Could 2017 mark the return of rock? The idea's been discussed, shot down, revived, and shot down again. The usual spots are looked at: New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, Austin, maybe Philadelphia. But what if the saviours of rock (whatever that means) aren't in North America? What if the best band in the world were actually from Kyoto, Japan?
Tricot, a math-rock trio based out of Japan's old capital city, have spent four years slowly breaking through to a modest but fervent worldwide following rarely achieved by other contemporary bands from their home country, especially those who sing entirely in their native language. What primarily translates is the guitar work of Motoko "Motifour" Kida and singer Ikumi "Ikkyu" Nakajima. Staccato, nimble, and bursting with harmonic and rhythmic invention, these women play guitars how they were meant to be played. Along with bassist Hiromi "Hirohiro" Sagane and a rotating cast of drummers, Tricot have essayed their convoluted but accessible approach to rock across two well-received albums. It's an M.O. that reaches its zenith with their third album 3, which we at Noisey are pleased to premiere in its entirety here.
Storming out of the gate with "Tokyo Vampire Hotel," 3 shows Tricot at their proggiest and most punkish (the aforementioned song nearly falls apart from the intensity of the band's playing), now fully sounding like a version of At the Drive-In that had never split up and kept pushing post-hardcore to its limits. "18,19" is similarly aggressive and knotted, tripping over its own time signature shifts but somehow never losing its fleet footing. Even that sphere is too narrow a descriptor of all of Tricot's achievements here. Check "Yosoiki" for dance-rock that isn't cheesy and actually limber, while "Sukima" rides a sunny soft-rock strut that sounds like if Toto (yes, Toto) were even more instrumentally adept.
Ultimately, what makes 3 and the rest of Tricot's music transcend the "experimental" label is a transparent, pop-derived emotional core. Ikkyu's melodies are laser-precise and she sings them with a recognizable passion. That she does so while playing tangled leads and pretzel-fingered major seventh and minor seventh chords in constantly changing metres is a feat in and of itself. Nevertheless, her humanizing touch connects, whether it's in the soaring choruses of singles "DeDeDe" and "Melon Soda" or the acrobatic, Shiina Ringo-ish performance in "Setsuyakuka." Hell, even if these songs were instrumental they'd get their point across just fine.
On 3, Tricot demonstrate a unique vision of rock as a utopian playground, intellectualized but not soulless. It's their heaviest, most challenging album, but the hooks are universal "yeah yeah"s and "oooooh"s. It's clearly of their own scene—the jazz chord progressions and clipped Fender guitars are pure J-rock—and one couldn't ask for better international spokespeople. This is a band that cares so much about their music that they post instructional videos on their own YouTube channel to teach fans how to play. Is it nerdy? Yeah, probably, but even the geeks need time to shine. Who cares about rock and roll machismo anyways? It's boring and played out. Stream Tricot's 3 below and read on for a Q&A with the band, graciously translated by their management. You can purchase the album here via Topshelf Records in the US and here via Big Scary Monsters in the UK.
Noisey: What is 3 about? What's the concept, message, or statement the album is making?
Ikumi "Ikkyu" Nakajima: This is our third full album, we're a three piece band, and we wanted a change from previous albums. Our first album T H E and second album A N D were three letter series of capital letters, this time we wanted to simplify the title even more because we wrote and recorded the songs very simply also.
I'm hearing lots of jazz influence on this album compared to your earlier work, especially on "Sukima" and "Yosoiki." How often has the band consciously or unconsciously drawn from jazz harmonies and rhythms?
Hiromi "Hirohiro" Sagane: We have never consciously tried to incorporate jazz actually. Each of us just plays what we want to, in whatever way we like, which I suppose may turn out to be much like the way jazz harmonies and rhythms are composed.
Who are your personal guitar heroes who have inspired you?
Motoko "Motifour" Kida: Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, John Mayer, etc. I like a playing style where pop elements are felt through the blues.
How does it feel to have the band's music resonate with audiences who don't understand Japanese? What do you think it is about the music that reaches out to them?
Ikkyu: Although I sing using Japanese I try to put the message of the song in the voice itself. I think that way it allows meaning to be transmitted beyond the language barrier.
Tricot European tour dates
18.08.17 Dublin, Ireland - Whelans
19.08.17 Bristol, UK - ArcTangent Festival
21.08.17 Glasgow, UK - Broadcast
22.08.17 Leicester, UK - Firebug
25.08.17 London, UK - Bush Hall
27.08.17 Brighton, UK - The Hope & Ruin
29.08.17 Cardiff, UK - Clwb Ifor Bach
30.08.17 Leeds, UK - Headrow House
01.09.17 Southampton, UK - Joiners
02.09.17 Paris, France - Batofar
03.09.17 Haarlem (Amsterdam), Netherlands - Patronaat
05.09.17 Prague, Czech Republic - Underdogs Ballroom
07.09.17 Nurnberg, Germany - K4 Musikverein
08.09.17 St Galen, Switzerland - Grabenhalle
09.09.17 Innsbruck, Austria - PMK
Phil is lit off polyrhythms on Twitter.