanese indie pop bands releasing underground Christmas indie pop gems. I suspect figure is only the tip of the iceberg for 2018.
I don’t normally do straight-up pop, but Tokyo’s Give Me Wallets have released this fantastic, groovy song and I thought it best to share it with you all. “On this Christmas Night” has a nostalgic feel, strictly based on the chord changes amongst the fluttering synths. The lyrics are a bit tougher for me to pin down… “she wanna post some stuff now / that everyone can see freely / are you happy to receive as a gift / you were supposed to be fine / but the world’s not the same now / what can anyone do for you” There may be something lost in translation here… but what is not lost, is that I’m boogieing in my seat.
Bottom Line: I hope you enjoy this piece of Japanese Christmas candy.
Miles Apart Records
Lets continue this string of indiepop Christmas releases with an infuriatingly small run, cassette-only release from Japan, Miles Apart Records’ Christmas Small Gift Vol. 2. This release comes out tomorrow (Dec. 20), is limited to 300, and is only offering downloads to those who are fortunate enough to get ahold of one of the cassettes. First, I am well aware that the exchange rate + shipping costs will likely make this release not cost-effective for my Christmas mix needs. However, the collector in me keeps looking at it. Oh, and in case you are interested, yes there is a Vol. 1 that was only 150 copies (no download either) and very much sold-out.
Now lets get to the music. The release itself is quite nice. While I’m not as familiar with Japanese-sourced indiepop as I am with those from the US/Europe, the bit that I have been exposed to had lowered the bar (for me) when initially exploring this release. The music and the lyrics for Small Gift 2 quickly surpassed my expectations in just one listen, with a few tracks really standing out for me. Superfriends‘ “Million Miles Apart” is a nice little song that I’ve come back to a couple times… not terribly Christmasy, just referencing winter, but nice. Fandaze‘s “Big Socks” begins with a clip from Home Alone’s trailer, then swings into a classic indiepop sound, with shimmering guitars and hushed vocals. I am having a very tough time picking out lyrics though…
I doubt my description has you chomping at the bit to hear the whole thing (I feel I’ve done a terrible job with it), but this release is very listenable all the way through. It certainly ranks above many of the other indiepop Christmas comps I’ve come across. It may be sacrilegious… but I’d actually listen to this release than any Very Cherry one…
Bottom Line: Solid indiepop from Japan. However, why wouldn’t you allow Bandcamp downloads? I feel like its money left on the table. Navigating Japanese websites is challenging enough to make you scream… 3.8/5
Eager Beaver Records (JP)/A.D.D. Records (US)
Worthwhile Way is a country punk band hailing from… Japan! This track comes off their split release with Madison Bloodbath, The Moon in the Darkness, which was originally released on CD in Japan in October 2013, but got its first stateside release via A.D.D. Records on 10″ Vinyl in January of 2014. I tried to find some lyrics, to no avail. That said, it does appear that the song is sung fully in English. Despite the lyrical challenges, I am quite confident in saying that the song is most certainly not a cover of the classic “White Christmas,” but a wholly original tune. I like the vibe, even if I can’t make out the lyrics. Check it out for yourself!
Bottom Line: If you need something more upbeat for your mix, these Japanese cowpunks might have the song for you. 3.9/5
Buy: CD (Italy)
High hopes are never a good place to start. Though I know you should never judge a book by its cover, a swedish indie pop band named Annie Hall checks three of my boxes: Swedish, indiepop and a Woody Allen reference. How could it go wrong? Well, first off, this thing was a huge pain to get ahold of. You can’t order from the label (they do not ship to the US), and thus I had to get it from France, and pay more in shipping than the CD cost. Not looking good already, because if you know this blog, cost to obtain certainly plays into the overall rating.
Annie Hall begins the disc with “Morning News,” a fine-enough little song that I can’t for the life of me figure out how its seasonal. Their second song, “Walk Around,” does begin with “It’s Christmas time / Here’s an old song / for a new year.” They also mention snowballs… but really, its a bit of a downer right out of the gate with the dour music. Not something I really want to listen to again. Bummer.
Gonzo48K is the Japanese wildcard of this release – I really had no expectations, as I don’t listen to much Japanese indiepop. “Snowman’s Tears” has the kind of music that I wish Annie Hall had – upbeat, poppy, certainly in a Swede-pop vein. The lyrics, well… “So darling / You make me colder / you make me older / you close my folder?” Not exactly what I’m looking for, but really, english is their second language and they write better songs in English than I do in Japanese. “Turn off the Radio” is a much better attempt. It may even be on a shortlist for future mixes… I dig the backing beat, and the lyrics are much better: “Walk through the street light / in the Christmas time / Back to the starlight / Where the children write / Turn off the Radio / Turn off the Radio.” Still not quite telling a story, but certainly evocative when complimented by the contemplative backing track. I can’t find it posted anywhere, but you can preview 30 seconds of it on Last.fm.
Bottom Line: Good luck trying to buy it, especially in the US. Certainly not worth the price it cost to import, with only one possible song. Loses points for all the wrong reasons. 1.2/5