Ever heard about a new band, but had no idea where to start listening? Breaker Japan’s resident music expert, Luke, emerges from a dark corner of the office to help you out. Every month, he’ll be handing out his thoughts on the most original musical acts in Japan. In a musical landscape usually associated with girl groups and anime robot singers, these are the artists that make the Japanese music scene come to life.
For me, Toe was one of those bands that were a bit of a mystery for a long time. Years ago, in a fleeting moment, I had heard their name mentioned as one of those “cool Japanese bands”. So I managed to get a copy of their first EP, songs, ideas, we forgot, which was released back in 2003. Don’t get me wrong it’s great. I listened to it a lot, but for some reason only at that time.
Years passed and I kind of forgot about them until they released “Hear You” in 2015, which is just sublime. I felt their style shine through on this album with its super clean production. Intricate duo guitar melodies frequently played on warm Spanish acoustic guitars in weird time signatures to the rhythm of a solid beat making it at times almost feel like hip hop. I realised why this supposedly “math rock” band matters so much.
Toe are clearly a talented bunch. When I first saw them live, it suddenly made sense why Japanese crowds act the way they do: quiet, staring in appreciation, hanging on every note, beat and harmony. People barely even clap when a song is over. They either just stare in awe or are frozen, catatonic with emotion. It’s pretty hard not to act like that with Toe.
They have a delicate sound. You don’t want to be one of those people that tries to talk over them just as they fall silent with one of their carefully placed pauses and everyone in the whole venue hears you say, “This band are sick!” Just sit back, shut up and watch.
The drummer, Kashikura Takashi, will entertain you with his tastefully crazy burst-like fills ins between his machine-like rhythms. Guitarists Mino Takaaki and Yamazaki Hirokazu swap between acoustic and electric guitars plugged into a modest amount of pedals. A tiny monitor speaker elevated right by their ears so they can be perfectly enveloped in each others fluid and technical playing. The bassist, Yamane Satoshi, stands coolly in the back, teasing you with the carefully placed bass lines.
It suddenly made sense why Japanese crowds act the way they do: quiet, staring in appreciation, hanging on every note, beat and harmony.
I think what I love about this band is that, yes, they are essentially a math rock band, but they never go too far in any one direction. Never too noisy, never too complicated, never to rock, never too much, just careful and calculated. And if you don’t know this already, get your ears ready for a treat.
It’s time to say what my favourite Toe songs are. To get this down to just a few songs is tricky. From just a few albums they have a plethora of amazing numbers. But here are the best songs.
Commit Ballad feat. Chara
The first song I recommend is “Commit Ballad feat. Chara” from the album Hear You. It’s a beautiful song as the guest vocals by Chara fit perfectly with Toe’s modest and clean sound.
The next song I have chosen is from their first album The Book About My Idle Plot on a Vague Anxiety and the title of the song is simply “C”. This song for me sort of explains their sound all in one go. It’s hard to ignore from the start as the drums power right in.
The World According To
Maybe I am a bit bias to Hear You but whatever. It’s a great album and it might entice you to go back and explore more of their older stuff after listening just like I did. So my next recommendation is “The World According To”. The evolution of the drums and bass line in this song gets me every time.
I’ll end with one more song. In a weird, backwards way it was the beginning of my journey with Toe. Appropriately called “leave word” from songs, ideas, we forgot.