Review Summary: For Tracy Hyde tries crafting the Ultimate Indie Rock Album and almost succeeds.
Japanese bands were the most important artists in shaping my musical perspective as a young man. The Pillows made me want to play guitar; Number Girl made me want to be angry. Sparta Locals made me reckon with new wave and post punk. Bloodthirsty Butchers gave me a love of emo and DIY ethos. Advantage Lucy taught me the ins and outs of jangle pop. Ling Tosite Sigure showed me something completely new. And so on.
There’s just one problem: most of these bands are old or pretty much dead. Where are the new Japanese artists? There are plenty of newer Japanese indie rock bands, but I’ve been thoroughly unimpressed by most of them. Sure, you have the odd band like Tricot who I can admit make solid music, but I don’t really enjoy it that much. It doesn’t catch me the way those formative bands of the early 2000s did. Is the problem just… me? Did I just grow out of it? After all, I spent years attaining a high level of fluency in Japanese language and culture that I hardly use anymore. I got disillusioned with it all. Maybe that affected my musical tastes.
Then I found New Young City and had that theory completely disproven.
For Tracy Hyde is the band I’d been wanting. With New Young City, they combine a variety of western and Japanese influences into the most ambitious indie rock release I’ve heard in years. With a few revisions it would be nearly perfect.
The mastermind behind For Tracy Hyde is indie geek guitarist Azusa “Natsubot” Suga, whose song craft refines his influences with calculated precision, and enables the band to navigate a variety of genres while staying broadly grounded in dream pop. FTH is helped toward this goal by singer Eureka (who I’m convinced is not more than half Japanese.) The dynamic is evident in the album’s first trio of songs. “Be My Blue” sounds like a hyper-kinetic anime opening covered by a dream pop band, “Thoughts of You” is the best Turnover song in five years, and “Lost In The Wheatfield” evokes the jangle of The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart as Natsubot dares you not to like the “A Teenager In Love” riff that opens the song.
By this point it’s easy to think you might be hearing the best album in eons, but the middle is a decidedly mixed bag compared to the incredible opening section. “Happy Ice Cream” is a delightful Advantage Lucy-inspired slice of jangle pop, and “You, as a Season” is one of the best poppy tracks on the album, and one which has the laudable quality of not immediately reminding me of another familiar artist (not that this is a bad thing at all when For Tracy Hyde does it so well.) But the other songs surrounding these are less impressive. With maybe the exception of the irritating “In Our Kingdom,” none of them are bad - just forgettable compared to the prior highlights.
This is a bit of a shame considering how these songs break from the more predictable influences earlier in the record. “Light Leak” sounds like Kinokoteikoku, reminiscent of that band’s “make every song on the record sound like an epic album closer!” philosophy, but it’s not bad. And instrumental interlude “Grow With Me” is surprisingly good. But still, if the middle of the record was revised and slimmed down, it would’ve made the whole thing stronger.
Fortunately, the final five-song sequence is the best part of New Young City and maybe the best stretch of songs I’ve heard in the past few years. The beautifully melancholic “Girl’s Searchlight” might be the ultimate dream pop song and album highlight; Eureka’s vocals are cinematically beautiful, and the guitars gloriously jangly, everything climaxing in an incredible chorus. This should be hard to follow up, but “Can Little Birds Remember?” might be even better, reminding a bit of terrific Taiwanese indie rockers Touming Magazine: it also gives Natsubot the chance to sing, and contribute some near-perfect English lyrics courtesy of his high level of fluency. For Tracy Hyde can write one heck of a chorus, and sound just as good with more crunch and less reverb.
“Seabed” is a better take on shoegaze influences than earlier in the album, thick waves of distortion crashing all over the place as you start to think this is what a heavier-but-still-dreamy DIIV would sound like. In fact, this might be the best straight-up shoegaze song I’ve heard in quite some time, showing how much this style benefits from a strong vocalist. “The Cherry Orchard” combines the album’s various influences into massive, pink swirl of shimmering romantic bliss. Both of these songs feel more focused and purposeful than the typical shoegaze homage, and show For Tracy Hyde’s impressive range and development since their two previous albums (which, for the record, are good but less impressive than this one.)
If New Young City had been about eleven tracks instead of sixteen it’d be tempting to give a near perfect score. Still, maybe the size makes the accomplishment of the best songs even more impressive. If you’ve ever liked dream pop, shoegaze, 90s alternative, jangle pop, or Japanese indie rock, there’s plenty to love here. Needless to say, I’m quite excited to see what For Tracy Hyde will have to offer in the future.