Review Summary: Repeat? Scratch that - good luck repeating this!
Tricot are a well-established presence now, both at the forefront of the Japanese scene and as part of the international math-rock canon. They’ve released three excellent full-lengths and a couple of EPs, toured extensively, and (above all) demonstrated phenomenal chemistry between their core guitar-vox/guitar/bass trio. However, they’ve also focused so much on putting proficiency, accessibility and energy first that stylistic ambition slipped down their list of priorities. All their past albums have touched
on experimenting with different styles, and their 2017 release 3
did go slightly further than its predecessors, but the band’s sound is still largely the same from track to track. This is never to their immediate detriment and it’s not as though they’ve exhausted all this sound’s merits, but in the run-up to Repeat
I found myself wondering what fresh direction, if any, the band might take for a new release. Part of me loved the sound of a mini-album that played out like a compilation of rock bangers from across their timeline, while it also seemed likely to be an expansion on the more accessible tracks on 3
. However, my educated guess was cast in the general direction of more-of-the-same, and so I went into their new mini-album Repeat
without particular excitement.
Colour me pleasantly surprised, then, to find that Repeat
is a definite progression in sound, drawing on some of 3
’s flavours but resolutely expanding on them. The general mix, tone and arrangement here are roughly the same with a notable shift in focus from fidgety guitar parts to more fleshed-out vocal performances across the board - vocalist/guitarist Ikkyu is on top form here, but her bandmates have really stepped up their harmonies. Now, Ikkyu has always had a strong voice, but her often predictable choices of melodies has held her back in the past. Not so on Repeat
; it’s telling that Dai Hatsumei / 大発明
, the only song interchangeable with Tricot’s past work, is also by fair the least interesting thing here vocally, although it still makes for a decent single. On every other track, Ikkyu finally shines to her full potential, both in delivery and choice of melodies. This is only the first of the innovations on show here.
The heart of this album is the back-to-back combination of BUTTER
and Reflection / リフレクション
, which really show off Tricot’s new take on their old M.O.. BUTTER
feels like a chilled out follow-up to 3’s Sukima
, opting for a more downtempo feel and introducing confident vocal harmonies that feel closer to R&B than the band’s traditional emo touchstones. The song reaches a fantastic climax in its guitar-driven bridge, all the more so for avoiding unnecessary fret-burning for a reverb-soaked and utterly satisfying chord progression delivered in a fashion somewhat closer to post-rock. All in all, a fantastic and quite original combination of styles that stands as one of the band’s strongest tracks and stands to be very accessible to new and older listeners.
Reflection / リフレクション
carries on in a similar vein but is considerably more complex, rewarding a cursive listen with more of those great harmonies and a seemingly relaxed midtempo feel but intriguing any closer inspection with deceptively jittery guitar parts, a disorienting structure and a constant, unobtrusive dynamic shifts. There’s a real richness of songwriting here, and it takes a lot for a song to command the appeal of both an instant highlight and a deep cut, but this one nails it. Closer Waruguchi / 悪口
follows on directly and brings the album to an equally atmospheric but somewhat more straightforward end. The sequencing here is organic, if you even want to refer to it as such; the last three songs in particular flow together seamlessly, making for further satisfaction on an end-to-end listen.
In truth, I think Repeat
might just be the best release Tricot have put out. Their albums are all great, but the full length format brings them into homogenous waters all too easily; the shorter run-time and what seems to be something of a creative push makes this mini-album at once the most digestible and the most consistently gratifying entry into their canon. It does leave a couple of Tricot’s past glories behind (for now) - there are no powerhouse rock songs like Tokyo Vampire Hotel
, and guitar-hero Motifour isn’t all over the arrangement in the way they used to be - but these seem like worthwhile sacrifices for the ground broken here. Consider me highly excited for whatever comes next…