I fully endorse / broadly concur / have some reservations / disagree vehemently with this review – when my copy of the CD arrives.
Outfit of the Day
By Patrick St. Michel
2nd October 2015
There was a moment a few years ago when Japan’s independent music scene seemed poised to break out internationally. Between 2011 and mid-2013, artists from all over the nation were making inroads abroad — shadowy project Jesse Ruins signed to Captured Tracks, while outfits such as Sapphire Slows and Hotel Mexico were regulars on MP3 blogs such as Gorilla Vs. Bear, with many more rising up beneath them. It was during this period that Tokyo’s Moscow Club started sharing their music online, earning attention for their genre-hopping releases. The quartet also saw the potential in front of Japan’s indie community, prompting them to spearhead a compilation in 2012 highlighting unsigned artists. “It is so exciting that there are still so many undiscovered amazing talents creating their own sound somewhere on this little island,” they wrote at the time.
Moscow Club’s second full-length album, Outfit Of The Day, arrives long after the community they championed left the international spotlight. No moment can last forever, and many of the bands from that fruitful span have broken up, changed drastically or simply stopped doing anything (Moscow Club themselves vanished for two years, returning this summer). Outfit features collaborations with many of the artists from that period, and lends the album a feeling of a tribute for a time that slipped away, but also serves as a reminder of the talent that still exists.
Above all else, Moscow Club — and the artists in the same orbit — stood out because they knew how to write a solid, catchy song. Outfit starts with “Band Of Outsiders,” a fleet-footed indie-pop song packing every hooky idea it can into just over two minutes. This is the lane where Moscow Club excels, and Outfit features plenty of guitar-anchored tracks skipping towards sticky choruses. They especially shine when glossing up their jangle with synthesizers. The extra twinkle adds an emotional pining central to numbers such as “Carven” and “Celine” (owing to a band-wide interest in fashion, the album boasts a fashion theme, down to the Instagram-born title). The latter — written by lead singer Kazuro Matsubara after hearing a Tokyo train station melody and featuring backing vocals from Amanda Åkerman of Swedish group Alpaca Sports — showcases Moscow Club at their best, capable of a chugging number that progressively ups the drama.
Although hazy, melancholic indie-pop is their strength, part of Moscow Club’s appeal has always been their eagerness to branch out, resulting in glistening dance numbers or straight chillwave. Their ambition remains, as one of Outfit’s finest comes on the slow-burning “Tour De Moskow.” The title gives away one key point of inspiration — though, if you forget, the breathing samples throughout serve as a reminder – but its shuffled beat also pays homage to Frankie Knuckles’ “The Whistle Song” and nods to electro group Telex. It’s a lot to juggle, but Moscow Club balance it all just right. More of a curveball, though, is “Carven (Orchestral),” a four-minute orchestra version of the more straightforward “Carven.” It’s an interesting interlude, albeit one that could have shaved a minute off.
Outfit, as mentioned, isn’t just a Moscow Club creation, but a collaborative effort featuring names central to the Japanese independent scene. Some of them appear on the songs proper — Eri Nakajima of Osaka indie-poppers Wallflower sings on “Margaret,” while Ryota Komori plays saxophone on “Saint Laurent,” bringing the chaotic edge of his main band Miila and the Geeks to Moscow Club’s world. Two members of Kyoto’s now-defunct Hotel Mexico pop up too, although only lead singer Ryuyu Ishigami appears on track, as former bassist Kai Ito provided words for two songs. Yet the names behind the scenes are just as important, helping to write the lyrics gracing Moscow Club’s music.
It adds up to a very solid collection, and one bringing to mind a time that feels long gone. Western media tends to cover Japanese acts veering to an extreme side, whether that be harsh Japanoise or, in more recent years, cuter and weirder fare rarely taken seriously as music. The embrace of art confirming existing images of the country — as strange, as colorful, as different — is a disservice to bands such as Moscow Club, who sing in English and don’t play up being Japanese for just that reason. Outfit Of The Day is a solid collection of indie-pop with some detours, and a reminder of how good the often overlooked indie community in the country can be.