Japan, China, and southward along the Pacific Rim
Consider Tetuzi Akiyama, for example. The Tokyo guitarist takes standard Delta blues progressions on a wild, improvisational ride along the atmospheric edge of transcendence. John Philip Sousa couldn't have fathomed Asakusa Jinta, a rockabilly- and polka-powered, Hawaiian-shirt-clad, hard-marching brass band named after Tokyo's old downtown section. This unlikely bouillabaisse of idioms pins the eclect-o-meter in the red, but it makes more musical sense than you'd imagine.
Yokohama's the Emeralds take the power-trio approach on a quirk-laden, geek-punk tangent that threatens to resurrect the pogo, while Tokyo all-girl garage quartet Gitogito Hustler infuses nascent, K Records-style skronk with solid tribal thunder. Songs like "Thank You for Ramones" leave no doubt as to what you'll get from Osaka's the 50Kaitenz, but their zany, zippy delivery is highly endearing.
High in the running for this year's Most Peculiar Band Name award, Tokyo trio Green Milk From the Planet Orange invites comparisons to Can, late Chicago guitarist Terry Kath, and King Crimson with their fevered attempt to revitalize progressive rock. Jazz pianist Hiromi also cites King Crimson as an influence. The 26-year-old Berkeley graduate's 2003 Ahmad Jamal-produced debut, Another Mind, moved more than 100,000 copies in Japan alone. Her March 27 release, Time Control, features Screaming Headless Torsos guitarist Dave Fiuczynski.
It's appropriate that Hyakkei shares an Asian label (Human Highway) with Explosions in the Sky. Like their Austin counterparts, the instrumental Osaka trio bathes listeners in cinematic flows that capture moods in a manner beyond words.
Muddy World is a mostly instrumental trio from Tokyo that combines nut-tight grooves, jazz-rock allusions, and an occasional nod to Sergio Mendes. Their 2006 album, Finery of the Storm, was released stateside on John Zorn's Tzadik label. "Natural psychedelic hard brain rock music" is how Tokyo's Owkmj describes its sound, while fellow Tokyo rangers Suishou no Fune slowly build free-form explorations into waves of horrific chaos.
Delightfully weird Tokyo duo Kiiiiiii mixes a cappella cheers, electrostatic indie pop, and fluorescent paint to create something akin to nursery-school music for no-wavers. Buffalo Daughter's Sugar Yoshinaga and DMBQ's Yuka Yoshimura make up Metalchicks, a Tokyo duo pushing the yin-yang combo platter of heavy metal and house on both sides of the Pacific. Osaka's Yolz in the Sky launches a thunderous noise assault that could be called full-throttle agit-punk even without understanding the lyrics.
Formed in 2000 by vocalist/accordionist Izumi Goto, Hiroshima's Nekomushi is known for highly theatrical performances and far-reaching instrumentation that includes everything from kalimba to djembe. You wouldn't want to eat a Luminous Orange, but this Yokohama quintet whips up a perfectly ethereal concoction of 4AD dream pop by way of shibuya-kei. Led by guitarist/vocalist Rie Takeuchi, the group spent 2006 recording the follow-up to 2002's stellar Drop You Vivid Colors.
With their latest album, Mama Manner, Tokyo quintet Mothercoat combines playful eclecticism and a grab-bag approach to pop that blurs the boundaries between punk, techno, and indie rock. The Spunks ply similarly souped-up garage-punk chaos. Formed by Japanese students studying at the State University of New York at Albany, the New York-based trio's latest, Yellow Fever Blues, came out last year on Gearhead. Oreskaband is a ska sextet formed by enterprising Osaka middle-school girls (!) in 2003. In addition to getting signed by Sony Music Japan last year, their song "Hana No Ska Dance" appeared in a commercial for Pocky, Japan's favorite chocolate-coated pretzel candy.
Asia: More Than Japan
While Japanese acts continue to dominate SXSW's Asian roster, this year's lineup extends the music festival's reach further afield on the world's largest continent. China is represented by Beijing's Lonely China Day and Rebuilding the Rights of Statues. The former specializes in electronic indie rock lamentations that slowly build toward fiery climax on their 2006 Tag Team EP, Sorrow. By contrast, RTROS' new Tag Team album, Cut Off!, jerks back and forth with an unsettling post-punk urgency that's straight outta 1979.
New Delhi quintet Menwhopause garnered airplay on BBC London with their languid, psych-tinged debut, The Story Begins.
Having sold more than 2 million albums by riffing on L.A.-style Eighties metal, Seoul quartet YB proves once again that cock rock is a universal language, while Seoul Electric Band puts a Korean twist on psychedelicized prog-rock. Moving southward along the Pacific Rim, Malaysian singer-songwriter Pete Teo channels Americana by way of Kuala Lumpur with twang-tinged introspection on his promising 2006 album, Television.
Singapore's Electrico has shared stages with everyone from the Posies to Ashlee Simpson. The quintet's latest, Hip City, filters a well-honed fetish for New Wave through stylized Lower East Side swagger to manufacture songs of undeniable contagion. Fellow Singaporeans the Great Spy Experiment touch on the emotive grandiosity of Radiohead, but the quintet's songs never abandon pursuit of pure pop goodness."Who says you can't rock in Iran?" Tehran's Hypernova answers that question (in English, no less) with a sound that falls somewhere between Interpol and Franz Ferdinand. Finally, the former Soviet republic of Uzbekistan gives us Navruz. The Tashkent-based troupe keeps 2,000-year-old Central Asian folk instruments like the nogora and doira alive in colorfully transcendent fashion.
JAPANTetuzi Akiyama (Tokyo) Hideout, Thu., 12mid; www.japanimprov.com/takiyama/index.html
Asakusa Jinta (Asakusa) Hideout, Sat., 9pm; www.asakusajinta.com
Boris (Tokyo) Town Lake Stage @ Auditorium Shores, Sat., 5pm; homepage1.nifty.com/boris/top.html
Cho Sister Brothers (Kobe) Elephant Room, Thu., 9pm; www.geocities.jp/human_nature_sound/10_cho_duo.html
The Emeralds (Yokohama) Elysium, Fri., 1am; www.emeralds.jp
Gitogito Hustler (Tokyo) Lava Lounge Patio, Sat., 1am; www.gitogito.org
Go!Go!7188 (Tokyo) Elysium, Fri., 11pm; www.breast.co.jp/gogo7188
Green Milk From the Planet Orange (Tokyo) Flamingo Cantina, Fri., 12:45am; www.green-milk.com
Hiromi (Shizuoka) Elephant Room, Sat., 12mid; www.hiromimusic.com
HY (Okinawa) Elysium, Fri., 12mid; www.hymode.net
Hyakkei (Osaka) Hideout, Wed., 12mid; www.geocities.jp/hyakkei_sound/
Kiiiiiii (Tokyo) Beauty Bar, Wed., 8pm; www.kiiiiiii.com
Luminous Orange (Yokohama) Ale House, Fri., 9pm; www5a.biglobe.ne.jp/~luminous
Metalchicks (Tokyo) Redrum, Sat., 11pm; www.metalchicks.net
Mothercoat (Tokyo) Latitude 30, Wed., 12mid; www.mothercoat.com
Muddy World (Tokyo) Hideout, Wed., 1am; www.muddyworld.com
Nekomushi (Hiroshima) Hideout, Sat., 8pm; www.nekomushi.com
Oreskaband (Osaka) Elysium, Fri., 8pm; www.oreskaband.com
Owkmj (Tokyo) Hideout, Wed., 10pm; www3.to/owkmj
Pistol Valve (Tokyo) Elysium, Fri., 10pm; www.pistolvalve.com
The Spunks (Tokyo) Lava Lounge Patio, Sat., 12mid; www.thespunks.com
Suishou no fune (Tokyo) Spiro's, Fri., 10pm; suishounofune.web.infoseek.co.jp/suishou.inter.html
The50Kaitenz (Osaka) Elysium, Fri., 9pm; www.50kaiten.com
Yolz in the Sky (Osaka) Emo's Jr., Sat., 10:30pm; www.yolz-web.com
OTHER ASIALonely China Day (Beijing, China) Spiro's, Wed., 11pm; www.lonelychinaday.com
Rebuilding the Rights of Statues (Beijing, China) Spiro's, Wed., 12mid; www.myspace.com/rebuildingtherightsofstatues
Menwhopause (New Delhi, India) Red 7 Patio, Thu., 8pm; www.menwhopause.com
Hypernova (Tehran, Iran) Club de Ville, Sat., 8pm; www.hypernovamusic.com
Seoul Electric Band (Seoul, Korea) Maggie Mae's Rooftop, Wed., 9pm; cafe.daum.net/eumacdan
YB (Seoul, Korea) Maggie Mae's, Sat., 8:30pm; www.myspace.com/ybrocks
Pete Teo (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia) Creekside @ Hilton Garden, Thu., 12mid; www.peteteo.com
Electrico (Singapore) Spiro's, Wed., 10pm; www.electricomusic.com
The Great Spy Experiment (Singapore) Molotov Lounge, Thu., 10pm; www.myspace.com/thegreatspyexperiment
Navruz (Tashkent, Uzbekistan) Copa, Fri., 1am