Words About Music
Having been a fan of Japan’s innumerable (and mostly fantastic) experimental rock groups — Boris, toe., Fishmans, Midori, to name a few — I am always on the lookout for up-and-coming Japanese acts which follow in those footsteps. I’ve been conscious of the poppy math-rock trio known as tricot (pronounced toh-ri-ko, apparently) for a few years. The group formed in 2010, and my first brush with them was with their 2015 album “A N D,” which unfortunately didn’t stick with me. The following year, tricot dropped the “Kabuku” EP, which I also promptly forgot about. Needless to say, I was excited yet nervous to hear the band’s aptly titled third LP, which I chose to give a chance because I’ve always felt that tricot had a lot of potential.
What I can say is that “3” is a far more immediately captivating album than any of its predecessors. This is the band’s first album for beloved emo/indie rock label Topshelf Records, which has produced some of my favorite albums of the past decade (many of which have been praised by Teenage Me on this very forum).
Things kick off with a right bang with the song “Tokyo Vampire Hotel,” a hard-hitting track which is indicative of this album’s impactful production and vocalist Ikkyu Nakajima’s hooky melodies. I have no idea what is being said on this album, but no language barrier would keep me from this greatness. In 2.5 minutes, the core trio that is tricot (along with contributions from at least 3 drummers) packs a wilder punch than many rock bands can in twice as much time.
The head-turning brilliance keeps coming with the next track “Wabi-Sabi.” The vocal melodies are, once again, extremely tight, especially as the layered harmonies come through at various moments on this time-defying track. Tricot is able to strike the balance that few math rock bands can: complexity and listenability. The music tricot writes is indeed very complex, putting the “math” in math rock. However, it’s highly listenable, with its clear mixing and focus on melodic interplay. This is easily the band’s most accessible album, and it also turns out to be its best.
Tricot even finds ways to write dance-y tracks, like the surprisingly funky “Yosoiki.” This song epitomizes tricot’s pop leanings with a song that is one language change and a few synths away from being a Carly Rae Jepsen song. Anyone who knows me knows I mean this as a compliment. The slap bass and varying rhythms that color this song are very nice touches, as well. I also love the way it seems to transition from its funkier, groovier side to a song that is much more in line with the upbeat, punk-y math rock found on most of this album.
“DeDeDe” is where the band begins to show even more versatility, with a less immediate song that might demand one’s attention more than any of the three show-stoppers which kick the album off. The hook is a bit clunky, making it less memorable than some of the other songs here, but I think the band nicely experiments with loud-quiet dynamics as well as toying with some interesting effects and textures. This track has more fascinating subtleties than meet the ear on first listen, and it, too, rewards listeners with its explosive ending.
The next track, “Sukima” presents another change of pace for the band, slowing things down to a less angular, more predictable groove. It begins in an unassuming manner, but it evolves into something much greater, with Ikkyu continuing to demonstrate immense talent when it comes to writing and delivering melodically memorable vocal lines. Being the longest and slowest song on the album, it’s a bit of a patience-tester comparatively speaking. Despite this, tricot’s charisma and creative musicianship cements this track as a success in my book.
“Pork Side” is a decent, demo-quality interlude which serves as a muddily mixed introduction to its companion track, “Pork Ginger,” which directly follows it. On its own, “Pork Side” isn’t worth much, but in the context of the album and the way the women in tricot count off together leading into “Pork Ginger,” the song has an enhanced meaning. I guess when these two songs are taken together, the entire thing adds up to being even longer than “Sukima,” but only by about 30 seconds. Again, we are hit with various singing styles from Ikkyu, sometimes delivering near-spoken-word in a quick, almost hip-hop styling, and sometimes shouting on the verge of screaming to bookend a particularly intense part of the song.
I think the song “Echo” is where tricot’s formula starts to wear on me a bit. It’s not a bad song, but it doesn’t deviate much from the style brought forth by the previous few songs, and it also lacks much of a hook to it. While “3” as a whole is a great step forward, songs like “Echo” make me wish tricot experimented a bit more on this album, because a lot of the time it’s the experiments that pay off the most.
Thankfully, “3” really picks up with the following track, “18,19.” This song features a more frenetic drum beat and a much stronger set of hooks than what was brought on “Echo.” Its intensity could reasonably inspire both mosh-pits and group-hugs at your nearest all-ages venue. And, of course, this song sees tricot perfecting their method of following up a particular raucous part of the song with a much more reserved part, eventually merging the two in glorious union. Seriously, with as little as there is to do to make the loud-quiet thing exciting, tricot makes it very exciting all across this album.
Tricot continues to bring the heat with the infectious “Namu,” a song which is a few distortion pedals and drum-machines away from being a Melt-Banana track with its simple, repetitive melody. I can’t hear this song without immediately feeling a sense of ease and happiness. As a pop song, it ticks all the boxes, although I can see how one could find this annoying. I think it’s the perfect level of grating, catchy, complex, and attention-grabbing. Already I’m beginning to feel glad that “3” isn’t the kind of album to be completely front-loaded, as its back-end is proving to impress me even more than its middle-third.
While the next song, “Munasawaki,” isn’t my favorite song and it does tend to offer “more of the same,” I think it makes excellent use of Kida Motifo’s and Hiromi Hirohiro’s backing vocals. It plays a bit too much toward the general formula tricot establishes here, but it’s not a bad song. It just has the misfortune of being a fairly predictable tricot song in a sea of better, riskier ones.
But, sometimes you need something that’s a tad average to make the more extraordinary moments that much more enjoyable. Directly following “Munasawaki” is the album’s penultimate track, “Setsuyakuka,” a song that displays more swagger and intensity than its predecessor. In some ways, it reminds me of classic The Dismemberment Plan tracks, while also sounding wholly unique. Tricot is great at structuring songs so that no two bars are entirely identical to any other two bars on the album, even when choruses and melodies are repeated. Tricot has a style that has been done many times before, yet they still manage to keep me guessing.
“Melon Soda,” the song that finishes the album off, is an understated, yet lovely track. It has an ostensibly straightforward nature to it, putting together a more typical drum beat and some riffs and leads that wouldn’t sound out-of-place on a golden-era emo-revival record. It presents tricot at its most direct, and while it doesn’t make for the strongest closing song, it’s still a perfectly decent song that indicates tricot’s ability to dial it back and still come through with a great song.
Overall, I’m enjoying the hell out of “3.” As soon as it’s over I’m ready to start it back up again, and despite a little bit of fat that could have been trimmed, it’s one of the most remarkable new math rock albums I’ve heard in years. I can only hope that tricot continue to experiment and re-mold themselves when it’s time for LP4, but if not, “3” is still an album worth beholding and praising well after the year 2017 has come to a close.
SCORE — 8.25 out of 10
FAVORITE TRACKS — Tokyo Vampire Hotel, Wabi-Sabi, Yosoiki, DeDeDe, Sukima, Pork Side/Pork Ginger, 18,19, Namu, Setsuyakuka, Melon Soda