review - 02.22.2018 19:01

THE MOLICE add a pop shine to their alternative edge.

THE MOLICE are a band who’ve always gone their own way, musically taking the road less travelled. In the fiercely competitive Japanese music market, melody is everything if you expect to find big commercial success. THE MOLICE have remained faithful to their sparse and spiky 80s new wave sound though, influenced by the likes of Pixies and The Police.

While more Japanese bands are signing deals with overseas record labels, THE MOLICE have done their own thing again, hooking up with the US-based independent label Good Charamel Records. Most bands enter these deals for international distribution purposes, but THE MOLICE have taken the opportunity to get much more heavily involved on the creative end with their US label. The band recorded SIGNS, as well as their previous EP 5, at the label’s studio in Buffalo rather than at home in Japan.

Robby Takac, the bass player with Goo Goo Dolls, originally founded Good Charamel to release records by local bands from his hometown of Buffalo. Over the years it’s evolved into something of a labour of love, focusing on bringing alternative and indie Japanese bands to the west. With THE MOLICE, he’s also taken on production duties for their recent releases.

Although the band formed in 2007, the current line-up has only been in place since 2015, when founding members guitarist and vocalist Rinko and guitarist Yuzuru were joined by drummer Hirofumi “Paro” Katsumoto. In that time, the band’s sound has evolved, smoothing off the jagged edges with a fuller, more polished sound, thanks to the influence of Takac’s production. The band themselves have described SIGNS as the pop side of THE MOLICE, and there’s definitely a lighter, more playful feel to this EP than their earlier records.

They still have that alternative edge though, and their Pixies influence remains plain to see. The pacy, buzzing opener Shooter kicks things off and the EP doesn’t let up with the all-action track Side P, a sprawling indie guitar rock epic. From its rattling, scratchy intro it explodes into life, rumbling and bouncing along unstoppably like a washing machine full of bricks. While the tracks Magic and Sparkling of Light have been given the promotional push with music videos and single releases, Side P is the hidden treasure of this EP.

It’s the middle section where SIGNS’ pop heart is found. Magic is a perky, easygoing song and probably the most straightforwardly pop track they’ve done, complete with chirpy “do do d’ do do” backing vocals. They save all their usual eccentricity for the music video instead.

Dry City starts with a slow-burning Pixies-style riff, creating a melancholy mood, but it gradually builds to a bright and optimistic crescendo. It’s a great example of the band’s friendlier sound. The added instrumentation from acoustic guitar and strings, and even some xylophone, coupled with Rinko’s layered and harmonised vocals gives the song real warmth and emotion.

Sparkling of Light is the EP’s big indie guitar pop number. It still keeps you on your toes though, as the conventionally catchy verse sets up the slightly unexpected turn the chorus takes.

Round Round Round closes things out with a downbeat Pixies vibe, although it can’t quite match the guitar break in Side P where Yuzuru switches gears to channel Joey Santiago for “Pixieness”.

SIGNS, like 5 before it, has a polished production sound and richer vocal arrangements compared to the band’s early work, with its barebones DIY feel. It’s their most accessible record so far and an ideal jumping on point for anyone new to THE MOLICE. Whether the members have taken a deliberate turn from their usual alternative route onto the pop highway or this is just a brief detour remains to be seen. With a full album, also recorded in the USA, due to drop later in 2018 we’ll find out soon enough.

SIGNS is available in physical CD and digital download versions from Good Charamel Records.
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