Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Watanabes: Independent Social Power

I've owed the Watanabes an album review for quite a while, actually since January. Sorry guys for being late.

But the more I think about their album, the less I want to "review" it. Most music journalists in this city are total quacks. Typical reviews look something like this: This band is a japanese version of [insert famous Western band here] mixed with [insert other famous Western band]. Unfortunately, my blog isn't much better. Me pretending to be a rock critic isn't going to help these guys a bit. Honestly, they just need to keep doing what they're doing; touring, promoting, recording, and spreading their message.

A month ago, Japanzine, one of the major free English language publications, gave their album a lack-luster review. I say giving a negative review to an up-and-coming unsigned indy band is a pretty dick move. I call it a classic case of "failed journalist moves to Japan and has no good beat to write about," or "shitty writer rises to editor at a major publication because there aren't many English speakers around."

I've been following bands around for quite some time now and I know that The Watanabes are the best Gaijin band in Tokyo. Most foreign musicians I know get far too much credence for having white skin. I'm going to have to punch somebody next time I have to pay 2000 yen for a lame show with foreigners who think they rock.

The Watanabes on the other hand have their money where their mouth is. The first time I saw these guys was Sleeping on the Dayshift back in the November. It was a solid show and they played to a full house of friends and fans. Last week at Sleeping on the Dayshift Vol. 2, the house wasn't as crowded, so I went right up to the front row with my camera, leaned on the bar, and soaked in their wall of sound. Regardless of what you think, or what they think, I thought that the show was incredible. They have a driving yet introspective indy rock sound. How about you stop reading and listen for yourself:

Stick It In A Novel - Most definitely my favorite song on the album
This Year - A rock song with driving indy bass
Nice Guy - A well-composed, quirky, yet introspective song with cute lyrics
Chin Up - A track that illustrates what their sound is all about

If you like what you hear, pick up their album on iTunes.
The Watanabes - Independent Social Power - Stick It In a Novel

As I see it, the band has two unique strengths. 1) Their music, but you can judge for yourself. 2) Their background. As I understand it, English brothers Duncan and Selwyn were teaching out in the sticks of Shikoku where they met Ashley and started the band. Through a few changes in lineup and sound, they eventually shifted into high gear, did a national tour, and made it to Tokyo. They unashamedly bring their alienated gaijin feelings to the characters in their songs.

1 comment:

Jean-Paul said...

Hi, I'm JP DuQuette, the apparently incorrigible douchebag at Japanzine who reviewed Independent Social Power. I can't speak for my mag, but I had a few things I wanted to get off my chest.

1. "I say giving a negative review to an up-and-coming unsigned indy band is a pretty dick move."

Just because a band is indie doesn't mean everyone is going to like them. The previous editor at Japanzine was a huge Watanabes fan and gave them tons of praise and free press in his Tokyo scene report. One of their songs even found its way onto last year's Gaijin Sounds CD produced by Japanzine. It was understandable that they thought they could get a plug out of us when they released their newest album. So they sent it to Japanzine, and urged the new editor to have someone review it. I'm the guy that reviews CDs. Although I usually review Japanese bands in my column, I thought I'd give their new disk a whirl, on balance it wasn't half-bad (imho), and I gave it a marginal thumbs up. I don't pretend to have good taste in music, but I do try to give my honest opinion.

2. "I call it a classic case of 'failed journalist moves to Japan and has no good beat to write about.'" - Neither/nor. But I have been a cheerleader for the Japanese underground and alternative scenes (much like yourself, actually) since before, well, before the Internet, anyway. You can check out my Nippon Underground Yahoo! Group or my LMD label on Last.FM; I also spent way too much time and had way too much fun playing college radio geek in California and Hawaii. The CDs I review for Japanzine are (usually) bought with my own money, but I enjoy the excuse to listen to and write about new music, even though my full time job, part-time school and my wife and young son take up most of my energy these days.

Anyway, I know the knee-jerk reaction to stick up for those in your scene; if Rolling Stone were suddenly to review someone I know and love like, say, Ove-NaXx, only to bash his latest CD, I'd probably be all over them like ugly on ape too. You've got an interesting blog, and you're right that (in general) it's a waste of time to slag off bands in print when you can use the same space to tell folks about people you DO like, but who aren't getting the exposure they deserve. But as a someone who basically writes as a labor of love, I'm sure as shit not going to recommend something full-on unless it well and truly kicks my ass (in the good way). I'm sure you wouldn't either.

P.S. I've included the full text of the review below:

Independent Social Power
The Watanabes
Bicycler Records

When “Getting Over Yuka” made its way onto last year’s Gaijin Sounds CD, I can’t say I was jumping up and down with excitement. I prefer my rock down and dirty or pretentious and proggy; acoustic ballads about old girlfriends (“You promised me we’d got to the Tokyo Towwwwwwwwwwer!”) make me want to get out my plastic clown hammer and start banging some coconuts. So it was with some trepidation that I threw Independent Social Power into the old iTunes. The verdict: better than I expected, I guess. The revamped version of that aforementioned track is definitely less annoying in its latest incarnation, and the rest of the album isn’t terrible either. Frankly, I feel our esteemed previous editors’ Smiths references are off base, though; despite the regional references, offhand delivery and the general melancholic bent of the lyrics, The Watanabes are not flamboyant and gay in early 80’s London, they are slightly spoiled and nostalgic in 21st Century Tokyo. Ignore the lyrical gloom, though, and the album is musically a surprisingly pleasant ride, and I can imagine throwing this on during a Sunday morning house cleaning (in fact, I’ve done just that). And though I can’t but make a face at the multiple layers of whiney irony in “Nice Guy”, I admit to thoroughly enjoying the rocking “This Year”. So thumbs up on balance, gentleman, but for the record I’d prefer more screaming, distortion and 30 minute solos next time.