8 J-Rock Bands That Don't Totally Suck

By Alex Eckman-Lawn in Anime, Daily Lists, Music, Nerdery
Wednesday, November 20, 2013 at 6:00 am

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You're most likely a fraud. Yes, you. Sitting at your keyboard. You've watched some amount of anime, and you think the term "J-Rock" holds some kind of meaning for you. Whether it brings back nostalgic memories of your favorite shojo theme song, or flashes of Shonen Knife music set to Power Puff Girls clips on Cartoon Network, chances are, you have a favorite. Or you think you do, anyway.

Well, its time to throw out those rose-tinted glasses and get real - most of that stuff is garbage. Complete ass. I bob my head to the Evangelion theme song just like everybody else, but I'd never pay money to see it performed live. Nor do I have any interest in buying an entire album by whoever wrote that syrupy nonsense.

But guess what? There's actually a ton of J-Rock that's totally relevant, substantial and genuinely excellent music that doesn't need the crutch of anime to hold it up. We've got eight to start you off.

And no, I do not mean Gackt.



1. DMBQ

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Let's start off nice and easy...

DMBQ is kind of a big deal in Japan, and you can absolutely see why. They're catchy, radio-ready rock n' roll in the classic American tradition but, strangely enough, they're doing it better than most contemporary US bands seem to be able. Try to imagine if Wolf Mother completely lost their shit and started writing the most bananas music they could manage.

This is pure rock vibrato. Strutting and lurching with soaring guitar lines and splashy drums that're never content to stick with a simple beat. These guys are aggressive, but approachable, with the kind of over-the-top showmanship that's impossible to resist.

Listen to "She Walks" here:

Of course, while the band's still fairly small in America - usually playing small venues, basements, et cetera - they somehow don't seem to realize it. DMBQ's drummer is infamous for insane live antics that make Keith Moon look like a pansy. He'll keep on playing even after passing his drums to the audience (when was the last time you saw a drummer crowd surf with his entire kit and still keep the beat?), or after he's LIT HIS CYMBALS ON FIRE.

DMBQ are an experience not to be missed.

2. MONO

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It's tempting to describe MONO as "the Japanese Godspeed You! Black Emperor," but that's actually unfairly reductive (and let's face it, a bit racist). MONO totally stands on their own as some epic-as-shit, sprawling post-rock. This is the sound of swirling clouds, starry skies and impossibly deep oceans... that occasionally birth out enormous, towering lizards of RAWK set on destruction.

MONO is the kind of music that makes you want to use worn out embarrassing phrases like "takes you on a journey" without any hint of irony.

Listen to "Yearning" here:

This is beautiful stuff, sometimes orchestral and sweet; other times towering and heavy. Swelling strings, restrained percussion and plucking guitar that give way to some climaxes that are god damn majestic, no way around it. If you have the patience, and the right scenery, MONO can make you feel things.

3. Boredoms

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Okay, time to start getting weird...

Boredoms is an experimental rock outfit that influenced all kinds of awesome American noise bands like the Unstoppable Lightning Bolt. They're known for setting up a whole circle of drummers on stage. That makes for a pretty huge sound, though not as thundering or abrasive as you might think. While the rhythm section of Boredoms does drive the music, it doesn't usually demand your attention, got it?

Over the course of Boredoms' (often quite long) songs, things start to kind of melt together. The drums become a chugging pulse, like the reliable rattle of a train speeding down the tracks. The electronic sounds, sparse vocals, hypnotic piano notes, and other bleeps and bloops, swing from the tranquil and serene to the cacophonous and explosive. Boredoms are capable of lulling you into a warm, trance-like state... and then completely flooring you with a wall of sound.

Listen to the epic "Seadrum" (things really start moving around the 4:30 mark):

And, of course, seeing Boredoms in a live setting is half the fun. All those drums fill the room and absolutely surround you. There's just something totally hair-raising about watching drummers play completely in sync. And hell, between the coordinated light show, choreographed moves and performance art leanings, you can all but see the Boredoms eventually filling in for Blue Man Group whenever those big, bald Smurfs finally check out of Vegas.

4. Ruins

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Continuing into the realm of weird experimental stuff, Ruins absolutely annihilates. Are you familiar with weirdo American noise-rock like Hella? Well, these guys did it first.

Absolutely insane, wild drumming. Distorted bass (again, Lightning Bolt). Batshit crazy vocal wails. These are the components that define Ruins' out-there sound. This is exciting, energetic music to get your heart pumping. They're something like a controlled heart attack: just barely balanced on the edge of madness, somehow maintaining control over the swirling maelstrom of beats and riffs. No question, this music's challenging; but it's definitely rewarding, as well. You know, sort of like how Sun Ra can just sound like noise to a lot of people, but the people who do get it can't get enough.

Listen to the manic "Outburn" here:

If you're up for something strange, awesome, influential and exciting that just might put hair on your chest (if you're lucky), Ruins might just be the band you've been waiting for your whole life. Fans of Mike Patton (Faith No More, Fantomas, Mr.Bungle) may also notice a similar flair for insane vocal theatricality in Ruins. I'd be shocked if Mr.Patton weren't a fan of this stuff.

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