Plastic Tree


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On Utsusemi, Plastic Tree update poppy J-rock with an alternative rock vibe. They aren't the first ones to try it -- consider Base Ball Bear, for example -- but while BBB are good, Plastic Tree are better, more daring and natural. They do their thing pretty straightforwardly: there are the tender-to-dramatic melodies that amount to standard Oricon fare, but there's also a good deal of more inventive noise surrounding them. Sometimes Plastic Tree simply channel Smashing Pumpkins and Foo Fighters in their riffs ("Melt"), but more often they add intense guitar parts with fuzz and homeopathic doses of dissonance out of the Sonic Youth/Hüsker Dü songbooks. A couple of tunes overdose on sappiness, but they are balanced by rawer all-out ditties like "Gekko Overhead," and for the most part the band takes great care to interlace the J-rock and quasi-lo-fi elements, ensuring that neither is a decoration. The seams still show, but the result is more organic than one may expect: after all, true alt-rock bands often come within the range of guitar pop, even if only to be drawn away by their own more adventurous tendencies. For Guided by Voices, Utsusemi would be a sellout of mammoth proportions, but for a J-rock record it's fresh and inspired, if not flawless. For one thing, while Plastic Tree know their way with arrangement tricks -- many Easter eggs are in the mix, from metallish breaks to piano and even a flute in one case -- they still never leave their comfort zone when it comes to songwriting, and so all the tunes have the same mood. It's a nice comfort zone, though. The vocals are a minor letdown as well, coming in two modes -- unsure and generic -- although that doesn't hurt the album much. Plastic Tree aren't set to dethrone Asian Kung-Fu Generation with Utsusemi, but the path they are breaking for themselves is worth investigating.

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