Feeling the light
New record label Setsuzoku Records sprang from music promoters Orion Live in an effort to expand on their plans to deliver Japanese music directly to UK audiences. Starting up in 2020, the label has since gathered an impressive and eclectic line-up, which includes metal outfit BRIDEAR and J-pop performer MIKUROMIKA among them.
Adding to that roster, Setsuzoku has also signed up the talents of indie rock outfit Heavenstamp. Originally formed in 2009, Heavenstamp consists of vocalist Sally#Cinnamon and songwriter/producer Tomoya.S who have broadened their horizons with performances at international festivals as well as touring the UK previously. They’ve also embarked on co-producing work with British guitarist Russell Lissack (Bloc Party) and US Indie band Animal Collective, all helping to give Heavenstamp more of a global appeal.
With new album From the Basement, the duo have put together a suitable showcase for their particular rock efforts. This is Heavenstamp’s 4th studio album, which might suggest that this is a by-the-numbers affair which is often the bane of many rock outfits who can muster an initial energy on their debut, but tread water on subsequent releases. At times, the term ‘indie rock’ can certainly be seen as a label often applied to serviceable, yet ploddy efforts. Producing something which has an identity and a spark all its own can be a tough thing to achieve. This particularly applies to Japan, where a select number of well-respected rock acts have risen above a busy music scene to carve out unique careers of their own.
Luckily, Heavenstamp come armed with some formidable songwriting talents on From the Basement that delivers a sound that’s both distinct as well as engaging. Part of the outfit’s major strengths is Sally#Cinnamon’s bold vocal style, which has a confidence and a power (as well as a gobsmacking range) that’s going to make you sit up and take notice. Meanwhile, Tomoya.S brings onboard a sharp ear for harmonies and arrangement that results in some powerful compositions that jump off the new album.
Opener ‘Sail to Heaven’ has a beguiling quality, enhanced by Sally’s mesmerising vocals. At the same time, there’s a rawness to the song with its noisy guitar fills, tumbling percussion and driving bass rhythm.
There’s a rougher, more vital quality on ‘Scrap’, which aims for a garage rock workout. Here, the vocals have a sharper, more angular quality to them in-step with the grungy guitar energy.
‘Kumonoito’ switches things up a bit with more of an electronic base to its rhythms, offset by some insistent guitar work. Here, Sally’s vocals are allowed to really cut loose with some emotionally-powerful bursts. It’s a strident affair which suggests that ‘Kumonoito’ would be a powerhouse of a song in a live setting.
The album dives into dirty guitars on ‘Kokoronihiwotsukete’, which has a heavier, brooding weight to it. At the same time, there’s some breathtaking vocal harmonies weaved into this composition that really gives it some power. Elsewhere, ‘Ainiyurai’ is a perkier offering; a more playful affair where Sally’s vocals have a choppy, clipped quality to them.
The tight grooves of ‘Mind the Gap’, with its descending melodic shifts and Sally’s insistent harmonic vocal delivery makes this number slightly reminiscent of classic era Puffy (of all things) in places. But there’s still a raw, unpolished quality at work here to keep things on edge.
There’s a more cinematic element to the bold rhythms of ‘Tokinotabibito’, particularly with some stunning vocal harmonies that will make the hairs on your neck stand up. It’s a smoother production perhaps compared to the other tracks on From the Basement, but there’s certainly no loss of energy.
Thrown in as a bonus track, ‘Virtual’ plays around with a synth-driven arrangement whose chiptune sensibility has its own charm. While it feels like a track culled from a completely different album, it’s still an accomplished production that demonstrates that Heavenstamp offer a range that many of their contemporaries would struggle with.
From the Basement emerges as an impressive indie rock outing. It’s an accomplished collection of songs likely to find favour with people that have a soft spot for acts such as The Brilliant Green and Supercar. Heavenstamp manage to occupy a similar sweet spot between melodic arrangements and heavier, darker rock territory. But everything here also suggests that they’re a band clearly built for live performances, which will certainly help with their global aspirations.
From the Basement is out now on Setsuzoku Records: https://www.orionlive.co.uk/product-page/heavenstamp-from-the-basement-cd
This review originally appeared on J-Pop Go