Western audiences are, perhaps, best familiarized with Japanese media through Boris, J-Pop, Nintendo, kawaii, and Attack On Titan, which belies an extremely diverse culture that is more than this week’s Buzzfeed page on our Eastern brothers’ and sisters’ more questionable inventions. Indie rock quartet Taffy is a prime example of the sheer magnitude of styles within the Japanese music industry, who turn the mid-’90s independent music craze into something unique to themselves on B-sides and rare early recordings collection Plus +++.
Any fan of shoegaze – specifically the repetitive, wall-of-sound riffs of Ride and Lush – will immediately be drawn to the tracks Apple Days and Tune In A Jar. Mid-album highlight Theron features a similar bit of tremolo abuse that characterized My Bloody Valentine’s What You Want and Soon. Such blatant references would be the kiss of death for less musically adept bands, as has been proven time and time again (see Ringo Deathstarr’s Mauve, where replicating the past went a bit too far), but at the very least, Taffy’s instrumentation and ability to write engaging hooks that don’t hide lack of talent behind a wall of impenetrable fuzz.
Lead singer Iris has a voice not unlike that of Saint Etienne’s Sarah Crackwell, floating among melodies with a soft yet secure air. In The Fields I Lay is one of the best examples, with a strong double-tracked vocal lead that doesn’t fall prey to the hackneyed whisper-sing. Her voice would do well to take even more of the forefront within Taffy’s music; Uriseas is a gorgeous ballad but Iris’ voice is so deeply buried that she sounds afraid and tinny, which sharply contrasts with the power of her and Asano’s guitars.
This danceability is strong with this one; topically, Taffy appears to be an entirely Brit-oriented group, but the devil-may-care major chord structures are distinctly Japanese rock/pop. Their strongest songs are also their longest: Kms and In The Fields I Lay have a wonderful bit of distortion and feedback that make for a mentally as well as sonically engaging listen. It’s the same type of unabashed fun that made Soon one of the best songs in MBV’s catalogue and The History Of Apple Pie’s Next To You a beautiful late fall release last year.
The guitar production is impeccable, with Have U and Apple Days absolutely rocking in effects clarity within the requisite wall of sound style. Plus +++ loses itself in regards to the higher-end frequencies, though; the snare drum and cymbal on Jolly Orange and Ssolve are particularly chopped and it’s extremely distracting from what are otherwise a quite decent songs. There’s pressure to abuse brickwalled sound in loud indie rock, but shoegaze is a balancing act, and the dynamics of Plus +++ suffered in pursuit of space-filling loudness.
With the exception of the classics, shoegaze albums can often be a tiring experience in full run-throughs. Artists typically fill their songs with extras, overloading what was already a tasty dish to start. Taffy made a good move to keep Plus +++ a succinct album, with the entire collection being less than 40 minutes long at only nine tracks. This energizes but doesn’t overload the listener.
Taffy certainly set themselves apart in their ability to actually play their instruments and write engaging songs throughout Plus +++. Paying more attention to the production phase will ameliorate most wrinkles on their recorded material. Iris has a wonderful voice, and it is a slight disappointment to hear her buried in the mix or hold back her full power. Despite these setbacks, Plus +++ is a decent listen and can be pleasing via individual tracks or a full album experience. Here’s hoping that Taffy can continue to synthesize their Japanese pop roots into well-loved British music styles, because – as evidenced by their frontline albums and what’s on offer here – what they do is certainly done well.