The first time I listened to Uchu Conbini’s latest album, I Looked By The Reflection Of The Moon, I was not in a good mood. Nursing a colossal hangover, I was stranded in the middle of town, at least an hour and a half’s walk from my house. And, as if by the whim of some malicious deity, it had just started raining. Suppressing a groan I set off, jammed my earphones in and played the first album that caught my attention. In the following 26 minutes I experienced an emotional journey that began at confusion, detoured through amazement and eventually ended at pure unadulterated joy. I got some odd looks grinning like a loon as I wandered aimlessly around Sainsburys, but we all have to make sacrifices for art.
Uchu Conbini are a Kyoto three piece math rock outfit who describe themselves (pretty aptly) as ‘progressive pop’. Their songs combine snappy, angular stab chords and riffs with Daijiro Nakagawa’s ultra-clean, joyously melodic guitar work, tight and technical drumming and vocal hooks so sticky they could be used as fly paper. I Looked By The Reflection Of The Moon, the surprisingly quick follow-up to Feel The Dyeing Note, shimmers like a stream through a Japanese garden, probably with koi carp in it. Some tracks showcase pop influences through more traditional verse/chorus structures, but many are content to meander their way through mathy riffing and instrumental breaks with only occasional sung lines. Nakagawa’s guitar playing is always intriguing; he effortlessly weaves harmonics into his playing that sparkle out of the speakers (see ‘Jobotsu’, ‘Everything Changes’, ‘Sepiairo’), and a particular compositional high point is ‘Ashiato’, the final track on the record, for it’s beautiful use of suspension and resolution.
Emi Ohki’s vocals really do merit the focus Uchu Conbini gives them – whenever they enter a song, they effortlessly pick up the spotlight. Even on the first listen I had severe difficulty not singing along to the gloriously modulating chorus to ‘‘Everything Changes’’ – I was in the middle of a public supermarket and singing in high pitched faux-Japanese in the vegetable aisle is the kind of thing that gets you locked up in the UK. The angular vocal lines effortlessly slip over the instrumentation, which loses none of its technicality without removing attention from the vocals.
As with many math groups, odd time signatures are the bread and butter of this band. The instrumental track ‘Sepiairo’ is largely in 9/4, but sounds incredibly natural, largely a result of Yuto Sakai’s brilliant but unobtrusive drumming. The effortless combination of super sweet vocals and oddly timed riffs might spark recollection in the brains of fans of bands like Tubelord or This Town Needs Guns, though if anything, Uchu push this musical thread even further.
Uchu Conbini have done an absolutely fantastic job. Even if Japanese math isn’t normally your thing (trust me, it should be), you still owe it to yourself to check this album out.