MIXTAPES: Way Back When

ain't no planet x comin cuz ain't not space cuz ain't not globe earth.jpgRelationships are hard to keep in your twenties. It’s guaranteed to be a decade of nonstop reflection and re-evaluation of the energy you give and have given to loved ones. UK emo rockers Way Back When are a sentimental troupe of dreamers whose art is a coping mechanism for this dilemma we all face. Despite being based between the two cities of Durham and Bristol, the band’s transatlantic sound borrows heavily from midwest emo crybabies and British math rock, eschewing angular rhythms for driving percussion and delicate, cascading guitars. Drawing comparisons between There Will Be Fireworks and Algernon Cadwallader, the band’s debut record Retrospectacular drips with misty-eyed reflections on companionship and quarter-life crisis lyrics. Lead guitarist and songwriter Kyle Hawkes effortlessly recites labyrinthine, gliding guitar passages while vocalist/lyricist Tom Lowman delivers soaring vocals with a charming English panache, with lyrics that echo the mutual anxieties of suburban towns and chaotic cities. With all this considered after dropping their impressive debut, I invited Hawkes and Lowman to curate a mix of their key influences for Retrospectacular. Stream the record below and then delve into their inspirations.


#1: Bloc Party – Helicopter (2005)

A big influence for the instrumental side of the record?

K: Yeah, originally we were gonna go more twinkly and [this song] just kept creeping in, especially with the punchy guitars.

T: I was with them up until about Intimacy, then I kinda got off at that point. I’ve seen them since they did their last record and it just seems like they’ve gotten off the board in terms of focus and being a proper band. Lyrically, I love the first two albums. Silent Alarm the most because it’s overtly political but hidden in a much more interesting way.

#2: Death Cab For Cutie – Little Wanderer (2014)

T: It was a big area of overlap for us, Death Cab.

K: When we properly started writing, I was listening to We Have The Facts And We’re Voting Yes a lot. That really heavily influenced us, in fact the one song that didn’t make it on the EP was just a slightly more math rock Death Cab song. I think we’re definitely leading towards the more Kintsugi era, especially with the effects we’re starting to use. Loads of chorus effects.

T: [Kintsugi] is great Death Cab album because it’s half full band and half singer-songwriter songs and does mime that more melancholic side. I don’t know if we really channeled that; Fireworks is probably the closest but with that more earnest midwest emo “feelings on the sleeve” vibe.

#3: American Football – Stay Home (1998)

K: …that was me. I feel like we tried to go for [the song’s repetition] in Fireworks, and Victoria Park has a lot of slow build-up on structure.

T: I think Fireworks definitely has it, that kind of atmosphere and repetition, and the riffs circle round and round in a way that’s not so A-B-A-B.

K: A common criticism of Tom’s: “it’s great but you need to repeat sections.”

T: Yeah, when we write, Kyle writes a riff and then I’m like, “now do that eight times and I’m gonna whine about my feelings.”

#4: The Hotelier – Your Deep Rest (2014)

K: You can definitely hear that in Tastes Like Stars and some of the heavier, bigger stuff. We actually used The Hotelier as a mixing reference in the studio. We wanted to replicate how punchy the guitars are and how the vocals sit in them mix. Originally they were a lot higher in the mix and we were like “no, bring them down.” They’re a focus but not the only focus.

T: I think they went a bit too far in that direction on the second album. There’s a few songs where it’s literally like “where are your vocals”? But there are a couple of our songs like Victoria Park and Tastes Like Stars where we want it to be a little bit harsh in places, not glossed-over or produced into everything, like bits where the guitars will glare out over the top. Again, lyrically Victoria Park [mimics The Hotelier] in that it’s songs about relationships, but not in the boy-girl sense, just camaraderie and breakdown of friendships, plus people’s general health and mental well-being being a little bit on-edge and contested. That’s really what we were getting at with Retrospectacular.

#5: Moderat – Bad Kingdom (2013)

Okay, this one really sticks out.

T: Yeah! So I was thinking about how I approached a couple of the songs lyrically, like Gomorrah and This Year’s Thief, and it’s taking what Bad Kingdom does which is taking a grand concept like empires and globalisation while at the same time feeling really personal and immediate. I aspire to do that, I wouldn’t say I get it right, but I try to pull down these bigger symbols and historical moments to run more personal stuff through them. But no, production-wise it doesn’t sound anything like it!

#6: Reuben – Song For Saturday (2004)

This is actually one of my favourite songs. You don’t share Reuben’s sound but you can definitely hear similarities in the lyrics.

T: Yeah, what I like about Jamie Lenman’s songs is that it rhymes when it needs to, but it’s mostly just his train of thought. His ideas come through in a melodic way, but it isn’t bound melodic structure or everything matching up so neatly. It almost feels like a rant that’s taken on a melodic form, and that whole album’s amazing for that. Letting things soar is something this song does really well; his melody lines always tend to reach up and hang for a bit.


Way Back When are on Facebook, Twitter and Bandcamp.

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Jun Togawa: Gender & Violence in Japanese Pop

654cfde8c86392bb9512511fa9888b53--jun-togawa-ninjasPop music is not infallible. We still continue to absentmindedly consume vacuous chart singles while still questioning their authenticity and their larger role in a commercial industry, but the ethics of pop appear to be a much more modern debate. In particular: gender. The intersection between modern feminism and the advent of social media has opened up debates about gender politics in pop music where artists are given more autonomy over their own image. It carries such gravitas that a handful of tweets between Nicki Minaj and Taylor Swift can launch hundreds of thinkpieces about modern feminism. The concentration of these discussions across social and traditional media leads us to believe that this is a modern phenomenon, but a hark back to the cross-pollination of gendered images in the 1980s with artists like Prince, Sinead O’Connor, and David Sylvian would have you believe otherwise. One of the ‘80s most unique performers and cultural commentators in this regard however did not come from Western culture, but from Japan.

Even at the height of new-wave weirdness, Tokyo native Jun Togawa became one of the most memorable eccentrics of the ‘80s for her perverse, tortured interpretations of pop music. Togawa became instantly recognisable for her unstable vocal range which cut between girlish lullabies, operatic croons, and mutilated, disturbed cries. Her public image as a performer was multifaceted, with her on-stage and media presence taking on many costumed personas as a schoolgirl, a 1930s wartime crooner, a killer, a warrior, a prosthetic hand-bearing fashionista, and a queen of insects. Togawa’s bizarre persona and eclectic array of influences (from punk to eroguro culture) made it almost impossible to gouge any semblance of meaning from her art. However, like many of her contemporaries, Togawa also became one of pop’s commentators on gender. In particular, on perceptions of femininity in popular culture.

Togawa began her singing career after attending university, guesting with the avant-pop band Halmens (whose members would later form the Togawa-fronted post-punk group YAPOOS). Though it wasn’t until 1984 when Togawa would make her singer-songwriting debut with Tamahime-sama, her first in a long line of statements about femininity in modern culture. Tamahime-sama (literally translating to ‘Princess Tama’ or ‘Princess Ball’) juxtaposed a Disneyesque character of a young princess with the far less-graceful image of a world overflowing with insects. Throughout the thirty-five minute narrative of the record, Togawa narrates a character who devolves into an insect over her struggles with emerging adolescence.

“Once upon a month in a padded cell, Princess Ball has a fit / Her skin five shades of colour, a snake in her black hair. / The radiating aura irrepressible. Her central nerves rush to her womb with the destructive energy of a hundred thousand horse power / Lady hysteric, Princess Ball goes mad.”

Similarly to her female pop contemporaries in the West such as Sinead O’Connor and Björk, Togawa often challenged societal perceptions and expectations of gender in her art with uncharacteristically-female depictions of women. Taboo subjects like the unflattering depictions of the adolescent menstrual cycle in Tamahime-sama dispelled the common, patronising archetype of the demure, dainty female that is often consumed in mass media. In Togawa’s art, women were not idyllic goddesses of unattainable perfection. They were exaggerated, gritty, frenzied, caterwauling beasts; a Frankensteinian, realist concoction of Togawa’s own politics and her penchant for absurdist eroguro art.

Togawa’s caricature of the female was especially important back in Japan. Her transgressive attitudes towards pop music were especially shocking for a public more suited to the Japanese standard of “idol culture”, a popular media industry that operates similarly to those in the West, but with some questionable ethics thrown in. Japanese pop “idols” are manufactured by talent agencies in the very same way that our common chart sensations often are, usually hiring young girls (and sometimes boys) with little experience in the entertainment industry to emphasise an endearing sense of authenticity. Aside from being trained to sing, perform, and act across a wide range of mediums, idols are marketed to represent a romanticised, youthful purity which is the key to their success. Idols are built to be consumed as sisterly-types, love interests, and exemplaries of beauty and grace. However, to maintain the integrity of their public image, the private lives of idols are kept under strict surveillance by their agencies. Idols must remain chaste and not pursue relationships, or act in such a way that it jeopardises their immaculate media personas.

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In 2013 Minami Minegishi, member of one of Japan’s most successful idol groups, AKB48, was the subject of a tabloid exposé after she was spotted leaving the home of a boyband member whom she was, reportedly, pursuing a relationship with. Within hours she was demoted by her agency, and a few hours after that, a video surfaced online of a distraught Minegishi with a shaved head (cutting one’s hair is seen as an act of remorse in Japanese culture) pleading to her fans and her management for forgiveness, disowning herself for her “thoughtlessness”. Japanese cultural commentator Ian Martin argues that idols are not only made to sell pop records, but also a fantasy narrative, which presents the central ethical problem that runs throughout all idol culture, in that the personalities and lives of young women are manufactured to be consumed and itemised; they are denied a normal life, and face persecution if they choose to stray.

Needless to say, the image of the innocent, penitent female idol is completely at odds with the grotesqueness of Tamahime-sama’s depiction of adolescent women. Soon after its release, Togawa would continue her onslaught on popular culture, the idol industry aligned as her new target. Released in the same year, her next record Suki Suki Daisuki (roughly translated to I Love You So Much) modelled itself as a satirical caricature of the female idol, as well as pop music as a whole. During this time, Togawa further marketed herself as an idol, and the increased accessibility of the record allowed her politics and comic absurdity to reach a broader audience. Like a ‘real’ idol, Togawa performed on network television and appeared on talk shows around this period. Her array of costumed personas also took a more feminine turn, appearing in schoolgirl uniforms and polka-dotted dresses. The record’s title track and lead single, Togawa’s most successful song to date, was the centrepiece in her pop satire. While showcasing her fast-improving vocal talents, “Suki Suki Daisuki” features Togawa impersonating a cutesy, shrill-voiced idol which isn’t as innocent as she seems. She proclaims her love to the listener, selling the idol “fantasy”, but her expressions of love are far more extreme than your standard idol.

“My love is increasing and transcends the common sense / The love in rose broke out like a mutation / Pure as to be able to call it violence […] Kiss me like thumping, as blood clots on my lips / Hold me, as my ribs breaking”

Togawa’s declarations of love read like a stalker (which many real-life idols are tormented by), and her obsessions reach a disturbing zenith when the repetitious, ear-worm chorus is punctuated with, “Say you’ll love me, or I’ll kill you”. The slasher-flick humour of “Suki Suki Daisuki” can be read in several different ways. While again showing her affinity for the extremes between violence and intimacy seen in eroguro, it can be seen as an expression of the repressed frustration of the female idol, comically suggesting that chastising them for their real feelings and emotions could harbor terrifying consequences. Perhaps it is a protest song on behalf of idols, or simply just a comical jab at the middle-of-the-road inoffensiveness of pop music. Other songs from this period also hinted at the mistreatment of idols and pop singers such as “Virgin Blues”. Togawa also paid homage to female singers with a cover of Françoise Hardy’s “It Hurts To Say Goodbye”.

Very little is known about Togawa in Western music culture despite her wide-reaching influence throughout Japanese independent art. Though she draws comparisons to artists like Björk with her creative output and public image initiating discussions about gender and perceptions of femininity in their respective cultures, as well as transcending the artistic expectations of the average pop star. Many of Togawa’s influences are European female singer-songwriters, whom she paid homage to by working covers of Patti Smith, Nico, Brigitte Fontaine and more into her repertoire throughout her career. Togawa’s creative output is unfortunately not as routine as in the ‘80s and ‘90s. She has just released a collaboration with noise legends Hijokaidan, her first proper full-length record since 2004’s Togawa Fiction, not counting reams of on-and-off collaborations and guest appearances. Togawa’s seminal records are littered with spooky synths, ominous concrete keys and Casio effects that, to many, will sound quaint by today’s standards, like much of the 80s. But her work lacks the slick, neon chic of the decade. While The Human League aimed to perfect the pop ballad, Togawa sided with the transgressors. Her music lacks all optimism. It’s comically bleak, morbid, and absurd, but the messages of her songs are still fresh and compelling by being painted with all of her bizarre eccentricities.

Lyric translations credit to Togawa Jun Collective.

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I Don’t Support Record Store Day, And You Shouldn’t Either

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So far, 2016 has been a pretty distressing year for music fans. While many were still reeling from Lemmy Kilmister’s departure to the great gig in the sky, the passing of rock n’ roll sovereign David Bowie only seemed to heartlessly tear open a still-fresh wound in the music-loving community. While not as globally-devastating as the passing of some of rock’s greatest monarchs, the Bristol community received another shock with the closure of one of the city’s most enduring record shops, Head. Having worked at Head up until its closure, seeing it cave in to the multitudes of threats that record stores face in the modern day is just so disheartening, and it makes you question how long until they die out altogether.

Head started out its life in the Galleries in the ‘90s as a Virgin store, later becoming a Zavvi retailer, and finally re-opening independently as Head. Head is joining the waves of independent record stores closing down across the South West, such as Bath’s Raves From The Grave, which shut down in June of last year. There are a multitude of reasons behind the much-loved store’s closure, but the most prominent is merely a sign of the times. Independent entertainment retailers face even more competition now than ever before with the advent of online streaming, downloading, and piracy. While great leaps in technology have considerably improved our media culture for consumers, it’s sending independent businesses to the chopping block. As of 2014, digital revenue streams grew by 6.9 per cent to make as much money as their physical counterparts, and the numbers will do nothing but increase as the market continues to expand.

While streaming and downloading have knocked a major dent in physical record sales, retailers like HMV and Amazon can still sit comfortably atop their thrones as the UK’s leading music vendors. Corporate bigwigs are unaffected while independent businesses are left in a perpetual drought of sales, and some attempts at boosting record spendage in the indie market appear to have gone awry. Record Store Day, an annual event initially created as a call-to-arms of supporting independent music stores, has been criticised for “betraying” its original intent, and effectively doing more harm than good. Bristol’s own Howling Owl record label delivered a savage open letter which berated RSD for being “co-opted by major labels” and harming independent ones. The limited-edition releases manufactured for the event also have a much larger buying-in price from dealers, and have to be bought at “firm sale”, meaning they cannot be returned. Essentially, the event is a pure gamble for independent stores, and unfortunately Head was dealt a bad hand. Piles of unsold limited-release RSD stock gathered dust behind the counter in the months that followed last year’s event in April. Even a Black Friday sale couldn’t move half of the leftover records which Record Store Day distributors promise that fans will clamor for on release.

Record stores and entertainment retailers have a far different place in consumer culture these days. You no longer need to reserve a copy, queue up and purchase the new Adele album on release day. Everything’s completely at your fingertips online, which leads consumers to question why they’d go to the extra effort of buying a physical CD or DVD? Their existence is almost ephemeral. While record stores as a business aren’t as prevalent as in previous decades, they still act as a watering hole for like-minded music fans from all walks of life. When moving to the area a few years ago, I remember all the feelings of apprehension and anxiety that come with moving to a new city melting away upon discovering Head. It wasn’t just a record store to me. Record shops aren’t just a place where you grab the new Taylor Swift; they’re a social hub, a place of pilgrimage that represents and solidifies a sense of community in music much like the rich sonic heritage that Bristol has nurtured for years and years. Head has been one of the most rewarding, fascinating jobs I’ve ever had because of all the colourful, vibrant characters I’ve served and worked with during my time there. You can take away just as much happiness from a bright-eyed kid buying the new Adele CD than you can with a silver-haired veteran bolstering his Lou Reed collection. Therefore, my plea is simple, and one that is shared by music fans the world over: support your local record store. Not just on RSD. Not just when HMV’s out of stock. Put your money into an independent instead. When you put money into a local business, your money isn’t going toward a corporate suit’s new BMW, you’re giving back to the community. It’s a humbling feeling knowing that your money’s going towards someone’s lunch, gas bills, vet treatments for their cat, and ballet shoes for their daughter. The record store is a key social element of music culture, and we can’t allow it to die out.

There is some hope, however. While digital sales of individual albums are declining as fast as their physical counterparts in favour of streaming subscriptions, vinyl sales continue to soar, with UK sales growing by 56 per cent in the first half of 2015 alone. Though vinyl may retain the affections of dedicated music lovers, some good things must come to an end. Though it comes from a place of sadness, all the sympathies we’ve received from customers, as well as all the sincere anecdotes about how much they loved coming into the shop, are enough heartfelt evidence to show that local record stores can make a difference in the community. At the time of writing, our manager Griff, who’s worked with the store since the Virgin days, plans to have Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells to soundtrack the shop’s final closure. Though I initially thought Tom Waits’ Closing Time, or Daniel Johnston’s “Some Things Last A Long Time” would be the obvious choices, some of you music boffins out there might recognise Oldfield’s 1973 classic as the first record to be released on a Virgin label. So it’s nice to see that, at the very least, we’re not ending on a finale, but a new beginning.

 

Airs & The Cherry Wave React To 2015 Records, Plus Stream!

Autumn hit pretty late this year. There’s a massive oak tree that looms over my window whose colours appeared to rust almost overnight. Nature’s playing some winded game of catch-up with us right now, and it’s only just hit me how little time we have left in the year. Panto starts shortly at the theatre where I work. Scarves are working their way back into my wardrobe. Us Louder Than War staff are working on our year-end lists, a ritual which I always reluctantly partake in.

Some of my favourite records to listen to at this time of year are those with thick textures and layering. Ones that evoke the same sensations as the feeling of a cozy jumper or a warm mug of tea seated on a windowsill. While San Francisco’s Airs and Glasgow’s The Cherry Wave may be settled at completely different sides of the world, what unites them is their own brands of warm, fuzzy shoegaze, ideal for this time of the year. Both sides of their new split record sport loud, enveloping layers of melodic noise; captivating, and sometimes punishing, it’s perfect, addictive listening for watching your own leaves turn to brown.

In the true spirit of the looming year-end journalists’ tradition, I invited Adam of The Cherry Wave and Chris from Airs for their blind impressions of some of the years’ most hyped records. While you read, please enjoy a stream of the new Airs & The Cherry Wave split. Make sure to purchase it so many times that Chris can afford a flight to the UK so I can fight him personally. Happy autumnal decay, everyone.



Drake – If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late – This is awkward. I am culturally and critically dumb when it comes to hip-hop. I tried really hard to get into it about ten years ago but I just couldn’t. It’s completely my loss, I accept that. Drake isn’t going to change things either. Not much fun, is it? Some of it sounds like a guy rapping over a sleep hypnosis tape. It’s just boring. Sorry Drake. – Adam

Sleaford Mods – Key Markets – This is the most British thing I’ve ever heard. Sounds like a trashed Shaun Ryder ranting over Garageband loops. I’d probably like this more if I wasn’t a stupid American. – Chris

Marilyn Manson – The Pale Emperor – Apparently this album is heavily influenced by Muddy Waters, The Doors and The Stones. Sounds more like nu metal in a blues scale. Even Twiggy didn’t want to be a part of this trainwreck. Is it Antichrist Superstar? No, but it’s better than Born Villain. – Chris

Tobias Jesso Jr. – Goon – This one’s tricky. I really like songcraft. It’s the thing that interests and concerns me most musically. This guy clearly knows which chord can come next. He knows them all. It’s just… some of it sounds like it’s from the soundtrack to Toy Story or Shrek, which is fine, unless your tune lacks the context of actually being in Toy Story or Shrek. Then it’s just a bit of a plodding, pedestrian, 70s singer-songwriter tune. It’s very melodic and everything, I just don’t like its vibes. Seems a bit false and targeted. I’m probably being a bit harsh – he obviously has love for stuff like that, so it’s coming from a genuine place. I’m just not into it. – Adam

Carly Rae Jepsen – Emotion – Is this the new CHVRCHES album? This is the most vapid garbage I’ve heard in ages. Wikipedia lists like, 50 studios this was recorded at. Did the engineers just get tired of hearing this mess over and over again and pass it off to the next dude? This is the kind of thing they play in malls across suburban America. Thanks a bunch, Canada. – Chris

Deafheaven – New Bermuda – This is fine. Sounds like their last one, all in all. That’s no bad thing of course. Just makes you think that, if you really really nail what you’re trying to do on one album – which is what they did on Sunbather, that’s great – you either need to change dramatically, which is hard, or just call it a day and walk into the sunset. They’ve only got one idea really, but it’s a pretty good one. I’ll let them off this time. They’re amazing live, too. – Adam

Jamie xx – In Colour – I’m like 3 minutes into this album and it sounds like a broken air conditioner. I’m sure this took all of a day to assemble in Fruity Loops. Had to turn it off when baby’s first synth lead kicked in. The xx sucks too. – Chris 

Turnstile – Nonstop Feeling – Now this is a fucking disgrace. Drake got away with it, but ignorance won’t stop me criticising this one. I’ve listened and liked plenty of stuff like this over the years, and this is FUCKING SHIT. What is going on here? It’s godawful. Sounds like a crap Helmet, and they were hardly the best band ever. So so dull, just devoid of anything interesting. I think the early 2000s wants its guitar tone back. Terrible, stop it, leave me alone, forever. Urgh. – Adam

Jenny Hval – Apocalypse, Girl – My living room feels like the coolest coffee shop in town when this album is on. I have no idea what she’s saying but I feel sophisticated as fuck. This one is alright. – Chris

Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly – Now this is much better. More ideas in the first song than in the entirety of that Drake album. It’s bright and energetic, but it’s not party hip-hop. Those two things don’t need to go hand in hand. It’s making me want to listen to what he’s saying. Highly quotable too, that’s always a prerequisite of hip-hop I like. The sound of someone who’s clearly on a roll creatively. That’s always nice to hear. – Adam


Airs & The Cherry Wave’s split record is now available to stream. Airs’ Apart is out now. The Cherry Wave’s Avalancher is available to stream and purchase now. 

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