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Thursday, March 15, 2012
New House's YouTube marathons help deliver a debut
Special to The Japan Times
Yuta Mitsuhashi says he spends a lot of time falling into "YouTube holes": Watch a clip, click on a related link, repeat until the majority of your night has been spent staring at a computer screen. He isn't scrolling through LOLcat videos though, he dives into things like Thai pop music, Middle Eastern rock and the minimal folk of 1960s performer Moondog.
Mitsuhashi is covocalist and guitarist for Tokyo-based five-piece New House, and his Web browsing has turned the young group into one of the most interesting acts in the capital's crowded indie scene. Whereas many Japanese artists' sound can be traced to one or two primary influences, New House pick and choose global styles — a little minimal techno meeting psychedelic Argentinian rock colliding with all sorts of other noises. This approach appears on the band's debut album, "Burning Ship Fractal," and reflects the changing way in which people listen to music in a digital age where everything is available online.
New House formed in 2008 while its members — Mitsuhashi, covocalist and guitar player Yu Kawamata, bassist Akira Morohoshi, keyboardist Kenta Komuro and drummer Seiya Kimura — attended fashion school. When they first started, three of the band members didn't know how to play the instruments they now handle, but they learned as they went along. What they did bring to New House was a variety of musical tastes. Going around the table, members cite Pavement, Can, AC/DC, Sun City Girls and Basic Channel as early favorites.
This disparate blend of influences helped them catch the right attention. New House signed to Second Royal Records after label boss Shinsuke Osanai saw the group perform in Kyoto. They then rushed to release an EP titled "Kill The House" in 2009, which found the group imitating hooky rock groups such as The Pixies and The Strokes. It's a guitar-centric recording boasting the sound quality of something recorded in a nice garage. Mitsuhashi says the band wanted to make "more experimental music" even before "Kill The House," but their musical chops hadn't caught up with their ambition.
Three years later comes "Burning Ship Fractal," a drastic departure from their first EP and an upgrade in every way. The guitars remain, but they sound crisper and clearer. The group embraces technicolored electronics, adding vivid elements to a sound that once came off as monochrome. On tracks such as "So Clean" and "Soft Sea," multiple members sing, the swirl of voices blending into tribal shouting. The drumming is also harder, giving the 12 songs a strong backbone.
It's the band's eclectic taste, though, that bleeds through the most on "Burning Ship Fractal." "Kill The House" worshipped only at the altar of indie rock, but this full-length shows off the wide range of sounds the group has spent many a night YouTube researching.
"I use a sampler, but I want to make folk music," Mitsuhashi says. "I listen to old folk music and German techno and they give me the same feeling. I make chaos." It's a chaos, though, shaped by a musical taste unflinching at wide-ranging sounds.
One sonic comparison especially excites Mitsuhashi — when New York group Animal Collective gets brought up, his eyes open wide and he talks excitedly about the group. New House's passion for Animal Collective shows on "Burning Ship Fractal," occasionally to the record's detriment. Some songs resemble Animal Collective's style too strongly, like the bouncy "Small World," which could be a dead ringer for that Brooklyn quartet's "Summertime Clothes." This similarity isn't shocking — Animal Collective is the poster band for the same type of genre-hopping New House engage in, each album sounding vastly different from the last.
Despite some sonic crossover with Animal Collective, New House still manage to sound otherworldly amid Japan's indie-music scene. That stems partly from New House's love of foreign music but, more importantly, from their effort to shape worldwide sounds into something new. The members say they aren't influenced by much Japanese music, except for the trippy work of Boredoms and anime music. When talking about Tokyo's contemporary scene, New House become disinterested, and keyboardist Komuro focuses on a comic book loaded into his iPad.
Yet everyone perks up when talking about foreign music. The band members become especially animated when talking about the times they opened for garage-rock acts Black Lips in three cities: New York, Los Angeles and Austin, Texas. The iPad is turned off as they debate which was the best place to visit — New York by a slight edge — and they say they definitely want to go back.
"In America, if we did well everyone would go 'Yeah, good,' " Mitsuhashi says. "American crowds reacted to our music better than Japanese ones."
"Burning Ship Fractal" may have just been released, but Mitsuhashi says New House is already tinkering with their sound. "For our new music, we want to be more folk, and more like African music," he says. It's a restless spirit mirroring those YouTube marathons Mitsuhashi indulges in — and one resulting in just as many discoveries.
"Burning Ship Fractal" is out now. New House play Shibuya O-Nest in Tokyo on March 30 (6:30 p.m.; ¥4,000 in advance;  3462-4420). For more information, visit www.newwwhouse.blogspot.com.