No one rocks like the Japanese. Although America and Britain still dominate the genre, rock musicians in Japan seem to have a knack for grasping the nuances of any Yankee sub-genre, and using them to create perfect simulations that put our sloppier creations to shame. Maybe it has something to do with Japan’s highly accelerated information flow in comparison to other nations, but I won't make sweeping sociological statements. Let’s look instead at the musical evidence. You want math-rock? Ruins put our own Don Caballero to shame. You want postmodern pop collage? Cornelius is miles ahead of Beck. You want psychedelic droning? Acid Mothers Temple churns out, like, ten albums’ worth of it every couple of months. Japanese band Luminous Orange are doing nothing to buck this trend, as their sophomore release Drop You Vivid Colours finds them recreating the sounds of early 1990s alt-rock and shoegaze with a significant boost in musicianship and song-craft.
At least half of the songs on this record could be considered genre exercises. After a plodding feedback-drenched introduction, “The Sky” crams all of the Breeders’ Last Splash into four minutes, right down to the surf guitars and sung/spoken Kim Deal-style vocals. However, this song features a bridge in which the bass and guitars run up and down the fret boards with a speed and agility that neither of the Deal sisters can manage. “Turbo R” does the same thing to Sonic Youth’s Dirty. The music is almost overwhelmed by crusty guitar noise and tuneless distorted vocals, but the drumming propels the song toward speeds that SY drummer Steve Shelley hasn’t managed in almost a decade. “Utatane no Hibi” is early Stereolab, right down to the clean guitars, clipped vocals, and synthesizer whooshes, but adds jarring stop/start dynamics to the equation as well. “Sun Ray” gives a sprightly face-lift to the jangly college-rock of Belly and Juliana Hatfield. “Starred Leaf” imitates the swooping whammy-bar antics of My Bloody Valentine. Come to think of it, almost every song on Drop You Vivid Colours puts squealing MBV guitars on top of already anthemic choruses (which, admittedly, makes the record a bit more endearing to me than it would be to the average reviewer).
Luminous Orange transcends mere mimicry, though, due to sheer chops and hooks. The title track (also the album’s first song) runs through five equally rocking yet completely different guitar riffs before getting to the first chorus. The vocals make the song sound like a co-ed duet, but according to the album credits the majority of vocal and guitar duties are handled by a woman named Rie Takeuchi. (In the studio, at least, Luminous Orange is basically Takeuchi with a revolving rhythm section.) Rie loves the sound of overdubbed harmonizing guitars and layered vocal harmonies, and she fills almost every crevice in the mix with them. She’s also well versed in the element of surprise. “How High” shifts from verse to chorus and back again with a completely unexpected yet totally killer key change, and many other songs on the album stop, start, and change tempos at a rate that keeps the listener guessing at all times. The songs never sound schizophrenic or disjointed, though, which you definitely can’t say about similar American bands like the Swirlies (who still rule, by the way). The drumming on the album is consistently excellent, full of cymbal splashes and incredibly fast fills, and the bass carries the melody of a song almost as often as the guitars do. All told, the attention given to arrangement on this album makes most other bands sound simply LAZY in comparison.
There isn’t a single moment on Drop You Vivid Colours that doesn’t sound like it couldn’t have been recorded after 1995. However, there haven’t been many bands of this ilk making music this good since then anyway! I’ve said this about many other bands, and it certainly applies to Luminous Orange: who needs originality when the music is this GOOD?