Review Summary: Power pop 101: how to crack your voice in tune and tempo.
Japan has legions of all-girl pop punk/power pop/pop rock/what have you bands, and at this point I’ve heard enough of them to know what to expect. There’s a decent amount of variety between these groups when it comes to songwriting, dynamics, intensity and adventurousness, but you can expect to hear very little below the mid tempo region, ecstatic vocal performances galore, slightly nostalgic but aggressively catchy melodies, predictable but generally rewarding on-off dynamics, and a slightly trigger-happy approach to overdrive from any given group. A decent touchstone for the style would be Chatmonchy’s Kokuhaku
, but you can find a range of groups in the vein of Hump Back (Osaka) and Split End (Nara) sticking out on the edge of the contemporary. In any case, when it came to checking out the Kyoushitsu no Ikkaku Yori, the debut form Osaka newcomers Tetora, I was just as ready for a familiar thrill as I was to go through the motions once again. These expectations were accurate up to a point, but they didn’t come close to preparing me for the intensity and flair of album’s initial flurry: it very quickly became apparent that Tetora have the scope and talent to hold their own corner in a scene that already draws from a very strong female-driven Kansai contingent. That is to say, Kyoushitsu no Ikkaku Yori is a total blast and sees the group acing many of power pop’s best qualities in a manner that feels distinctly their own.
The first track Sunao
is a high-octane cold open of blaring power chords and full-throated vocals, both of which are an ample platform for vocalist/guitarist Hayune Ueno to instantly steal the show. No discredit to bassist Inori and drummer Miyuki, but this is absolutely Hayune’s album, occasionally to the point of feeling like a talent showcase. Tetora’s instrumental department is spirited and competent, but far and away the most distinctive part of their sound is the larger than life cannonball of unwavering energy that resonates through every word Hayune belts into the mic. From the first syllable she projects a melodious head-over-heels thrill, commanding the fresh passion of a scene first-timer alongside the terse edge of a veteran rocker playing an encore after the speediest of cigarette breaks at the end of a breakneck show. About five seconds in her voice splits
in a way that’s forceful, harsh and almost uncomfortable until you hear her do it with complete control over the course of the song (and album) and realise that level of exclamative strain is just another part of a raw, exuberant talent (think a less caustic Frances Quinlan) . Hayune brings boatloads of personality to the mic with such resounding conviction that by the time she drops the following lines with some of the catchiest rhythmic voicing I’ve heard from any track this year about fifty seconds into Sunao
, I think I’m a little in love:
Kimi ni oshieru no ga sukidatta, pianica no jugyou dake kimi o baka ni dekita, mou hikenai kedo ne
I liked teaching you the melodica; it was only during class that I could fool around with you, but we don’t play anymore…
The first four songs follow on from one another as an exuberant sequence of efforts to bowl the listener head over heels and then back again. The choruses explode, each huger than the last, and the glorious vocal hooks keep on coming; from song to song Hayune sounds as ecstatically out of breath as at the album’s inception and not one jot the weaker for it. The opening run is unapologetically overwhelming, effective both as a mission statement and as a litmus test for the listener; by the end of this stretch, you will likely have been swept away by Tetora’s dynamic or have turned your stereo onto something else. There’s barely a pause for breath throughout the these tracks, and it’s not until the fifth track, Kokuhaku
(Romantic Confession), that Tetora give the listener a significant respite. While the previous songs (and the majority of the album) either rely on whiplash dynamics from half-blast to full tilt or stay firmly in the latter gear, this one spaces tones the tempo down a little and spaces itself a little, eventually drawing things to an exhilarated peak that feels wholly earned. Both on its own terms and in its sequencing, this stands as one of the album’s most rewarding tracks. Other highlights from beyond the opening salvo include Ganbareta
, which swaggers through the album’s only real guitar riff into a grin-inducing mid tempo cruise, and the spectacular East Hills
, which combines excellent pacing and dynamic trade-offs, standing among the most forthright bangers on offer here (and it doesn’t hurt that some of its bass fills are absolutely delicious). Finally, it feels a little deja vu that an album like this would end with a no holds barred blowout, but Akogare
(Longing) rounds things off in appropriately bombastic fashion. It’s perhaps the most overblown track here, but so rich with discernible passion that Tetora’s final exhibition of lighting-in-a-bottle power pop extravagance feels entirely worthwhile. Kyoushitsu no Ikkaku Yori as a whole is testament to the value of brash talent, and no song is more reflective of this than its final number.
Unfortunately, the album wears all of its qualities on its sleeve in a way that inadvertently foregrounds its weaknesses alongside its strengths. The flip side to Hayune’s clear prominence as the star player is that the rest of the group (and her own guitar contributions) are overshadowed. This is fairly appropriate for the album’s raucous opening strokes, but as her strident, ball-of-energy style start to sink in, the group starts to feel increasingly lopsided. The other members aren’t necessarily at fault here; Inori’s basslines often take the lead when it comes to melody in the instrumental, and while Miyuki’s drums are far from reinventing any wheels, they’re up to speed with her bandmates’ palpable dynamism. However, each track trades off its vocal-led verses and choruses between one another so tenaciously that the instrumental section is rarely given an opportunity to come into its own, and this is as true for the more evenly paced songs as it is the prevalent upbeat cuts. There’s also the straightforward issue that forty-five minutes is far too long for a record of this style that focuses so fiercely on its vocalist and its upbeat scope; this fact weighs heavily on the album’s late-middle portion in a way that doesn’t lend its stellar final run quite the oomph it deserves. There’s such an open-palmed sense of punk simplicity woven into the album’s other facets that it’s a shame Tetora didn’t also trim the tracklist into a lighter, more palatable runtime; as it is, Kyoushitsu no Ikkaku Yori seems to strive to be an album-long highlight but spreads itself too widely for a rush of its flavour to sustain itself. This is not helped by its somewhat baffling mid-section: Zurui Hito
(Miser) and Wonder World
feel like separate parts of a one-two combination that largely misses the mark, only to be followed by Tooi
(Far), which is decent enough but ultimately lands as a much inferior version of the stellar closer. This whole sequence could have been comfortably cut without jeopardising the overall scheme of album sequencing, affording the album as a whole a much leaner sense of immediacy and impact. As such, while Tetora are emphatically successful in the strengths they foreground throughout the album, it’s clear that they have a fair amount of fat to trim in their sequencing and space to fill out on the instrumental end of things. These are perfectly acceptable flaws for an otherwise excellent debut, and they carry a slightly innocuous quality in how overtly they are presented, but I hope the band finds the space to address them properly next time around.
At the end of the day, Kyoushitsu no Ikkaku Yori is full of the raw talent, fresh energy, irresistible charm and inadvertent imperfections that characterise a great debut. Its tasteful aesthetic (think of a palatable sandpaper texture; slightly overdriven but with a certain rawness left in the mix) and endless hooks are as infectious as it comes, and it’s generally a joy to hear a new band play rock music with this much joy and passion in 2019; there’s something extremely refreshing about the simplicity and emotional openness that have clearly guided these performances. Tetora have as much heart as they do talent, and Kyoushitsu no Ikkaku Yori consequentially carries exactly the right spark to send any listener predisposed with the right kind of positive energy into the sunniest of outgoing moods. These girls are ones to watch…