Japan Beat: Supercar

Rather than inventive, experimental rock, most people would associate Aomori Prefecture with the mournful tones of the Tsugaru shamisen. But don't tell Supercar.


Since arriving on the scene in 1997, the quartet has occupied a zone in Japan's rock firmament perhaps akin to that of Radiohead in England. They represent the thoughtful, melodic side of rock characterized by gently persuasive melodies and rhythms that build to subtle crescendos, and resist convenient prefixes like "punk," "post," "nu" or "rap."

Supercar came together in 1997, when bassist/singer Miki Furukawa placed an ad in a magazine, and guitarist Junji Ishiwatari responded. Recruiting Junji's childhood friend Nakako, the trio began to write songs and lay down rough demos.

Filling out the band with drummer Kodai Tazawa, Supercar didn't take long to get attention. Their first single, "Cream Soda," gained wide exposure at a time when the band's median age was barely over 21.

They debuted with Three Out Change in 1998, a 19-track opus that also featured the song "Drive," which became the soundtrack to a youth-oriented late night show.

1999 was Supercar's breakout year, as the moody, experimental spirit of Jump Up climbed as high as No. 2 on the domestic charts. They took the album on their first countrywide tour, playing for over 10,000 fans at sold-out shows.

The stamp of approval was put on Supercar that same year, when they were chosen to support indie gods Pavement on their farewell Tokyo tour. Based on Supercar's newfound international cache, they flew to New York to record their third album, Futurama, which took them in a digital direction.

Like Radiohead, Supercar can sometimes be faulted for excessive melancholy, but it's hard to argue with a powerful song like their recent soaring single, "Aoharu Youth," from their brand new, fourth studio album, Highvision, which describes bullied wimps getting revenge on their classroom tormentors, and then committing mass suicide. In capturing Japan's post-Bubble malaise and ennui, Supercar are one of the few bands really of their time. And their time is now.

Supercar play Akasaka Blitz May 22-23. See listings for details.

Photo: Sony Ki/oon

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