Review Summary: Just listen.
Formed in Sapporo in 1989, Eastern Youth is one of Japan’s longest-running and most influential independent bands. Their earliest work, fitting of their namesake, was raw, snappy punk rock about the social alienation of their homeland’s younger generation, but by the mid-1990s, the three-piece began to evolve, sonically and lyrically. Gradually adding more melodic elements to their sound, expanding their song structures and topics, and taking influence from American underground icons like Fugazi, Built to Spill, and Jawbreaker, the group’s transitional period resulted in a handful of their most iconic records. 1998’s Tabiji ni Kisetsu ga Moeochiru
and Kumo Inuke Koe
the following year cemented Eastern Youth as legends of their country’s indie rock scene, a status that would later allow them to embark on foreign tours with the likes of At The Drive-In, Jimmy Eat World, and Cursive.
All of which is to say that while there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of Eastern Youth, they’ve been around for three decades and made the most of it. Kanjusei Outouseyo
, their first release of the new millennium, is one from their peak period that makes a mighty strong first impression. Dominated by overdriven power chords and impassioned vocal deliveries, it’d be an easy mistake to write off the band’s formula as simplistic or repetitive when in fact they get massive mileage out of sticking to their core arrangement of tight drum chops, playful bass lines, and commanding rhythm guitar. Solos aren’t particularly common, but the few times they crop up here—evoking a beautiful sunrise in “Yoake no Uta” and uneasy tumult in “Kuroi Taiyou” in particular—they pack a mighty wallop.
However, no discussion of Eastern Youth’s sound is complete without patting vocalist Hisashi Yoshino on the back. The man can project a sweet as hell lead melody, choke over his words with an affecting lump-in-throat whimper, belt in distress as if his lungs are about to cave in, and switch from one style to the other without a moment’s pause. Similarly, much of the compositional work here capitalizes on grand, sudden, and universally gratifying shifts in dynamics: whether it’s hushed to humongous or forte to fortissississimo, the band’s sheer energy and unending hookiness easily overcome the language barrier. From the full-throttle anthem of “Abayo, Kaze no Zanzou” to where the dynamic curveballs are most vital, like the album’s brilliant centerpiece “Kakato Naru” and closer “Subarashii Sekai,” it’s hard not to latch onto the melodies within a listen or two, stomp your foot to the pulse, and anticipate then revel in each well-earned climax.
All that said, consistency is still the name of the game. The average Eastern Youth album from this period has its fair share of go-to chord progressions and rarely any extreme sonic experiments (which is another way of saying you’ll probably need a few spins for the word “samey” to leave your head). Rather it’s the group’s ability to embellish those similar structures with minor redirections and keep the songwriting so compelling that’s such a treat. As a bonus, Kanjusei Outouseyo
fares a bit better than some of the trio’s other works in that regard: the dancy, Latin infusions of “Seijaku ga Moeru” make for one of their most overt stylistic shake-ups, as does the intoxicated, trippy breakdown of “Ao no Fuukei” and the twangy catharsis unleashed during the album’s slow-burning opener. Even the waltzing pre-chorus of “Nigatsu wa Biniiru Kasa no Naka” initially throws the listener off after a half-hour of common time so energetic you didn’t once bother to think about meter.
And why would you？ To some extent all of the praise above seeks to dissect what makes this album tick, and like most of the best of that nebulous ground between emo, punk, and indie, this album’s true charm lies not in analyzing these songs’ constituent parts or novel eccentricities, but in the blunt force of their emotional resonance. Suffice to say Eastern Youth did the trick for many an Eastern youth circa 2001, and thanks to the magic of the internet, there’s no reason their legacy has to remain confined to that sphere and time. If you have any interest in checking out one of Japan’s premier underground acts, Kanjusei Outouseyo
is an ideal place to enter the wonderful world that is their discography.