路地 - これからもここから

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One thing about Tokyo that always amazes me is that no matter busy the main streets are (especially in Ginza or Shinjuku), if you just take a turn and head into the side streets, you can find peace and quiet despite this being a city with nearly 14 million people in it. Not only that, but the side streets often have charming shops, cafes, shrines, little parks, cats, and interesting characters. There’s actually much more culture on offer on the side than the main areas, especially now given the increasing focus on getting business from the tourists.

Likewise, you would do well to take a break from “popular music” and listen to this band 路地 (roji), which refers to these back alleys. 路地 are a five piece band from Tokyo driven by the two guitarists Nosuke and Yuzo Suzuki, and the vocals of Kozue. Sounds all pretty normal, but we don’t do normal at Tokyo ON, we focus on the very special. The guitars here are geared for rocking out, with effects and distortion, but Kozue’s voice isn’t that of a typical angsty/emotional singer-songwriter type. In fact, she has a very mature voice, suited to folk like Humbert Humbert, jazz standards or easy listening. So what we get on this album “これからもここから” is something blurring the edges of noise pop/dream pop/indie rock/folk/twee/rockabilly, and none of the songs fit neatly into any one genre. For example “こわれもの” starts out kind of twee, but has a bluesy feeling and a fun guitar solo, while grounded by Kozue’s soft vocals. “えんとつ屋さん” and “ラフ” have that dreamy reverbed guitar and Showa style singing, but they break out the wah-wah pedal for some funky rhythm and distortion for more texture. Meanwhile “深呼吸” is a little experimental with the build up from heartbeat-like percussion and birdsong to warm organ synths, vocals and guitars soaring together into an instrumental outro.

Kozue and the guitarists complement each other beautifully, she gives them a warm emotional center to return to, and they give her an edge that other singer-songwriters lack. Even something simple like closer “おきてがみ” which is a heartfelt goodbye, the effects on the high notes give it more grandeur. Only rarely they overpower her a little like on “舫” when they bring the rockabilly solos over intimately recorded vocals, but this is the fine line that they are trying to balance the whole time – it’s not easy! For the most part, they nail it, and 路地 demonstrates just how good it can be. There’s always little surprises, the way chords are struck, sounds drifting in and out, little instrumental flourishes, shifts in mood - all of which makes it really rewarding to listen to again and again. An excellent soundtrack for exploring the other (and more interesting) side of Tokyo life.

Royce Leong