Volleyboys - なつやすみ’１８猛暑
When I used to have long summer holidays, I often went to Kyoto, because that’s pretty much the place with the most tourist spots (temples, shrines, etc.) in Japan. And although Japanese art features many scenes of beautiful Kyoto with cherry blossoms, maple leaves and falling snow, all I ever experienced was blistering heat and withering humidity. Located in a valley, Kyoto is this crazy heat sink, as summer visitors will know. It kind of takes all the refinement out of the cultural experiences there.
Stripped of all those airs, Kyoto becomes more raw and immediate. You’re better off eating shaved ice, talking to your friends on the banks of the Kamo river, catching an open air film festival. Night is much more bearable than day, and you’ll see the fires of the Gozan-no-okuribi festival, the raucous float parades of the Gion festival, various firework events. Better yet, head to the northern end of the prefecture (because Kyoto prefecture is much bigger than the city) and you can swim in the ocean. Or just drive to Lake Biwa and camp on the shore.
My summer memories of years past consist of many of these experiences, wandering free and easy in Japan’s traditional cultural capital. I didn’t know anyone there, and every day was an adventure of sorts. The pace is slow, you’ll hear bird noises and wind chimes, and travel by bicycle is the popular method of transport.
Sadly, I did not have Volleyboys’ なつやすみ’１８猛暑 as my soundtrack.
This being 2018, Volleyboys have accurately tagged the summer as 猛暑 which is the definition of a day of 35 degrees Celsius or higher, and this is probably the hottest summer I’ve experienced over the last 10 years. Yet this mini EP is all about the past, because summer is for creating memories that last a lifetime. Volleyboys (though the band has a female member) was formed in 2015 as an entry for Kyoto Seika University’s Kinosai festival, and their singing sounds more like a community chorus group than trained professionals, reminiscent of ensembles like I’m from Barcelona or Broken Social Scene. But of course, the sound is distinctly Japanese, echoing traditional Japanese folk singing and 60’s bluesy guitar rock, more in line with their contemporaries never young beach. It’s a raw, honest sound, but not one that is particularly low-fi or grungy.
As you can imagine, this sort of nostalgic sound and setting lends itself perfectly to creating a representative summer record. It’s a romantic, idealized version of summer vacations during Japanese college years, starting with the uptempo "アサヤケ" where you typically leave at sunrise to go to the beach "海へ", swim all day (and probably get burnt), eating watermelon and shaved ice in the teahouses on the shore. At night you partake in the local festivals and fireworks "マツリ~猛暑", maybe dance under the mirrorball until the sun comes up "ミラーボウル". Then before you know it, your summer is over "夏休みがおわる" until next time, and all you have are flashbacks "フラッシュバック" as you finally graduate "卒業" and go your separate ways. And some day you might have a reunion back in the sharehouse where you used to all live, though things will never be the same again "タイトルコール".
I may have taken liberties with the actual content of the lyrics, but the sound certainly fits the narrative. "海へ" has the big reverb guitars crashing down like 40 foot waves, although there’s almost never any waves in Japan thanks to the concrete tsunami defenses. "ミラーボウル" adds the reverb to the vocals and a psychedelic rock out at the end as the lights spin around the room. "タイトルコール" was recorded in a university sharehouse that one of the members lives in, and with the acoustic guitars and cajon it’s just like an old get together. You hear bits of the band talking in their Kansai dialect, and the birds outside.
Listening to this album takes me back to the beginning. I’m 23, 24 again, wandering around Kyoto, not a care in the world. And when the album ends I’m back in the present, with all my responsibilities and the difficulties of being an adult.
So yeah, I just start from "アサヤケ" again, and loop those golden memories (real or imagined) forever. It’s way better than reality.